Sometimes I go back and read the books I have written, because they remind me of the principles I try to live by.
Recently, perhaps triggered by our recent conversations here about forgiveness and healing, I have been thinking about what makes a person whole/well/holy (words sharing the same root). I went back and re-read a section from my novel Remember Me, which tries to put into words my perspective on this, showing the connection between the healing of the soul and the building of the Kingdom.
Here's the passage I mean, and then, to follow it, a song to help hold the thought in mind:
"While William faced his personal demons in the solitude of his cell, Abbot John dined alone in his house, feeling the need for the solitude to frame his homily for the following morning, and glad to turn his thoughts to something other than accounts. He allowed the complexities of pressing concerns to recede from his mind, turning his attention to the preparation of his thoughts for his duties tomorrow. He had been thinking about the Eucharist all that summer, and still bringing its myriad aspects and insights before the faithful at Chapter Mass now in October. His novice master’s request that he address the community on that subject had set him off along that train of thought, and he was still turning it over and over. The longer he gazed on the rich and intricate tissue of grace and redemption he saw there, the deeper and more beautiful it seemed to become in his eyes. He found himself falling in love with Christ in the Eucharist in a new and more profound way than he had experienced before, and this he hadn’t expected. He had accepted the obedience of the abbacy as God’s call on his life, but out of a sense of duty rather than any kind of enthusiasm. He found it humbling and daunting and hard. As his personal agonies of grief gradually settled and healed over, he had focused on learning the shape and rhythm of his work – and fielding the earth tremors that William sent his way, of which this last was surely the worst. So it took him by surprise to discover that in the midst of all of it he still heard the song of God’s love, still experienced the wonder of the story of salvation as it unfolded in the everyday life of his community.
He found himself tracing the skein of resonance running from the telling of the Last Supper to connect with other moments and events in the New Testament. Alongside giving his mind to untangling St Alcuins’ financial dilemmas, as he slowly chewed the raised pie and bean salad of his supper, he allowed his soul to expand into the glory of God’s loving-kindness, the grace that reaches down and touches every living soul.
“I don’t flatter myself for a moment that you stow away in your hearts every homily I offer you,” he said to them at Mass the next morning, by which time the thoughts that had been developing had distilled into definite form: ‘but maybe you recall me speaking to you a while back about the Eucharist, and how Christ’s command ‘Remember Me’ is obeyed in the living fabric of our lives in community.
“His words have stayed with me, ‘Remember Me… Remember Me…’ and then I came across them again in my own devotional reading in the gospels, ‘Remember Me’, in a connection I had never made before.
“Jesus ripped the bread apart and poured out the blood-red wine in that last supper with his friends, and the grisly death he foretold caught up with him swiftly enough. Mocked and tortured, nailed by his hands and feet to the cross, he was raised up and left to sweat out his agony in the blistering heat of the sun. Crowned with thorns, blood trickling down into his eyes, a notice tacked above his head, Jesus Christ King of the Jews, Pilate’s strange acknowledgement of what had happened. Either side of him, two thieves endured the same execution, in punishment for what they had done. Punishment in their case deserved – in as much as anyone deserves punishment more than understanding, or human being can do anything that deserves being nailed to a cross.
“And the gospel story relates that one of the thieves mocked and jeered at Jesus. Personally, I’m staggered he found the strength or motivation – I think under those conditions my thoughts would have been occupied with myself. Anyway, apparently that’s what he did: but the other thief took issue with him, and defended Jesus against the unjust raillery. ‘The Good Thief’, we’ve come to call that second man. We don’t know what he’d appropriated that wasn’t his to handle, whether it was only trifling things or amounted to a great deal; we only know he’d taken something he shouldn’t have and now he was paying the price. The Good Thief. It’s very pleasing to me that we hold those two words together – there’s always more to a man than the things he’s done wrong. I like it, ‘The Good Thief,’
“It’s what The Good Thief said that I’ve been turning over and over in my mind: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’.
“The same words, d’you see? ‘Remember me.’
“The cross as an instrument of torture pulls you apart. You hang on your arms. They dislocate unless you shift your weight to your nailed feet. The soul of a young man is not ready to leave his body. It takes something severe to tear the living soul out of a strong young man – they do not die easily. This really was a dis-membering; the man was being torn apart – his soul ripped out of his body, his body dragged apart as his strength ebbed away. And he asked Jesus, ‘Remember me, when you come into your kingdom.’
“Jesus promised him, of course, that he would that very day be with him in Paradise. He did what the man’s community seems to have been incapable of doing – he forgave him. He healed him of his sin and its consequences, laid it to rest, finished with it, stopped its power right where it was, so that it could not follow him and make a hell of his eternity.
“So the story holds out to us a hope that even if this life tears a man apart, dismembers him, the power and grace of Christ will remember him, make him whole, heal him entirely, the other side of the grave. That’s a wonderful hope. It feeds our brothers in the infirmary here as they gradually relinquish their strength and ability to the decline of illness or old age. As they feel their vitality ebbing away, they lay hold on the good hope they have in Christ, knowing that once the labour of dying, like the labour of being born, is over, they will have all things in the One who has gone ahead of them, redeemed them, won them by the steadiness and the sacrifice of his love.
“But, as I pondered this and turned it over and over in my thoughts, looking at it, looking into it, I found myself thinking Wait on! There’s something more here for us in this story; this is not just about the final healing of death. It’s about another kind of healing that finds us right here.
“The Good Thief said, ’Remember me when you come into your kingdom’. That says to me that wherever and whenever Christ comes into his kingdom, we can confidently expect people will be healed. They will be re-membered. What they have lost will be restored – innocence maybe, or humility, or generosity, or faith, or hope: men lose those things along the way. They don’t mean to, but life hurts them, events are too much for them, and before they know it sourness and cynicism, aridity and unbelief have grown over the eyes of the soul like the cataracts that cloud the eyes of an old man. And the things that came apart, that they looked down in horror and saw dismembered, will be made whole again – a sense of vocation, maybe, or their good intentions, or wholesome discipline and faithful practice of their calling. Those things unravel easily enough, and we discover, dismayed, that we cannot put them together, have nothing in us that can glue what is all unstuck and good for nothing any more. They need making whole again. They need re-membering. And where Jesus comes into his kingdom, that can begin.
“So – where does Jesus come into his kingdom, then? When I asked myself that, I saw that we don’t have to wait until we die. We don’t have to watch the atrophy and withering of what we might have been, as the harder realities of life obtain their hold on us and knock out of us the hope and innocence we once had. We can start now.
“Jesus comes into his kingdom wherever and whenever a human heart says he can – it’s as simple as that. We can’t finish the kingdom in what we choose and build and practice here – but we can surely begin it.
“Wherever we choose to be honest with each other, and allow our vulnerability to be seen: wherever we choose to be gentle when we could have been exacting; wherever we choose to forgive when we could have borne a grudge – the kingdom of Jesus grows, his reign extends, hope and life are raised up in us and the grip of all that sours and diminishes us is weakened.
“It is as we are faithful, as we are gentle, as we are humble and kind, that we remember the human, and open the way for the kingdom of Jesus. So I – or you, can be the Good Thief in our fragile and faltering humanity, begging him: ‘I am lost, I am broken, I am done for. Please put me back together again. Please heal me. Forgive me. Please remember me’; and in so doing we also open the way for the kingdom to begin.”
As always, when he had finished speaking John folded his hands into his sleeves, closed his eyes and allowed his brothers to sit for a while with what he had said to them. He found this a difficult discipline, as though he attached weight to his words when he thought really they were not worth much of anyone’s attention. But Father Theodore had said he must do this, must give the brethren space to stay with the teaching he had brought them – and he remembered that this had been Father Peregrine’s practice always – so he did it too."
From the novel Remember Me by Pen Wilcock - please only quote sections longer than 100 words with permission.