Published: September 11, 2008
When the novice directors from our order were recently here for a series of meetings, we took a ride into Atlanta to visit the Martin Luther King Memorial. I had never been there before. I was an assigned driver, and one of the sisters had used MapQuest to secure the exact directions.
They worked fine on the big roads, but once we approached the little roads a mile or so from the memorial, there were big problems. A tornado had recently wreaked havoc on the area, and a lot of the roads were closed.
Policemen stood near barriers and pointed the way to a detour that was also eventually blocked off. I had a vague sense of where the memorial was but eventually pulled off to the side of the road and asked a man where the place was. He gave me good directions through the maze of downed trees and barricades. The sister who was so proud of her MapQuest efforts silently folded the map and put it in her pocket.
Religious behavior is, in part, an attempt to guarantee that we get from here to Heaven. Scripture has long been used as a sort of divine MapQuest. There are those who follow it literally—handling snakes, for example—and there are those who take a more liberal or less literal approach.
The Gospel is quite harsh in its directive. There is the section of the Gospel in which Jesus tells his followers that if there is an eye or any part of the body that causes us to sin, it would be better if we removed it. It is one of those passages that do not fit all that well on any map that we might use to get us from here to anywhere. The severing of limbs and the removal of eyes do not sit well with most people these days. But instead of folding the Gospel and putting it away, there may be a way to use it as a directive.
It is said that charity covers a multitude of sins. Jesus speaks of the use and misuse of eyes and arms, feet and hands, and how these can lead to sin. In other passages, he speaks of the same body parts as channels of grace and goodness. He opts for a more modest approach than that of a cleaver. Perhaps we can hope for that part of the map and prudently modify our given directions if we feel a bit disoriented.
If your hand can create beauty or point the way to it, use it. If it can heal with a kind touch, do it. If your eye can see beauty, learn from it, learn to see it everywhere, and share it as best you can. If you can read for one who can no longer see, take the time to give your sight to another. Our legs can move others who can no longer walk. Our arms can carry another’s burden. Our hearts can and should bear the weariness of the weak, the plight of the lonely, the desperation of the insecure.
It is easy to read MapQuest, but the realities of life include much that is not on the directions—like tornados. We soon learn to pull off the road and ask for help to get to where we need to go.
It is easy enough to read the Bible, but life as well includes much that is not in that handy brochure. Charity is a kind way to handle the strange and unexpected storms of life and the detours that render useless our available maps.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery Web store at www.abbeystore.com. His new book is “Portraits of Grace: Images and Words From the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.”