Jim Mayzik SJ                   Everything Matters
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Jim Mayzik SJ Blog

I'll be using this space from time to time to share my reflections and thoughts on various topics.  Please feel free to add to the conversation by writing some reaction in the COMMENT section! 

 

 

The faithful light.

The four arms of God.

The four arms of God.

I was in the car the other day, dead stopped in a traffic jam, and I decided to turn off the radio, tired of all the political noise.  I scrolled to Spotify on my phone, and the first song that came on was this one, from Cat Stevens:

And here are the lyrics:

Yes, I'm bein' followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow---
Leapin and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow---

And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, Oh Ayyyy  I won't have to work no more.

And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, Oh Ayyyy  I won't have to cry no more.

Oh, I'm bein' followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow---
Leapin and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow---

And if I ever lose my legs, I won't moan, and I won't beg,
Yes if I ever lose my legs, Oh Ayyy  I won't have to walk no more.

And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south,
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, Oh Ayyyy I won't have to talk...

Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night?

I'm bein' followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow---
Leapin and hoppin' on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow---

Moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow.

It was one of my favorite songs from college days, and I became a great fan of Cat Stevens. His songs always had something to say, and they moved me deeply. The song is about acceptance even in the face of terrible loss—eyes, mouth, hands, legs!  The song is also about gratitude because of the faithful light that is always shining through the loss.

It’s amazing how music can take you back.  You hear a song from years ago, and suddenly you are back there, the memories broken open for you again: some particular moment, a favorite place, the color of the sky, the smell of the air, the people whom you have loved, the laughter and the hugs…spirits and times released from the drawers of your heart. 

That's me on my back with the GUTS bus system I started at Georgetown.

That's me on my back with the GUTS bus system I started at Georgetown.

And when Moonshadow started playing in my car, I was transported back to the days of my youth, and especially to my friend Matt.  He was the first friend in my life who had the courage to reveal to me that he was gay.  It was especially courageous because in those days it was rare for someone to ‘come out’, and for good reason. Even in a place like New York, there was open bigotry, discrimination and outright hatred for people who were gay, and I’ll admit that even as Matt’s friend, it was a challenge to get my head—and most especially my heart--around it. And he told me about people who had distanced themselves from him when they simply suspected where he stood, without any confirmation from him. 

As he told me his story, he helped me to understand the pain that it brought to him, his tortured attempt to shake it off, the rejection he feared from his family and friends, the fear that it would affect his career and all elements of his life. 

And a few years later, just when he was growing into some self-acceptance and even compassion for those who were afraid of him, he suffered an even greater rejection and desertion when he was diagnosed with AIDS.  This was in the early years, before people understood the disease and how it was transmitted, before they discovered the cocktail of drugs to help people survive. People were afraid to be near him, to even touch anything he touched. And some people condemned him-- sometimes openly, often behind his back.

It was not unlike the Gospel story of the lepers.  They had been completely separated, excluded, kept at a distance so as not to spread the disease and contaminate the ‘clean’ people. They often had bells hanging on them—like cows--to warn people that they were coming.

I think the part of this story I like the most is the fact that Jesus didn’t do to them what everyone else did—he didn’t run away from them, or chase them away. In fact in Mark’s version, he actually goes right up to them and embraces them. It’s what Jesus always does to everyone who is excluded, to everyone who is judged ‘defective’, sick, all who are outcast because of some external or internal ‘disorder’. He embraces them, all of them, including the sinner, the criminal, the prostitute, reminding them to repent; for that matter, he embraces anyone who is ‘different’, alienated, unloved. 

He embraces them, accepts them, he doesn’t judge them to condemnation, and in that embrace he demonstrates what love is all about.  The embrace is actually much more than a ‘cure’. In that embrace, Jesus heals them.

There is a difference between curing and healing.

When you cure someone you rid them of their disease.

Healing goes much deeper. When you heal someone it is about restoring their heart, bringing them to human wholeness. When you are healed, you feel like a new person, and the natural response to that is always gratitude. 

But to be healed, you have to let go of your self, you have to give yourself totally over to the healer, you have to accept the faithful light.

In the Gospel, Jesus cures 10 lepers and then sends them off to the priests, the very people who were in the forefront of judging their illness as a sin.  The priests felt that surely they must be bad people because God had given them this disease. 

Jesus wants the priests to acknowledge that those they have condemned are made in the image and likeness of God, like all of us.

So he cures these outcasts, and they go to the priests—who you’d would think would be joyful, but they are actually more self-righteous and resentful of Jesus.

But then there is the issue of the 9 lepers who were cured of their disease but who didn’t come back to thank Jesus. They were cured, but maybe not healed. Healing brings gratitude, and only one of them was grateful. And he was a Samaritan leper, which made him doubly ‘defective’ because Samaritans were seen as pagans and were to be avoided at all costs.

It was only the Samaritan who was able to open his heart to Jesus’ healing power, and he was flooded with gratitude.

Which brings me back to my friend Matt, and the song.  I associate Moonshadow with Matt because of what I witnessed in him in his long, awful decline with AIDS. 

In Matt’s illness, he reacted initially with anger toward the disease, towards those who abandoned him, and towards God. That anger eventually turned into despair, but then to an acceptance: of himself, of the disease, of the suffering he experienced, and of God’s embrace. 

Over a period of many months, I watched his health decline progressively, but at the same time, I witnessed a growing peace. I didn’t know it at the time, but in his dying, he was being healed.  Many of those around him, including his health care providers, were consoled by his outreach to them, and his acceptance of his suffering.

He taught me a great deal about how suffering could be redemptive. One afternoon I arrived at his apartment and I found him attempting to cheer up a private duty nurse who was caring for him. At that point he had lost a lot of weight, was very pale, and looked pretty bad---a far cry from the handsome guy everyone acknowledged before his illness. Matt got up from his bed and danced a bit with the nurse, making fun of her steps, eventually making her laugh.

He took every physical diminishment and its indignities and humiliations with the same perspective as in the song…if I ever have to lose my legs, I won’t have to walk no more; my mouth, I won’t have to talk no more; my eyes, I won’t have to cry.

Matt acknowledged that the faithful light of Jesus had found him, and in his deathbed he was leaping and hopping within it: moonshadow to moonshadow, day in and day out, something to sing about, or dance. At the end of it all, he knew that although his body was spent, he was healed.  And like the Samaritan leper, he was oh so grateful.

Jesus comes to heal all of us, regardless of what others think of us, or what we think of ourselves. He comes to heal us even when we marginalize, alienate, judge and condemn one another. It takes an open heart, a letting go, and soon enough you’ll see the shadow from his faithful light, to stay with you forever. 

And when that happens, it is impossible to judge and condemn, to exile our brothers and sisters, to turn away from them. When you are grateful for being so loved, you need to love others like Jesus, especially the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the victims of war and oppression, those who are suffering and dying, those with whom are marginalized and all who are condemned as ‘defective’.

Gratitude for being loved is always is expressed in love for others. So how about you? Are you ready to be healed?   

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Mayzik5 Comments