by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM, June 4, 2017
Yes, tenderness. On this feast of Pentecost, when a torrent of languages is being spoken and shouted, when a mighty wind is howling through every inch of a house, when fiery tongues appear over the heads of a community, there is also in John’s Gospel (20:19-23), the quiet appearance and tender care of the risen Jesus.
When the disciples are huddled in fear in a locked room, Jesus demonstrates another dimension of the presence of Spirit. He simply appears among his friends, breathes out peace, and shows them the sign of his wounded hands and side. His gentle entrance and breathprayer evoke the image of Isaiah’s suffering servant (Isaiah 54). Clearly, Jesus recognizes how fragile, how despairing, and how beaten down are the hopes of the paralyzed and cowering disciples. He is full of tenderness for all that is wounded and broken among them, and so he will not break a reed that is already bent. He will not snuff out a lamp whose flame is already flickering. Whatever he says and does will be marked by a profound tenderness.
The American psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan defined healthy adult maturity as “a state in which tenderness prevails.” A state in which tenderness prevails. What a helpful yardstick in reflecting on our own lives and actions in this Pentecost season and asking, “Does tenderness prevail in me?”
In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis makes the case for a tender, welcoming heart. In describing a parish, he writes, “The parish is the presence of God in a given territory. The parish is a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey.” (#28)
Try re-reading those words and substituting “community” or “family” for “parish.” Then ask yourself: How am I, how are we the presence of God in our corner of the world? How am I, how are we a sanctuary, a safe, welcoming, and hospitable heart? For what do we thirst, and how are we ministering and reaching out to give drink to others who also long for the Holy One?
Brian Doyle, a gifted storyteller and editor of Portland magazine, wrote in one of his articles of a conversation with his 90-year-old mother. He was concerned about his daughter and her problems. He wanted to take charge of his daughter and fix everything. His mother reminded him that, no matter how smart you are, you cannot fix anyone else.
And then she shared from her store of wisdom and experience. Be tender, she told him. Everything else is a footnote. Be the conduit for love. Insist on love against all evidence. Tell your daughter you love her and repeat as often as necessary.
She might have been speaking to us as well. Be tender. There’s just not enough tenderness in the world. Be tender to all that is broken, fragile, and wounded in those you serve, and be tender towards yourself. Don’t beat yourself up with regrets in your inner monologue. Give yourself equal consideration, attentiveness, and compassion.
Think for a moment of how different our world might be if we “insisted on love against all evidence.” If we told others they were loved and repeated those words as necessary.
In our very human lives, we are surrounded by the incomplete, the unfinished, the unresolved, the imperfect. When we experience the limits of the human condition in ourselves and others, may we also return to the witness of the risen Jesus. May we remember that evening on the first day of the week. May we breathe in the presence of Spirit. May we try a little tenderness.
Sit in stillness.
Imagine the risen Jesus entering any part of your life where you are held captive by fear, anxiety, despair.
Breathe in the tender welcome of his compassionate gaze.
Breathe in his loving presence.
Breathe in peace.
Rest in that moment as you go through the day and encounter others.
NOTE: I’ll be grateful once again for your prayers, this time for all who will be part of my next guided retreat, “Bearing Witness to the Holy,” June 11-16, at The Welcoming Space at the IHM Center, Scranton. Thank you!
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