In around a month or so, it will be one year since we packed up and left Vancouver Island and returned to our roots in southern Alberta. For the entirety of this time, Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing has been sitting on or around the shelf beside my favourite reading chair. The book was a parting gift from a dear saint in our previous church—a woman whose spirituality was thick and deep and broad, and from whom I learned a great deal over the course of my three years on the Island. She said it was a book that had impacted her like few others. I accepted her gift with gratitude and no small amount of curiosity.
I’ve read The Holy Longing very differently than most, if not all, the other books that come across my desk. I have read it in spurts throughout the past year, reading a few pages or a chapter here and there, setting it aside for a few weeks or even months, then picking it up again. I don’t exactly know why this is so. Perhaps it is the general busyness of the last year that has left me with less reading time than usual. Perhaps there have been other, more pressing (or less challenging) things to read. Perhaps I have become increasingly creative and adept at procrastination. Perhaps it has to do with the subject matter—Rolheiser’s Roman Catholic spirituality is at times deeply resonant with my own (or that to which I aspire) and at times somewhat foreign and puzzling to Mennonite sensibilities. Or, perhaps, it is simply the sort of book that is best digested over a long period of time.
At any rate, on the intermittent and inconsistent occasions when I do sit down with this book, I frequently come across a sentence or paragraph or longer passage that makes me think. Or inspires me. Or makes me squirm in protest. Or makes me rub my eyes and read it again to make sure I read it right the first time. Or all of the above, as was the case this afternoon when I encountered this provocative passage in a chapter called “The Spirituality of Justice and Peacemaking”:
If you have ever been overpowered physically and been helpless in that, if you have ever been hit or slapped by someone and been powerless to defend yourself or fight back, then you have felt how God feels in this world.
If you have ever dreamed a dream and found that every effort you made was hopeless and that your dream could never be realized, if you have cried tears and felt shame at your own inadequacy, then you have felt how God feels in this world.
If you have ever been shamed in your enthusiasm and not given a chance to explain yourself, if you have ever been cursed for your goodness by people who misunderstood you and were powerless to make them see things in your way, then you have felt how God feels in this world.
If you have ever tried to make yourself attractive to someone and were incapable of it, if you have ever loved someone and wanted desperately to somehow make him or her notice you and found yourself hopelessly unable to do so, then you have felt how God feels in this world.
If you have ever felt yourself aging and losing both the health and tautness of a young body and the opportunities that come with that and been powerless to turn back the clock, if you have ever felt the world slipping away from you as you grow older and older and ever more marginalized, then you have felt as God feels in this world.
And if you have ever felt like a minority of one before the group hysteria of a crowd gone mad, if you have ever felt, firsthand, the sick evil of gang rape, then you have felt how God feels in this world… and how Jesus felt on Good Friday.
Image courtesy of Ruth Bergen Braun.