Boundless wind and moon ~ the eye within eyes.
Inexhaustible heaven and earth ~ the light beyond light.
The willow dark, the flower bright ~ ten thousand houses.
Knock on any door ~ there’s one who will respond.
~ The Blue Cliff Record, Preface
Last weekend, we held a two-day retreat at the Franciscan Renewal Center, in Scottsdale, Az. On the north side of the property were some walking paths through stone gardens. The paths included the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross, which are 14 images, or stations, depicting Jesus’ journey along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem on his way to crucifixion on Mount Calvary. Though it was only an artist’s bas relief rendition, I was struck by the fact that in each of these images, some of them pictures of him in great distress, he was never alone: someone was there to betray him, to help him carry his cross, to give him water, to nail him to the cross, and to lovingly take him down after his death.
During our lunch break on the first day, I went walking around the grounds, and entered the main Franciscan church. Inside the entrance, there was a large poster up of a young woman: blonde and movie-star pretty, she had a wide and radiant smile. There were happy pictures from her youth and wonderful family portraits; it could have been a cover shoot for People Magazine’s Most Beautiful Family in America. The memorial dates showed Ms A had passed away a month before, at 35 years of age.
Later, walking near the Stations, I came across a gentleman, who was watching a covey of Gambel’s quail run through the area. He said, “At least the birds are having a good time.” I turned to look at the quail, and said, “Yes, they are.” He was wearing a blue suit, and seemed to want to talk, so I asked him, “Are you here for the memorial?” He said he was. I went on, “What happened? She looked so great.” He said he was the mother’s partner, and that nobody was quite sure what was the cause of death. In recent months, Ms A had come clean of drugs, was regularly exercising, and visiting her mother two to three times a week. It looked like she had turned her life around. Then, one morning, she did not wake. I expressed how sorry I was for the family’s loss. He said the mother was really struggling. We parted ways in the rock garden, as the quail ran off into the desert.
I could not help but think that Ms A, in her last weeks, days, and perhaps years, must have felt terribly alone. That no matter how many doors she knocked on, there was no one to answer. Perhaps it is not a balanced comparison, but the man Jesus, who was undergoing his own terrible trial on the Via, was never alone. He had friends and tormentors, he had lovers and compassionate passersby. She, perhaps, could not see thee community there to help her; my guess is Jesus could. Knock on any of the ten thousand doors ~ there is someone who will respond for us.