I am at the desk in my cell wearing my habit. My feet sit in the cool morning air, a balm after the last month’s heat. The sun shines in off the river, warming my shoulder. Here I am in black and white. Shadow and sunlight, warm brightness and cool air.
I am feeling tender, like I’m bruised deep down at the core of me. Behind my computer hangs a woodcut from “The Ruth Portfolio” by Margaret Adams Parker. And they lifted up their voice and wept still more. Three women huddle together, their faces in their hands, bowed down in their grief. There in black and white, shadow and sunlight. I admired the piece hanging on friend’s wall one day while we were having tea. She took it down and gave it to me. It was too dark for her. Too much sadness to hang there all day.
I haven’t thought much about the woodcut since I brought it home. But lately, along with the books I’ve been reading, it’s been a kind of touchstone. I’m reaching down deep, to that very tender bruise, massaging the frayed muscles to invite in nourishing blood.
Last week I began writing about a series of painful experiences from my teenage years. It’s the first long piece I have worked on in a while, and I guess I wasn’t ready until now. I’m not certain I’m ready now, but it isn’t in my nature to turn away once I’ve begun. I’ve been planning to write about these experiences for a while and kept putting it off. Then I started to talk about the planned writing with friends as a way, I think, of committing more fully to the process of telling the truth.
After writing the first sentence last Sunday I know why I have held off so long. This hurts. It isn’t the writing itself that hurts, of course. It’s the long-ago experiences that don’t feel long ago at all. And it’s the silence around those experiences, the distance I’ve tried so hard to keep from them, the denial of their affects in my life. All week I’ve felt raw and achy and restless. I’ve wanted to be anywhere but my own body. And I can see, too, how deeply patterned that silence became in the years following, how it’s instinctual even today. Not the silence of prayer or of the river or of stary morning sky, but the silence of the abyss.
Feeling that same deep down tenderness this morning, I put on my habit. And I began to wonder, what does it mean to wear this habit over the tenderness? What does it mean to wear the habit over the experiences I’ve been writing about?
There are times the habit feels like a barrier between me and the world, a shroud or a costume. Sometimes it’s a shield, sometimes it’s a banner. This morning, it’s a warm quilt. This morning it fits around my tender body in soft folds, its weight a comfort. The cross sits there, black against the white of the fabric, a promise and a reminder. I do not walk this road alone.
I haven’t been able to focus much during my morning lectio lately. The words and the stories aggravate and antagonize me. All I can draw into myself is the name Jesus. Jesus as anchor and balm, promise and reminder. His is a gentle companionship, and I know that he mourns with me. Like the women in the woodcut, he lifts up his voice with mine to weep still more. And he’ll keep walking with me to that deep down tender place, because it is also his tender place.
I’m reminded of the ancient prayer Anima Christi, which in part goes “O good Jesus hear me. Within your wounds hide me. From the wicked foe defend me. Suffer me never to be separated from you.” I pray these days to be hidden in Jesus’ wounds, because he is hidden in mine. I go there seeking him, as much as myself. And when I get there, I find he’s gone ahead of me once again, always pointing the way home through the darkness.