Dr. Mary Marrocco is an associate secretary for the Canadian Council of Churches. She is also a teacher, writer and lay pastoral worker. Morrocco explores the lives and writings of the saints, spiritual writers and theologians‚ and how they relate to contemporary life.

Last week, my aunt was taken to emergency and we heard she might not have many days. How much time, no one knew. My mother and I felt we must take the time to drive up next day and see her. We arranged our time accordingly.

Making good time, we arrived in early afternoon. We bought parking time and searched the hospital; she was still in emergency, a volunteer informed us, but time had passed and she may have been moved. The person who knew was on her time off.

Of divinity and cocktail parties

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Questions of faith come up in the most un-churchly ways and places. You might be at a cocktail party making small talk, or in a bus waiting for your stop, and hear profound spiritual questions slipping in and out amidst the surrounding dialogue. As a teacher of mine liked to say, God is not really hard to find — “He’s everywhere.”

In my practice as a marriage and family therapist, faith questions surface unsought, in their own time and way. When given the time and space, people are generally eager to talk about them. Indeed, we suffer from carrying such
questions alone, often without the resources to help us probe and learn from them. But the questions are alive and well in real life.

Through the cross, divine love penetrates our suffering

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It was a beautiful, comfortable hotel, but it couldn’t protect us from reality. Before dawn, we heard hostile voices from the adjacent room. A woman and man were arguing. Later, I went out to the elevator area to get a newspaper. Down the hall rushed a weeping woman with a suitcase; she waited for the elevator, sobbing, then exclaimed, “My sunglasses,” and went back down the hallway. Loud, persistent knocking and cries of “I just want to get my sunglasses” were followed by her hurried return to the elevator amidst a renewed storm of sobs. The doors opened and she was gone. It all took a couple of minutes.

Avoiding the detour

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{mosimage}How can I help? A question that lurks everywhere, ubiquitous with suffering.

Emerging into adulthood, I discovered the world is tilted: a few at the rich end, a multitude at the poor end. More shocking: everyone knew, and still it didn’t change. Didn’t people want to help? Or were they unable?

Recently, a 16-year-old let go his fury. He’d been raging a long time, repeated arrests, failure in school and nothing seemed better; childhood traumas had erected mountains he couldn’t scale. Family and professionals had seemingly tried and failed. Why couldn’t love help?

Breaking the lock

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Lee felt the familiar exasperation, defeat and desolation. He didn’t stop to list these feelings; they remained in the background of the all-too-foreground argument with his wife. 

“Nothing ever changes,” he said to himself, and eventually he said it out loud, in just that contemptuous tone Julia had been expecting, with dread. “You don’t change, and this so-called relationship doesn’t change,” she flashed back, as if from the script of one of those plays that run 35 years, the same dialogue repeated night after night. Theirs had run only 12 years, but both were feeling ready to shut it down forever.

'Free choice' has its consequences

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{mosimage}Years ago, in the 1960s and ’70s, friends met in my parents’ living room. They were reflecting prayerfully on the legalization of abortion — then in its early stages in Canada — and forming a pro-life group because they considered abortion an unthinkable answer to social problems. Long before ultrasound, in-vitro surgery and other developments gave supporting evidence, they were sure a human person exists from the moment of conception. They felt “not speaking” and thereby sanctioning the conditional legalization of abortion (1969) would slide us towards a culture of death.

They spoke, and their pro-life descendants are still trying to speak, but with voices muffled at times, impaired by connotations of “pro-life” as narrow-minded, anti-woman, blind, hate-filled, uneducated and so on. Whatever the origins of those connotations, however inaccurate they may be, they have their effect. Many find abortion abhorrent but would never associate themselves with “the pro-life movement.”

Why did God become human?

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{mosimage}While in school, I did a few jobs along the way. (It’s always good to have paying jobs to help avoid getting down to thesis work.)  One I enjoyed was teaching theology to Catholic teachers.

After one class on Christology, a teacher-student said to me, quite seriously:  “Are you saying the church teaches that Jesus was actually God? That God really became a human person? I don’t know if I believe that!” Bill listened so well, really taking in church doctrine, and actually let the question be raised in himself.

God is not beyond our reach

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Two questions have been ringing in my heart.

One came from a gentle, soft-spoken man named Allan. He suffered terribly as a child, abandoned by his parents, in a country at war.  A man of great faith, he works hard to keep from going to hell after death, because “I’ve been in hell, and I don’t want to go there again.”

How do I get out of hell and get to God? Since hell is so prevalent on Earth, it’s an urgent question. I suspect it’s a fairly common one. Not everyone would consider their lives hell. But at least they might ask: How do I get out of suffering and struggle, anxiety and loneliness, depression and suffering, and get to God?

Following the quest

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Two young women were talking: Andrea a petite blonde and an artist, Kelsey a winsome brunette and a manager.

Andrea told of her longing for a soul mate who would connect with her and love her as she was. She wanted to be a person, to be someone. In a way, she sought salve for the perpetual sense of “not good enough” from her parents’ divorce of long ago. She felt like a ball of anger, sometimes. She also felt like a person with a quest, revealed in art. And a quest for the divine, sensed but unexplored. For Andrea, yearning had tipped into addiction. Her best friend was alcohol; when everybody and everything else failed her, the salve was there. Somewhere down deep she hated this best friend, but it seemed to enable.

Listened to any voices lately?

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Sometimes it takes a while to see what’s at the end of your nose. I was groaning under the weight of things: impossible duties, unfulfilled hopes, unending worries, immovable problems. My inner chambers had become cramped and narrow, like a house I saw once. It was crammed from floor to ceiling with things, sofas on chairs on tables, broken crates, old hub caps, huddles of books, while the owner lived in narrow crooked pathways carved through the piled mountains. Like the man in the narrow pathways, I felt constricted and controlled, trying to live in tight little mental warrens hemmed in by earthly cares.

Who wins at Christmas?

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In far-away Turkey, in a certain village, two different images of a gift-giver had a kind of cage-match, and one of them won mightily. 

In Demre, near the ancient city of Myra, a bronze statue was donated and set up in the town square. It was a likeness of an ancient bishop, a man of compassion and wisdom. The bishop was St. Nicholas, because Myra was his see in the fourth century, when he is thought to have lived. He stood on top of the world, this lover of the poor, his feet mounted on a globe. Recently, he was taken from this prominent place and put in a back courtyard. Atop a pedestal, in his place, was put a jolly red Santa statue. Apparently the change was made because Santa is more popular and better-known than St Nicholas, his forerunner.