The pelican papers

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Baptism of Jesus: The boy with a bloody foot

Posted by Ron George on January 13, 2008

Baptism of Jesus by HeQi

Baptism of Jesus by HeQi

Preachers take a chance when they tell great stories. It’s likely, maybe even desirable, that such stories are the only thing congregations remember, even after all that theological preparation and study. I’d hate to think that anyone would recall my theology, but it’s wonderful to hear months, even years, after this or that bit of preaching that someone’s life was blessed by an unforgettable story.

I heard such a story today.

A boy cuts his foot. His brother runs to tell Mom. She dashes outside to find the victim standing on one foot, clutching the other in both hands. Mom wants to see the cut, to see “where all of that blood was coming from,” but the boy won’t let go of his foot. “Mom,” he says, “if I look at it, it will hurt.”

Pow! No more vivid tableau could have been given to illustrate adult resistance to examination of conscience, or as today’s preacher, Sherridan Harrison, put it, “examination of consciousness — three syllables not two.” Frankly, I missed the part where she explained her preference for one over the other. I couldn’t get my mind off the image of the boy with the bloody foot.

Who could blame him? How he yearned to take back whatever step he took that resulted in that injury. How he wished he had worn shoes, or not walked barefoot where he couldn’t see what lay on the ground. Echoes of Mom’s admonitions to take such precautions may have stormed through his, er, consciousness. (I’m beginning to get it, now.) He had harmed himself by accident, to be sure, but through disobedience (perhaps) or, at least, carelessness. He knew his wound was serious. Getting that foot off the ground certainly felt better than leaving it to bleed in the dirt. Gripping it tightly may even have had some immediate therapeutic effect. Always did when I was a kid, as though the blood would stop if I could just squeeze it hard enough.

Nothing, however, would heal the wound except examining it and making some decisions quickly about how to stop the bleeding, treat for infection and decide whether it might need stitches. Pretending it wouldn’t hurt if it remained unseen was no substitute for the loving care parents have for their children, doctors for their patients — and yes, God in Christ Jesus for this wounded world. Not just in general but in particular — you and me and Sherridan’s child.

The boy was blessed with parents whose love was gentle, kind and true. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can love someone without being nice, but it helps immeasurably and it’s the kind of love commended by Christian scripture (for example, Colossians 3:12). The key element, though, is that truth connection. It’s as though loving acts, nice or not, weave a fabric of truth that becomes our lives and of which we’re not aware until we have the presence of mind and spirit to catch a glimpse of it. (Other kinds of acts weave other kinds of fabric, but let’s put that one on hold for now.)

The boy was reminded by this injury that real healing hurts more than the original insult, and that denying the need for healing won’t make the wound go away. His conscience as well as his consciousness was formed in the truth that consequences follow from foolishness and that, perhaps, obedience is not an altogether inappropriate response to legitimate authority. It’s unlikely that this or any other single incident would lock these reminders into the boy’s conscience, but over time such reminders begin to rhyme and, perhaps, a song begins to sound in the soul. Whether to sing along is an adult decision, but at least it’s one of the options, thanks to the power of gracious love.

Every adult in the today’s congregation had at least once feared to look at a bleeding wound lest the pain be too great. Great pain yanks us back to our childhood, and for a moment, now as then, it seems true that ignoring the wound will make it go away. It won’t. The wound, though, is never too great for truth and love to heal it; and if not the wound itself, then for the sake of love itself. Some wounds are fatal, and some pain almost unbearable, but Christ Jesus is God in our pain, in our wounds and in our mortality, God who makes our pain bearable by bearing it himself.

Just let Love see the wound.

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4 Responses to “Baptism of Jesus: The boy with a bloody foot”

  1. Ron George said

    Yes, Patsy. That’s what I think I meant by having the presence of mind and spirit to catch a glimpse of the fabric. What I didn’t say is that we often have to rely on someone else, perhaps a spiritual director, to point it out. My guess is that spiritual direction is great for some people and not for others, either because they’re not ready for it or not really interested; or, maybe, they don’t need it at all or haven’t been paying attention when God sends them one. In any case, there’s no one way of it. I do believe that God is so relentlessly loving that even an enemy might disclose that fabric of truth that becomes our lives, with or without spiritual direction.

  2. Patsy said

    Ah! Some more of that wonderful art by He Qi. He really speaks to me. I’m puzzling over the angelic figure (has wings) playing the flute to the right of Jesus. The “Voice of God” perhaps? Music is where I most often hear the Voice.

    I too was very struck by the image of the “boy with the bleeding foot”. It has stayed with me, found its way into my personal spiritual journal. And your post added even more depth and layers of meaning to the image.

    Since your Doctoral Thesis is on “Spiritual Direction”, I wondered why you did not follow your “tapestry of truth-telling” thought a little bit further. Sure, our trusted and beloved Christian Friends are very capable of performing those gracious acts of truth-telling to us, helping us to unclasp our hands from the bleeding wound, examine it and suggest kindly what might be done. I have no doubt that Jesus works through these wonderful friends, having experienced it myself. But I think it really takes the discipline, the purposefulness, of regular spiritual direction for that sort of attentive listening and examining of one’s conscious (or consciousness) to yield wholesome fruit, healing (call it holiness) in our lives.

  3. Ron George said

    Jim: Thanks for your comments. As usual, your questions are provocative and keen.

    “Truth for me” is all I can claim, and even that is open to constant critique and change. There is profound mystery in the idea that truth for me also can be “truth for me and those I love,” including enemies. It goes to the nature and meaning of human existence and of Being Itself. There are thousands of ways of interpreting and/or engaging the mystery. I choose the Christian path, but there are others, including denying the mystery altogether. I think we would agree that ultimate truth or even “truth for me” is more than the sum of all facts. The image of fabric or tapestry comes from my sense that meaning comes to us as facts wrapped in experience interpreted by our perception and appropriation of the whole as something more than so much thread woven together.

    I’m not sure I would agree with the image of the spiritual safety net, because it contains some sense of desperation, as though that which is spiritual is more life raft than sturdy vessel. Our preacher repeated something Sunday — a bit of Hindu wisdom, actually — that bears repeating here: We are not human beings trying to become spiritual but spiritual beings trying to become human. That’s a paraphrase, and you’ll find it dozens of versions on the Internet, but the sense is close. We always seem to be tempted to put the cart before the horse where the meaning of life is concerned. I believe that’s why law ultimately fails us, while grace and mercy lead us beyond the letter by the Spirit.

  4. Jim Abbott said

    Hi Ron,
    2 things – the painting was the bulletin cover yesterday – I liked it.
    The phrase that stuck was “weave a fabric of truth” – is this what a spiritual safety net is made of? or what if truth is not so much about individual “facts” as it is about weaving a set of habits and relationships that add up to “truth for me” and even “truth for me and those I love.” – When “those I love” includes especially those we find most difficult to love, in biblical language “enemies.”
    As usual, more questions than answers, but that is the nature of faith, at least for me now.
    Peace,
    JIm

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