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Robert Kinghorn: Little by little, broken lives can be healed

  • June 6, 2021

Have you ever had an experience in your life and you are not sure if you dreamt it or lived it? Mine goes back at least 50 years and it is as vivid today as if it happened yesterday.

I was at home in Scotland, and I was standing outside a shop looking in the window. Two women were gossiping and I overheard one say to the other, “Did you see Johnny Smith last night? Drunk as usual, staggering home. I don’t know why Jean puts up with a man like that.” With that, Jean came out of the shop having heard the conversation and she stared at the women and said, “Don’t you dare say that about my husband. You don’t love him like I do.”

Some healings take years and much love to find fulfilment, and going through them we long for someone who will walk with us and love us unconditionally until we can stand renewed.

Two recent events brought this incident to mind. The first was the 16th anniversary of the death of Gord Weiss, one of the great deacons of the Toronto archdiocese. Gord was chaplain in several hospitals and prisons, and for 18 years he and I had taught pastoral ministry to prepare people for the ministry of listening and accompaniment.

I learned so much from him as I watched and listened to his gentle way of calling people back into community and friendship, which in many ways was the essence of the healing ministry of Jesus. Gord would always go to where the pain was greatest to reconnect people who through illness or brokenness had been disconnected from who they really are and from the community.

He once introduced me to a man he knew in a maximum-security prison. The man had been there for 25 years and admitted that he deserved to be there, and for all he knew he would die there away from his wife and children. What was remarkable about him was how peaceful he appeared.

He said that in prison he “gave his life to Jesus” and he saw the other men in the prison as members of his church. He had one message for them; that even though they are living much of their lives in an 8x10 cell, they can be free. What imprisoned them is not just the walls and the bars, but also the fact that they have never met anyone who loves them enough to forgive them and walk with them. Gord was such a man; one who stood on the horizon and reminded me of who I am called to be.

The other event that renewed this ancient memory was meeting a couple of people I had not seen for a while on the street. Ann has been a regular on the street for as long as I have been there. At our last couple of meetings she had said that she was getting too old for this lifestyle and wanted to give it up. Her bruised face at that time attested to the fact that it was more than age that was catching up with her, but also the harshness of the life.

I had not seen her for about two years, but as I was walking along last week, I heard her familiar voice calling in the distance, “Hello there, are you doing OK?” I turned in time to see her wave and hurry off into the distance to discuss a deal with the driver of a car that had stopped. Sadly, I realized that her journey still needed some time of healing before she would give up the dangerous drug and prostitution lifestyle.

The next day, I went to visit Paula. I had known her for as long as I knew Ann, but she had been off the street for about 10 years, although not without some relapses. A year ago, she became pregnant and last week I gathered clothes from my daughter whose year-old twins have now outgrown them and took them up to Ann’s apartment. It was a joy to see her so happy and how carefully she tended her three-month-old daughter. She talked positively of the care workers who have supported her in her new-found motherhood, and said when I left, “I have never felt so much joy in all my life.”

One of Gord’s favourite hymns had the verse, “Little by little He’s changing me, in every way He is changing me, when I have yielded, He’ll set me free, Jesus is changing me.” In our own lives, and in the lives of all who are broken, it always seems to be “little by little.”

(Kinghorn is a deacon in the Archdiocese of Toronto.)

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