I have spent a glorious few hours revisiting a couple of my favorite books – an obscure series written years ago by Penelope Wilcock – The Hawk and The Dove, The Wounds of God, and The Long Fall.
A) Initially, the author utilized a now / then format – a young girl asking her mother to tell her stories, and then the stories themselves, which took place in midevil England in a Benedictine monestary. While the 'now' sections were fine, my real interest lay in the ancient stories … By the time book three came about, somehow the author realized most people felt similarly drawn to the ancient parts, and she abandoned the modern story line – the last book is entirely about the monastic community. And, while on first mention, this all might sound dull … her development of characters is really quite good. I always weep when one of my favorite monks dies, and I miss the whole community after I finish the series.
My point here is this: you get wiser as you go on (hopefully) and you make adjustments. You change the original plan. You flex. You change. You grow. This takes a certain amount of naked humility to say, "I was wrong. There is a better way to go about this."
B) The last book in the series deals with one of the members who has a stroke which leaves him helpless and unable to speak. The pains that he takes to make himself understood and the love with which his community tries to serve him – it is mind boggling. This is not sanitized writing - the brothers have short tempers and get irritated and tired and whiney, just as you or I would. But the difference is that, because they are all a family, of sorts, and they have taken an oath of humility, there is a lot of heartfelt apologizing for bad behavior and resolving of grievances. There is also plenty of insincere asking for forgiveness too – because it is required by The Rule. Wilcock's writing does a great job of capturing the difference. And it illustrates very clearly: true love does cover a multitude of sins.
Beyond this, the book captures the indignities of being cared for. As well as the uncomfortableness of caring for the other. As humans, we keep a polite distance from one another with our pride and our self-sufficiency. When one needs another, whether physically or emotionally, those walls start to crumble; it requires extreme delicate insight on both parties to preserve the dignity and well-being of both. Nakedness, in a non-sexual context, is a fearsome thing. (Why do people hate their annual physicals? Or going to a therapist, at least initially – being naked infront of someone who is dressed creates intense vulnerability). It is equally distressing to be the one clothed. You have to practice to overcome the discomfort. Yet to adequately care for the infirm (whether physical or emotional), both are required to face that fear.
The point in all this is that it seems that in the ministering to the needs of others, without shame, giving them their dignity, we do, in fact, at times, see the face of God.