The more years I serve as a priest, the more aware I become of the “walking wounded.” I do not mean a special category of person by this, but simply a description of who we are as we walk through whatever journey we take. I reflect on this particularly because I can remember not always knowing this about myself or others around me. As a young priest fresh out of seminary I think I believed that the broken parts of me were different from others and that there were some people out there who did not have wounds. As years have gone by, I have learned how terribly wrong I was – both that I might be different from others – or that others were different from me.
Most of what I know has come by way of experience. Stories I have been told, confessions I have heard, watching lives explode with an impotence that itself felt like another wound. In these later years, particularly as an Orthodox priest, nurtured by relationships with older and wiser priests, formed in the Tradition – I have slowly been learning that this is simply the human condition, and that my path in life is mostly to pray for those whose care falls to my priestly ministry, never to forget them before God – and to be only as wise as I am rather than trying to be more than I am.
I look to the Cross of Christ, for only there do I find hope and an answer that goes beyond the frailty of our wounded souls, a love that enters into Hell itself for no better purpose than to bring us out again. Our human efforts of love fall short. We betray one another, desert one another, and fail even while we try to succeed. It has been that way for all of human history as told to us by God. But human history will not always be this way – because God has told us this also.
Christ never betrayed a man. Christ never deserted a friend. Christ never lied – He never cheated. He always kept His Word and loved even those who hated and reviled Him. Christ was properly a stranger to death – One in whom “non-being” had no place. How can “non-being” have a place in “He Who Is?”
And yet, He Who Is, entered the very depths of non-being – through the gates of death and brought us forth with Him. And thus I have learned to pray. I think of two prayers in Scripture that strike me to my very core. Both are prayers offered up from the depths of the human wound. One is the high-priestly prayer of Christ in the 17th chapter of John’s gospel:
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.
The other is Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the whale (in Christian terms, Christ’s prayer from Hades):
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and thou didst hear my voice. For thou didst cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood was round about me; all thy waves and thy billows passed over me. Then I said, `I am cast out from thy presence; how shall I again look upon thy holy temple?’ The waters closed in over me, the deep was round about me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me for ever; yet thou didst bring up my life from the Pit, O LORD my God. When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; and my prayer came to thee, into thy holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their true loyalty. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to thee; what I have vowed I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the LORD!” And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.
All of us are the walking wounded – but as we keep walking – by God’s good grace – we will leave the wounds behind – come that good morning.