Daily Reflection
May 26th, 2006

Joan Blandin Howard

Christian Spirituality Program
Click here for a photo of and information on this writer.

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri
Acts 18:9-18
Psalm 47:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
John 16:20-23

Compassionate Presence

As a mother of five I assure you that a woman who has gone through labor, does not forget the experience! It is not called labor for nothing. Eavesdrop on a gathering of new mothers with their infants. The light conversation sounds much like the twittering of birds. Each one’s story is punctuated with laughter and joy reflected in the sparkle of her eye, the tender inclination, caress and the universal rhythmic maternal sway so comforting to her infant. Listen carefully and you will also hear the story of the birth and delivery. Some are true horror stories; some are almost comical of infants being born in the backseat of a car, or on the bathroom floor. But the labor was labor and they haven’t forgotten nor are they shy about sharing the intimate details.

Illness, death, war, civil unrest, and random acts of violence bring unimaginable and overwhelming pain, suffering, anguish, grief, and mourning. Still at those times, in those countries, cities, communities and families, there are times of laughter, joy, peace and blessing of life. Our world is full of what can seem to be incomprehensible darkness. And we, as a woman in labor, wail and moan and cry out to our God – why? where are You? what is going on? I don’t understand. We can not understand the mystery of evil and pain and suffering. It is not for our understanding.

Jesus never promised that we would not suffer, nor did Jesus promise to fix our lives. Jesus did promise to be with us always to lighten the load, soften the pain, a companion on the journey – a compassionate presence.

In times of pain and grief and anguish, times of darkness and unsolved mystery, I may overlook the obvious, the Christ presence.

I don’t recall in my life that joy has ever completely and permanently replaced a significant sorrow, pain or anguish. Maybe more like the pain and darkness has been infused with the colors of life - of joy and peace and friendship and compassionate presence, making my life richer and fuller. The people at those times who have been with me through the labor of life – a friend, relative, spouse, child, pastor, even a complete stranger – they are the promised, enduring Christ presence.

I do remember the painful labor and delivery, but the more prominent memory is the presence of Kate, the midwife, who lovingly, tenderly and skillfully accompanied me from early pregnancy and long after the birth.

I do remember the long suffering death of a loved one. But more vivid is the joyful recall of the grandchildren gathered on the altar telling their stories of Grandpa Joe.

The memory of long hours in a hospital waiting room while a loved one vacillated between life and Life is powerfully colored by the Compassionate Presence of hospital staff, doctors and nurses, not to mention family and friends.

My heart does rejoice at those times when I allow my pain and my tears to be consoled by the Other through another. Who was that gentle man who washed and kissed my feet? The mystery of pain and suffering is only out-colored by the Mystery of God. Neither of which do I understand, but gratefully and humbly accept.

May our hearts be healed by the Compassionate Presence.

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