I feel heavy. My husband feels heavy, too. Not physically heavy, though there is some of that, but emotionally heavy. It feels a little like wearing one of those lead aprons they make you put on before you get your teeth x-rayed.
I think I know where it comes from.
A consequence of feeling anxious and fearful is that we become so focused on ourselves, we lose the ability to look beyond our own circumstances and see how we might help others. We—I—lose sight of the Body of Christ, my fellow human beings who are also struggling and needing hope.
And hope comes in the form of each other. I stumbled across a quote recently by St. Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century nun and mystic: “Christ has no body now, but yours.” The truth of that line is still settling in my consciousness, making me think how Christ needs me not only to pray, but to physically do what he would do, to love through my actions.
I love routine, and I have stuck to mine closely throughout these months of quarantine and pandemic. It gives me a feeling of control, and so I press forward with my writing and teaching classes online. I tell myself God will use the gifts he’s given me to strengthen the Body of Christ. I can just sit back, and He’ll make it happen. But it’s a kind of spiritual laziness that blinds me to all the ways Christ might otherwise use me.
Yesterday, I had two unexpected encounters. One gave me great joy and the other revealed to me the deep hole into which I’ve crawled. The first experience was after a run in the foothills with my dog, and (there is no delicate way to say this) he’d pooped near the beginning of the trail. Rather than carry it with me the whole way, I resolved to pick it up when we were done. When I returned to the trailhead, I saw a man with a garbage sack and shovel. He was walking slowly up the trail with his two dogs, one of which had a special brace to keep his hind quarters upright. The dog could barely walk. The man was going very slowly up the trail and using the opportunity to pick up dog droppings along the way—the droppings of other people’s dogs.
“Oh,” he said when I told him what I was up to. “I’ll get it, where is it?” He was bright and cheerful and easy going. The task he had set himself seemed so distasteful, and yet he was doing it graciously.
I was so moved by his act of service. I thanked him. I told him he was a blessing to the rest of us. At home, I told my husband about the wonderful man and his dog, and I felt lighter and hopeful as I began my workday.
In the afternoon, I ran to a store to get pens. I go through a lot of them. As I was leaving, I saw a man holding a cardboard sign asking for money. He was in his mid-thirties I’d guess, with dark hair and skin. I felt the same dilemma I always feel. To give money or not? Most of the time I don’t have cash in my wallet, but I happened to on this day. He caught me looking at him. Behind him I saw his young wife, standing in the shade with at least one child. The man and his whole family were outside on this hot day while he asked shoppers like me for a small handout.
I was already late, I told myself. My husband was waiting, and I promised I’d be home by now. I’m not helping them by giving them money. It doesn’t solve any long-term problems. I don’t have a lot to spare myself. If I stop and dig the money from my wallet, I’ll hold up traffic at this intersection and that won’t be good. No, I’ll just keep driving.
The man continued to look at me as I pulled beside his family and then into traffic without so much as a smile. I saw his look of disappointment because he’d been certain that I would understand their need. His wife met my eyes, too, and that’s when I realized they were probably a refugee family.
I forgot about them. I went home and met my husband for a date, and then I didn’t think about this family until I went to sleep, and then I couldn’t get them out of my mind. I couldn’t stop thinking about their need and why I didn’t show them even the smallest kindness, not just by giving them money, but by acknowledging them. That act alone would have given them hope. I failed to be Christ’s body. I failed spectacularly.
I believe the heaviness I feel comes from hoarding in the midst of a pandemic. It comes from keeping my blessings to myself and keeping myself to myself. I remember the man on the trail, giving his time for a cause most of us would never do. He had lightness and joy. And I think of my leaden heart, like a millstone, after I failed to help that struggling family.
My prayer on this day is for them, and that I somehow get a second chance to help them. My prayer for tomorrow is that I will recognize and take opportunities to act as Christ’s body in the world. He has no body now, but ours.