Shoots of Love

A youth in baggy pants and ripped-up T-shirt eyed us suspiciously as a Sister and I clambered out of our van and piled groceries, clothes, and all kinds of other items into a wire cart.  We dodged a ragamuffin band chasing their basketball, and entered the dimly lit staircase of a tenement building in the projects of Harlem.

The two of us were on a visit to a young mother, and her little brood of three kids and one on the way. As the grandmother bade us welcome, Jewel, the mother, lifted her head in greeting, from the living room couch where she was resting. The only other pieces of furniture in the room were a TV set, and a cushion on the blackened linoleum floor.

We unloaded the cart, and watched with smiles as two of the boys wrestled each other for the candy bag. I set to making peanut butter sandwiches for the kids, while Sister joined Jewel on the couch for a heart-to-heart conversation.  As I looked around for plates, Jewel pointed to fast-food-container lids, as there was no crockery in the house.

The toddler, dressed only in a diaper, lifted his eyes off the lollipop he was sucking (the peanut butter sandwich lay forgotten in a corner), to give me his most disarming mischievous baby boy smile.  The smile pierced my heart, bringing home the strange beauty of this encounter:  Here was material and spiritual poverty most Americans would find hard to imagine. Intertwined with it, even at the roots, was the passionate cry of joy, and of hope, present wherever there is life. From the ashes of hopelessness, tender new shoots of love sprouted, embodied in the smiles and antics of the three children.

New shoots of love from ashes of hopelessness… it struck me, this is what happens at the Incarnation. God comes into the muck and the mess of our humanity to transform it. It is astonishing that He chooses to transform it not by removing the muck and mess, but by entering into it.  He does not always take away our suffering, but suffers with us, even to the cross.  Our visit with Jewel and her family poignantly made this visible. In the life of this family, God is there. He is there in all the broken pieces of relationships. He is there, calling to love, calling to hope, to keep mending the broken pieces, to keep trusting.

The experience echoed what God does when He becomes our food in the Eucharist. It is as if He is saying, “I know. I know everything you’re going through. I know your pain, your heart, your sorrows and your joys. I want to be your strength today. Please, let me be your strength, your food. See how small and weak I am making Myself, so that you, My little child, may not feel afraid to approach Me, your Jesus. Then I can become a part of you. My Life will be your life, a love-gift to My Father and your Father.”

My Jesus, I love you.
I give you everything I have, all my weakness, my difficulties, my pain.
I give you my joys and my love.
I give you all my sins.
Take it all. Enter into it. Enter into the grayness of my daily life
And then it will not be gray any more
From the inside. It may still be gray on the outside
But everything will be changed.
Because you are there.
Draw me, with you, to Your Father
And my Father.