Mary Marrocco

Mary Marrocco

Dr. Mary Marrocco is an associate secretary for the Canadian Council of Churches. She is also a teacher, writer and lay pastoral worker. Her column, Questioning Faith, features topics about the teachings of our church, scriptures, the lives and writings of the saints and spiritual writers and theologians. She can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca.

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.
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.
October 30, 2009

Time: enemy or friend?

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.

December 4, 2009

Light over darkness

Recently, I was chatting with a friend about many things — the state of Christianity, of the economy, the world, our lives, people we know. Finally my friend remarked, “The older I get, the more I see that there’s far more evil than good in the world.” His comment was quite understandable. Whether you look around, or whether you look within, it’s evident that evil twines everywhere, like a serpent coiling around one’s legs or a vine climbing a stone wall.

We happened to be sitting in front of a display of beautiful Christmas merchandise: wreaths, trees, toys, gifts and a stunning life-size nativity set. The nativity figures were all swathed in flowing clothes of filmy materials that enhanced their beauty, the way clothes should. The figures were artfully arranged so that they seemed to glorify one another, the way people should. The whole effect was a vision of loveliness, without shadow or pain or evil.

Are New Year’s resolutions still popular? Probably: gyms tend to be flooded with new members in January. Sometimes we make resolutions knowing we won’t be perfect, but committing to the walk anyway.

Several decades ago, the Catholic Church resolved to work towards full communion with other Christian communities. At times, we’re unaware of the pain of non-communion; when we do feel it, it can be powerful.

Years ago, a friend of mine volunteered to teach in a Haitian orphanage. When she returned home temporarily due to political upheaval, I was rapidly educated about this country, its beauties and its pains.

Among many discoveries was that Canadians waste water. Growing up surrounded by fresh water, I’d never considered that water might be finite and we could waste or should conserve it.

Long ago, I let a friend down. It’s still vivid in my memory. I’d promised, but at the last minute I phoned up and cancelled, leaving her in the lurch. She was cold and angry on the phone; we hung up quickly. I couldn’t blame her; I’d hurt her. Though I’d apologized, the effects remained.

I don’t know what happened with her, because she stopped speaking to me. But for me, a burden was created which I long carried: guilt. A paralysing burden. Perhaps part of me was reluctant to put it down, as though staggering under it would gain me points, and enough collected points would earn me forgiveness. This type of guilt, someone observed to me, is like a knapsack full of rocks strapped to one’s back: a dead weight that gradually, increasingly wearies the bearer.

We wanted late-night refreshment. A lengthy search uncovered one place open, a fast-food restaurant with golden arches. We thought we’d just be getting beverages; we also got a glimpse of the eternal. Serving customers was a young woman and man. As we imbibed our tea, she said loudly enough that we could hear clearly: “It’s not that God doesn’t talk to people. It’s that we’re always feeding the flesh. So the flesh gets big, and the spirit gets small and can’t hear God speaking.”   

Why doesn’t God speak to people? Or if He does, why so obscurely? Has God been speaking in ways I haven’t been hearing? Perhaps the young woman knew that the opposition between flesh and spirit is not dualistic. It’s not that body is bad and soul is good; this idea has always been considered heretical. Rather, it’s “spirit” in the sense of all that belongs to God and leads us to God; “flesh” in the sense of what drags us down, away from God.

In a retreat I led, we talked about healing broken relationships: not just fixing something, but the new life that can come out of broken places. In the process, a real life is established, for underneath the relationship that broke is a life in need of deep healing.

Forgiveness can’t happen unless we’re willing to let go of winning or losing, being right or wrong. (Fortunately, God forgives — thereby unlocking the door to the process.) This is not to say there isn’t hurt and responsibility, and we may need to sort out what we’re responsible for and what we’re not.

What needs to be let go of? It’s almost never what you think; the surprise of it is part of the joy.

Some hours after this discussion, I was in the garden weeding, during free time after lunch. A participant was on the porch changing a diaper. She lingered, enjoying the beauty of the woods, the sunshine, others’ presence. She broke a long silence by asking me, across the garden: “But how do I let go?”  

This summer, I visited Ellis Island, the “Golden Door/Island of Tears” by which 12 million persons sought to enter the United States between 1892 and 1954. Sailing from Italy, Russia, Poland and other countries, many travelled steerage, like sheep. Black-and-white photographic portraits of travellers look out from the walls of the huge building, now a museum, formerly dedicated to sorting and processing the newcomers. One portrait, of a beautiful young Italian with pensive eyes, reminded me of photos of my grandmother, who came to Canada in similar circumstances at age 18, alone, parted forever from her home and family, unable to read or write or speak English.

Remembrances by some who made the journey are recorded there. “This is my native land now,” said one; “I don’t ever want to see Russia again.” What broke, between this man and his birth country? Did that rupture somehow find healing in the new land he took as his own? Broken relationship and new life: what’s the connection?

As novelist Ernest Hemingway observed, “Life breaks us all; and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.”