"GOD IS NOTHING BUT MERCY AND LOVE." - St. Therese of Lisieux
The video at the bottom of the page recently made the rounds on social media. I found it so moving that I re-watched it several times. Eventually, the images and sounds in the video made their way into my prayer. I found myself practicing visio divina, a prayerful pondering and ruminating over the deeper layers of meaning and significance of what is portrayed.
I have come to understand this video as an allegory of humanity’s relationship with God. Sr. Ruth Burrows, OCD, writes in her book, Guidelines for Mystical Prayer (Burnes & Oates 2007):
The more I have looked at the world of humanity, read history, novels, case-histories of crime, the more convinced I am that humanity is not wicked but blind. Often you get the impression that humankind is wandering blindly and aimlessly in a great, dark forest, getting entangled, falling into pits, with no sense of direction; not wicked but blind and helpless.
This description is represented in the video by Gladys, the elderly woman with Alzheimer’s. Not wicked, but lost and withdrawn into her own world, nearly blind and without direction. She quite literally cannot help herself. She appears incapable of communication, of the ability to give and receive love and friendship in the way we normally register such things.
How often am I lost and blind? Remembering that this is an allegory, and thus the important exception that Gladys has absolutely no control or choice over her situation, how often do I not “see” the humanity of others, of myself? How often do I withdraw from others out of fear of rejection, out of defense against being hurt? How often do we as a species appear incapable of communication with one another, of the ability to give and receive love and friendship? How often do we withdraw into ourselves, our politics, our “stuff,” our success, our nation-state, our religion, our race, our gender, our class, our sense of superiority, our family, our ideologies, our clique… or any other of the pits into which we descend with our false gods – becoming so entangled that we lose all sense of direction. Helpless to climb out, lost and blind, we wander aimlessly, searching for something or someone to quench our horrendous thirst, our unyielding desire, our unbearable yearning for we know not what.
Everyone is in dialogue with God. The saint says ‘yes’ to [God], the sinner, ‘no.’ As for the rest of us, it is a medley of tones and semi-tones, minor and major thirds of “noes” and “yesses.” To put it another way, the sun shines on all. The very few stand fully exposed to the light and heat – others shrink away into dark corners where it cannot penetrate. The rest in varying degrees shelter or hide from its radiance. But the sun goes on shining and God goes on loving us, trying to prepare us to receive [God], drawing us to [Godself].
This description is represented in the video by Naomi Fiel, the woman singing to Gladys. Like Naomi, God sees deeper than the surface of our apparent blindness and withdrawal. God sees that deep within each of us, deeper than the pits and false gods and aimlessness, flows our thirst and our desire and our yearning for Love. This is what we crave most. This is the “what” for which we yearn. This is what we fear not receiving, this is what we fear giving and having rejected, this is what we think we have found in our false gods. And so God sings to us in a medley of tones, cupping our faces and lifting them to the light, to the warmth of the sun, which is Love (and, for Christians, this is accomplished preeminently and perfectly in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever). Shining the face of Love into our dark, cramped, little worlds, God – like Naomi – sings us a rhythm designed to draw us out of our fear, to reveal to us our ability to communicate, to ground us in God’s infinite love and friendship so that we need not fear the rejection of our sisters and brothers.
Rather, we begin to see what (and as) God sees. The dark forest becomes illuminated for us with the light of God, with the light of Love, such that we begin to recognize that all of us are Gladys, all of us are waiting for someone to come along and recognize our humanity, to speak to us gently, to hold our face and peer compassionately into our lives – patiently understanding the personal history that makes us who we are: good, bad, or indifferent. This is what God does, God who knows all the tragic moments in our lives that have blinded us, that have led us to be defensive, selfish, narcissistic, afraid, weird, uncomfortable in our own skin. God knows and understands all of this, and still – STILL!!! – wants to sing us out of this darkness and into the light of love and friendship. This is to say that God wants to heal us, that God is, to quote Fr. Thomas Keating, OCSO, the Divine Therapist – curing us of our neuroses through the unconditional acceptance of our frail humanity and the ever present offer of new creation; the myriad of opportunities we are offered to freely embrace and become the person and people were were created to be.
The next time you begin to put yourself down, or to put another down, the next time you begin to demonize, dismiss, or denigrate – remember that you, that the other person or people, are Gladys, and that God is there singing to you or them; patiently trying to draw out the deep humanity God has placed therein:
Above all, [understand] to some extent the immensity of God’s love for each one of us and his overwhelming longing to draw us to himself and bring us to that fulfillment for which he made us. To each one I would cry: ‘Wake up! wake up out of your world of illusions. Look at God. There are no limits to what he will do for you if you trust him utterly.’ (Ruth Burrows)