I recently had the great privilege of visiting Network Coffee House down on 14th and Pearl here in Denver. NCH has been open for 30 years. It is a coffee house for the homeless, of which there are many in that neck of the woods. Every night, from 6-9pm, the homeless can come on in, grab a cup of joe, and sit around tables chatting with other folks, some homeless and some not, like normal human beings. No one trying to minister to them. No one “benefacting” (not a word, but you get the idea) at them. No one trying to “help” them. Just togetherness. Presence. Relationship. Beautiful.
In a room above the coffee house there is a makeshift chapel. A pulpit, a sort of “altar”, a projector and screen, a few old pews and a couch that smells, well odd to say the least, strewn about for seating. Every Tuesday night a small group of folks gathers to sing, ponder the grit of life in light of the grit of our Story, interact a bit with the “friends” downstairs (the homeless), and take communion. “Honest spiritual formation in hard places” is their tagline.
My visit to this Tuesday night group happened on the last night of an 8 week long meditation on the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8). The group had been pondering the story from all angles over the course of 8 weeks, letting the Spirit expose the ways in which that story plays itself out over and over again in each of our lives. On this last night, they played a clip from a movie called The Stoning of Soraya, in which a middle eastern woman is stoned by her community for a crime she committed. The clip was 12 minutes long, and brutally hard to watch. Afterwards, one of the leaders gave a short reflection, and then the group was dismissed for an hour to either walk the streets and meditate, or simply to go downstairs to hang with the “friends.”
When the hour was over, the group reconvened and then immediately broke into groups of 3 to discuss what the film clip stirred up in their souls. The leader who gave the reflection was in my group, and so when it came to be my turn to discuss, I related the film to something he said in his reflection… or something I thought he said, rather.
“You know, I think the thing that really impressed me in watching the clip,” I started in, “was how untenable it is to live a life where we’re so ready to throw stones at each other… and that really comes back to something you said (I was looking at the leader at this point) in your reflection when you asked, ‘How can we stop throwing stones at ourselves?’ Because it seems like only when we stop condemning ourselves will we have the capacity to stop condemning others.”
The leader stopped me. “I think you heard me wrong,” he said. “I didn’t ask, ‘How can we stop throwing stones at ourselves?’ What I asked was, ‘How do we come to grips with the fact that we throw stones at ourselves, and embrace the love of God for us despite that?’ That’s a very different thing.”
I’m sure he didn’t realize it, but that little comment caused a sort of earthquake in my soul. It was weird. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. “How do we come to grips with the fact that we throw stones at ourselves?” Not, “How do we stop it?” But, “How do we accept it… and let God love us in it anyway?”
In John 20 we learn that the resurrected Christ still has scars. “Put your hand in my side”, he says to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus’ woundedness created faith. Weird.
Lately it’s occurring to me that there might be something there. Why in the world wouldn’t God have covered over Christ’s afflictions? Why not expunge the memory of that grueling night before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, the crowd… Golgotha? Resurrected, yes. But the wounds, the scars… they’re still there. Why? John is even more explicit in his Apocalypse when he continues to refer to Christ, the glorified, resurrected, powerful Christ as “the Lamb, looking like he had been slaughtered… sitting on the throne.”
He still has scars. He still bears his afflictions. They are not eradicated by Resurrection. They are changed by it, to be sure. But not eradicated.
I’m sure there’s something profound for our spirituality in that insight… and it’s to that that I’d like to turn in the next few days. I hope you’ll join me.