Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Healing River and Refining Fire of Faith

The first reading from Monday's (2 Kings 5:1-15) and Tuesday's (Daniel 3:25, 34-43) Daily Mass are quite intriguing stories from the Old Testament, laden with very stark and interesting imagery. The story from Second Kings is about the healing of the Aramean army commander Naaman by the prophet Elisha. Naaman travels all the way from Aram to Israel and is told in quite matter-of-fact fashion, that, if he wants to be healed of his leprosy, he need only bathe in the Jordan River. Naaman is quite put off by this simplistic proposal and says to his servants, “I thought that he would surely come out and stand there 
to invoke the LORD his God,
 and would move his hand over the spot,
 and thus cure the leprosy.
 Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar,
 better than all the waters of Israel? 
Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” Just as Naaman is about to return to Aram in anger, his servants prevail on him to at least give the prophet's instruction a try (since he is already so close to the Jordan). Naaman indeed does go to the Jordan, plunges himself into the River seven times and is healed! In today's first reading from the book of the prophet Daniel, we encounter the Israelite exile, Azariah, standing in the "white hot" fiery furnace of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (he was tossed into the furnace for refusing to worship an idol crafted by the King's artisans). Instead of being burned to bits, Azariah sings a great hymn of faith to the God of Israel, and is miraculously protected against the flames lapping up all around him!

These two stories reminded me of a line from the movie "The Shawshank Redemption." This movie tells the story of a prison escape by the central character, Andy Dufresne, who was unjustly imprisoned at Shawshank Prison for a murder he didn't commit. In order to be freed from the prison, Andy had to crawl through a mile long septic tunnel nearly filled with human refuse. His friend, a fellow inmate named Red, summed it up best by stating that Andy, "crawled through a river of sh*t and came out clean on the other side." The above mentioned readings from Second Kings and Daniel, along with this profound and loaded statement by Red, point to difficult truths that we very often don't want to face: in order to "come out clean" (i.e., be healed and made relatively "whole") or arrive at a strong, fire-tested faith, we almost certainly have to "bathe" in less than desirable "waters", "go through the fire", or, even crawl through a "river of sh*t". In other words, there is no magical formula or way in which we can come to meaning, purpose, and even a sense of the beauty of our lives apart from the murky, muddy, stinky, and fiery experiences that make up life and the story of our lives. It's only by directly facing, embracing, and enduring the sum total of all that makes up life and our lives in a spirit of hope and reverence that even the most putrid waters can somehow miraculously heal and the most blazing fire can refine our trust in the God who accompanies us through it all. Pat, TOR