Setting: Sunday, 30 March 2014
Tonight is different from the others, overshadowed with a presence ineffable - a feeling so powerful that it fills the theater. I am backstage, listening to "Mary Magdalene" sing her aria. Beyond the curtains I hear the muffled sniffles of both audience and cast. Many weep openly. The words, faithfully plaintive but filled with lamentation, cleave my heart in two:
Where is He who dried the tears
Of the suff’ring soul?
Where is He who stayed our fears,
He who made us whole?
He who healed the broken heart,
He who calmed the storm,
He who came to save us all,
Where is He this morn?
That same question, "Where were you?" echoes deep into my soul, for I have asked it many times before. And in that moment, I feel the loneliness resurface. Yes, God, where were you?
Nearly twenty-one years have elapsed since I first learned just how cruel humans can really be towards each other. Twenty-one years since coming home to an empty house. Twenty-one years since life taught me who can really be trusted (no one), where love really comes from (no where), and who will be there when you really need them (just yourself). Twenty-one years of abusers, of traitors, of people without conscience - or even worse, those whose consciences were telling them that they were acting "for the greater good". Twenty-one years of tenuously believing in God, but "realizing" that all I could really expect from Him was the occasional token morsel with the expectation that I had to work everything out myself. Twenty-one years of assuming that God was a parent who watched but didn't really intervene, who had no comforting thing to say except for telling me to "suck it up".
Twenty-one years of hearing the voices in my head say, "you're a failure, you will always be one, your last success was not enough and you're only as good as the last time you screwed up" - and then attempting furiously to prove them wrong. Twenty-one years of defensiveness, of trying to prove my worth to people with every interaction, of walking the tightrope of over the Canyon of Instant Ostracization. Twenty-one years of pushing the Sisyphean stone. Twenty-one years of pounding at the door that never opened.
Well, doors have doorknobs. I have been pounding too loudly to hear the voice on the other side saying, "Come on in, it's unlocked."
"Mary Magdalene" finishes her aria, and I also weep. My heart breaks for the childhood I lost, the friends I might have had, the love that I shut out. And in the midst of tears, I look through the scaffolding on set to see "Him" - or at least, the actor portraying Him - waiting in the wings.
In my mind, I seem to hear His response. "Here I am. And yet, you do not see me, at least not clearly. Will you not look and see?"
The next few scenes are a blur as I await my cue, finally entering the stage to express Thomas's doubt and dismay at having been left out of the miracles. "Am I not worthy?" he exclaims? "How can I be a witness of something I haven't seen? Except I shall see, I will not believe." And as I begin to sing his lament, my voice breaks down, filled with the sense of regret, of shame and guilt, of rejection from the Lord he served. In this moment, his shame is mine, for I feel each of those long years coming out in every quivering note. I finish, my heart heavy and broken once again.
"Peter" then convinces "Thomas" to hold true, to remember that seeing is not enough, and Thomas is convinced that if he cannot have the miracle himself, he will at least be a witness to what he has seen. I sing again, a faithful lament this time, still somewhat sorrowful, but loyal and accepting of what has been as well as what may yet be.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
Sometimes - maybe every time, for that appears to be the purpose of this life - we are called to pass through sorrow that we may know true joy. And though we may wander for a season, perhaps many seasons, yet we are still of worth. We are still loved. And the door is still unlocked, that we may enter. Sometimes, He is just waiting in the wings.
The stage blacks out once again. A "week" passes in a few moments, and Thomas stands once again at center stage, resigned but hopeful. He is willing to wait, as long as necessary, for his miracle. He has accepted it, and accepted the fact that God did not withhold from him for any other reason than to prove his faith. And then, in that most transcendent of moments for this seemingly abandoned soul, the Master appears at the door. Thomas, numb with shock and utter disbelief, finds that he must recant his insistent proclamation, for now he DOES see, and yet cannot believe his own eyes.
"Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands, and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side, and be not faithless, but believing."
Now, in this moment, in front of nearly seven hundred people and under the harsh spotlights, I find that it is no longer Thomas feeling the nail prints, but me. This is a moment between a man who thought himself forsaken, and the Lord who - in very deed - was never far away, only waiting in the wings. In my mind, I do not see the face of actor, nor the prosthetic marks in his palms, but the very Word made Flesh standing before me. And now it is real. It is He who raises me from the ground, He who reminds me of the blessing of seeing and believing, then reminding me that I did not see, and yet had enough faith to stand firm.
"Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."
Again, I weep - soul-shaking sorrow mixed with fire and inexpressible joy consume me.
Of my experience, I can say only this - that when the day comes when I do meet Him in person, I shall not know any better then than I do now that He lives.