We have spent the past several weeks talking about need – as we should, since that word is found in four of our six Missionary Objectives. We readily accept that humans have fundamental physical needs. By “fundamental,” we mean built into the design of being human, requiring attention and cultivation throughout our lifetimes. Most of us also acknowledge the similar existence of spiritual needs – not simply those things which make us happy in the moment, but conditions leading to enduring satisfaction and purpose.
Last week’s thought cautioned against coming into Missionary work with the hope of fixing need. Rather than viewing need as something to be eliminated, we considered need as a state of being. In no way do we suggest that need is advantageous, but it is not necessarily a disadvantage, either.
For us, need is a point of realizing the importance of connection. Think of everything thereafter (whether acceptance or intervention) as balancing on that one point: the more we embrace our need, the greater our connections, the greater our stability, the greater the strength of the current supporting us.
Last week, we mentioned the word “brokenness.” In English, the word “broken” has hundreds of connotations, most obviously beginning with the ones which mean shattered, ruined, fractured and unusable. Such nuances evoke anger and despair, as that which once was intact is now broken. Implicit, too, is both victimhood and blame, even if the act of breaking was accidental.
“Human brokenness” more often refers to matters of the spirit, not the body. The nuance here leans more toward vulnerability and a succumbing to those forces which threaten to convince us of our worthlessness. Again, despair prevails.
When it comes to people and circumstances, why is it that do we not first turn to the other, equally valid meanings of “broken” and its related word forms, such as:
opened (The envelope’s seal was broken)
revealed (They broke their silence at long last)
begun (Morning has broken)
interrupted (The reporter broke in with a question)
just happening (Breaking news)
separated (The conference sessions were broken into 30-minute blocks)
relented (Her fever broke by evening)
pause (I’m taking a break)
What, too, of those things that require pushing through something in order to begin use, such as in breaking out of an eggshell, or getting our first big break?
We are not out to play word games or come up with something clever. We are firmly serious when we say that “brokenness,” in referring to the human condition, has to us many layers of meaning. It is both paradox and parallax, separate and simultaneous. “Broken” means both pain and comfort, ending and beginning, old and new. It is neither strictly lamentation nor celebration. It is not something to be sought after, nor something to avoid. It is the strange reality of the human condition. We are solitary creatures who never stop needing others. We are imperfect people constantly striving for perfection. We expect better than we get, and we give more than we seem to have. There is a curious multiplication to be found in the spiritual life which is at the center of the Christian worldview and is that from which we draw as Missionaries of Saint Thorlak. (To be clear, we do not require our followers to identify themselves as anything besides human – but a willingness to understand Christianity is incredibly helpful in seeing where our ideas come from).
We do need a specific definition for the purposes of our Mission, or else we are going to fall down the endless rabbit hole of philosophy instead of getting down to business. Thus, for the Mission of Saint Thorlak, “brokenness” will be used in reference to how we relate to others. Our brokenness can mean how we have been wounded, how we have healed, how we struggle to relate, and how we open ourselves to be shared. Hopefully, it will mean more and more as we cultivate, pray, contemplate and relate as Missionaries on our journey together.
Now that we have our baselines, we are almost ready to move on to the most ambitious of our objectives, that of Number Three: To make people aware that our needs spring from God's thirst to be known and loved. Before we do, we have one last consideration:
To the degree we resist need, we resist connection.
Related to this: To the degree we are broken-open, we may give and receive mercy.
Mercy? Do we have to contend with another matter of theology? Not strictly.
Compassion, kindness, and relief from distress transcend theology and ideology. They are the best aspects of our humanity toward one another, no matter what your worldview is. It just so happens that Christianity is also rooted in mercy, but we’ll get to that; it will become apparent as we go along.
Go back to our last consideration: To the degree we are broken-open, we may give and receive mercy – that is to say, compassion, kindness and relief from distress.
If we insist we have no need, that we are self-sufficient, that we cannot afford to trust others… if we block posts in our newsfeeds from people who oppose us just because they oppose us… if we fortify ourselves to defend against the worst, or isolate ourselves and call it safety… mercy cannot penetrate those shields.
But brokenness can.
More precisely, brokenness permits mercy to penetrate.
To modify a slogan made popular a few years back:
No brokenness, no mercy;
Know brokenness, know mercy.
If any of this stretches our thinking to the point of absurdity, be ready for next week, when we dive headfirst into the proposition that God Himself embodies and demonstrates these very principles of longing to be known, of brokenness and mercy.
Pray: God, Heavenly Father: I have known brokenness in many ways. Please help me in particular to recognize the instances where ‘brokenness’ has been, for good or bad, an openness to receiving mercy.
Contemplate our modified slogan: No brokenness, no mercy; know brokenness, know mercy.
Relate: As we relate to others this week, is it easier to see our own brokenness, or that of others around us?
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak