Sometimes growth is painful.
I was watching our little Luisa in the church nursery this morning. Luisa is eight months old and has two new front teeth, tiny white miracles protruding delicately from her lower gum. There seems to be a new one coming in, a painful process. So little Luisa, whom every woman in the church wants to hold and cuddle, suffers the aching jabs of this new enamel breaking through her skin.
Since the Fall of Adam mankind feels pain, and it is curious that it is often through suffering that we grow, change, reshape our interior selves. We become molded in some way by the experience, sometimes in a good way, sometimes not. Our souls push, break, into new territory.
Our parish is going through a growing experience as we work through a time without a rector, someone to lead us, to pull us together. We all pitch in, to be sure, with extra tithe, time, and talent. And we all feel the pain of this transition-searching season as we seek God’s will for our church family.
The seeds the children planted in the classroom last week have sprouted. I followed Natalie, age two and a half, to the row of terra cotta pots under the tall window that filtered the sun. Tiny shoots had emerged from their dark beds of soil. Green fronds, so delicate, reached for the light. We tilted the watering can carefully and gave the newborns a drink. Natalie concentrated on the task, fully absorbed.
We are those seeds, moving from darkness to light with God’s grace. We will one day produce leaves and flowers. We will bear fruit. But the process might be painful.
The Gospel today was one of the feeding miracles. Seven fish become enough for a crowd of four thousand hungry men and women and children. They are all fed, with food left over. And once again I am reminded of Christ’s great love for us, for his miracles are pain-relieving miracles – feeding, healing, exorcising demons, calming storms at sea, bringing the dead to life. He does not pull rabbits out of hats or squeeze into tiny cubicles or wave wands or brew potions. He does not perform magic. He engages in our very real and human pain, and pulls us through it and out. We emerge better men and women. And somehow belief is involved in this process.
In many of the miracles of Our Lord, faith is necessary for healing to occur. It is as though belief becomes the medium in which Our Lord works, so that our movement through the pain will be one of growth toward the light and not one of sinking into the dark. Through faith we are given greater hope, strength, and love. Without faith, we meet despair, weakness, loneliness.
Belief. Pain. Growth. Healing. Light. Love. They are all connected in powerful ways.
And as we gathered for a meal after the Mass today, and welcomed the man who might become our new rector, the hope among us was tangible. We had pulled through a painful time together, and God had bound our wounds. In the binding we have drawn close together as a parish family. This good man who preached this morning and visited with his lovely wife may or may not be the one called by God to shepherd our little flock. But we all knew that God was with us in a bright and joyous way as we shared our meal.
Little Luisa cried over her erupting tooth and Natalie played with her balloons (red, yellow, green), pushing them into the air and chasing them, and I knew that we would rise up through the dark loam of our challenges, whether they be family, church, or nation, into the light of day. We need only have faith.
But without faith in Christ, we can do nothing.