Column: Love Your Wounds So You Can Love the Wounded

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Because we have a God who wants nothing from us but wants for us, he loves us into a better world,” said Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service. “God does that, not by wagging a finger at us, but helping us put a finger on it. That is the divine ingenuity.”

His sermon title was “And Awe Came Upon Everyone,” and the Scripture reading was Luke 7:11-17.

In the Scripture, Jesus’ heart goes out to a widow who has lost her only son.

“She is cut off and she is a trustworthy guide. Julian of Norwich said that true spirituality produces love and humility and genuine awe,” Boyle said. “Jesus is the divine ingenuity. Jesus stands in awe of what the widow now has to carry. We have to stand in awe of what the poor have to carry, not judge how they carry it.”

He illustrated his point with a story about Hector, a 16-year-old at Homeboy Industries who is back in school after many years away. Hector was trying to make small talk with Boyle and told him he had talked to a man who heard one of Boyle’s speeches and found it “monotonous.” “Really?” Boyle asked him. Hector said, “No, not really,” that he just needed to practice bigger words. “Practice on someone else,” Boyle responded.

Another illustration was the story of Jermaine, who came to Homeboy at age 30. When he was 9, his mother stood in the doorway of his room, her arms outstretched and he could see that blood was dripping from her deeply slit wrists. “See what you made me do,’ ” she said. Jermaine was put in foster care, Boyle said, and the gangs and prison completed his education. “What I discovered was that I preferred my rage to my shame,” Jermaine said.

“Marcus Borg said that the principal suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace. What we discover at the margins is our own brokenness and our own wounds. We become enlightened witnesses to the return to wholeness,” Boyle said. “We don’t hold up a bar for people to meet but a mirror, and we tell them the truth — you are exactly what God had in mind when God made you.”

That mirror of truth shows people they inhabit a place where death, prison or bullets cannot touch them. The measure of health in the early Christian community, Boyle said, was “see how they love one another, no one is needy and awe came upon everyone. Health may reside in the awe of what the poor have to carry, not how they carry it.”

Boyle was invited to speak at a social workers’ conference in Richmond, Virginia, and mistakenly thought he was giving a keynote address when he had been invited to do an all-day seminar. He invited two Homeboys, André and José, to go with him and tell their stories. “Take your time; we have a long-ass day to fill,” Boyle said.

José is now a valued member of the substance abuse team at Homeboy. He was in prison, homeless and a heroin addict. He was just 6 when his mother told him he should just kill himself. The congregation gasped. Boyle said the social workers gasped, too, and José told them, “It sounds worser in Spanish.” The congregation laughed and Boyle said the same thing happened with the social workers — from gasp to laughter in a moment.

José was 9 when his mother took him to Baja, California, and dumped him in an orphanage telling the director, “I found this kid.” His grandmother rescued him after 90 days. His mother beat him every day, and he wore three T-shirts to school to hide the blood. Of course he was teased by his classmates.

José told the social workers he wore three shirts into his adult years because he was ashamed of his wounds. “Now I welcome them,” he said. “I run my fingers over them and they are my friends. How can I heal the wounded if I don’t welcome my own wounds?”

“And awe came upon everyone,” Boyle said.

“Compassion,” he said, “is not measured in our service, but in our willingness to be in kinship. If we don’t welcome our wounds, we will despise the wounded.”

As another illustration, Boyle shared the story of 20-year-old Danny, who swore as a child he would never enter Homeboy Industries, but came after his mother died. He told Boyle he was going home on the train one night and there was a man standing in front of him. Danny knew he was a homie by his tattoos and he seemed a bit drunk. The man saw Danny’s Homeboy T-shirt and asked if he worked there. Danny nodded yes and the man asked, “Any good?” Danny told him, “Well, it helped me and I don’t think I will go back to prison because of it.” Then he took out a piece of paper and wrote down the address for the man. “Come and see us,” he said. “We’ll help you.” The man thanked him and left.

“What happened next never happened to me before. Everyone was looking at me, everyone was nodding, everyone was smiling at me,” Danny said to Boyle. “And for the first time in my life, I felt admired.”

“Danny returned to himself by the divine ingenuity who only wanted for him and not from him,” Boyle said. “And awe came upon everyone.”

The Rev. James Hubbard presided. Alison Marthinsen, a resident of Toronto where she serves on the board of a ministry called Sanctuary, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir which sang “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” arranged by Dan Forrest. The Alison and Craig Marthinsen Endowment for the Department of Religion provides support for this week’s services.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.