catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 12 :: 2013.06.07 — 2013.06.20


Surprised in the margins

As I shared a meal with retreat guests, we discussed our stories, our vocations and the call of Christ to love the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked and imprisoned as himself. I spoke of my job, my vocation, of serving as an occupational therapist within a state forensic psychiatric hospital. I often forget that the everyday realities of my world are not experienced by my most people. I remember that I serve within the margins of society when others respond with disbelief, confusion or horror when I mention that I daily interact with folks who have killed or assaulted another, that many of my patients will remain noticeably mentally ill to the passerby on the street even when taking medications, and that some will spend years hospitalized or incarcerated with staff becoming more and more like family and the hospital home.

I left this particular conversation curious to read anew the passage of Matthew 25:34-40 through the lens of my vocation.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

As I read through new eyes, I saw the errors of my imagined version of this passage. This text had always called up visions of first century deathbeds, offerings of meager porridge and dark wet prison walls. These images are dark, cold and covered in a layer of dirt. I would not expect to find joy or laughter in such scenes. However, I recognized the reality that in many ways this text is characteristic of my daily life. Meager porridge and dirty water is Christmas cookies and coffee; strangers are new patients only known by a legal status and court report; tattered clothing is a store filled with clothing donated and arranged with care; deathbed illness is internal voices, disorganization and escalating behavior ; dark wet prison walls are heavy sets of locking doors that keep freedom elusive and nonexistent. 

I never would have expected to find Jesus in the form of a mentally ill criminal, but in this place, I encounter Jesus in concrete ways daily. I am surprised to find that this verse lived is not dark and cold, but it is full of laughter, joy and smiling within my soul. Perhaps this should not be a surprise, for Jesus when encountered is none of those things. Though darkness and brokenness are unmistakable, the same Jesus I have encountered in church singing, in my apartment praying and on a retreat writing, is the Jesus who meets me with love and gentleness in the men encountered at work. It is the Jesus who holds me in my hidden despair as he blesses me and says, “Lord have mercy on your soul,” on the day I had no strength to pray. It is the Jesus who holds the whole world in his hands and calls me into prayer as he proudly reports “praying for the planet” earlier that morning. It is the Jesus who delights in my presence as he limps quickly over when I enter the unit and says with a broad smile, “Well, hello, Laura. I was just thinking about you. What are we going to do today?” It is the Jesus who longs to protect and shield me as he smiles, shakes my hand, and says, “You’re my friend. I won’t hurt you.” This is Jesus — Jesus in flesh unexpected: dirty, disorganized, legally insane, and also Jesus in flesh expected: loving, gentle, merciful and protecting. 

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