Monday 27 February 2017

BABY OF ALEPPO - I Will Never Forget You

‘The Lord has abandoned me; the Lord has forgotten me.’ Everyone knows what this feels like at some point or time in life. The sense of abandonment, desolation and isolation that can befall us for whatever reason and for no reason at all.

In times like these we can be confronted by, what I call, the tyranny of joy. Not that there is any tyranny in joy itself but there are people who slap us in the face (that's how it feels) with a version of it and present it to us as if it were something that can be turned on at will. It’s like saying to a depressed person, “snap out of it” – the “don’t worry, be happy” kind of thing. These comments are well meant but totally unhelpful because they are powerless to create joy. They remain external to us.

The response of the Lord God to our sense of abandonment and desolation is, first, that He enters into the experience with us and offers us a Word that is relevant and has a power within it to stir even the tiniest flicker of joy. He responds, “Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you.” (Isaiah 49:14-15)

Anyone who is mother or father knows exactly what God means, they know it in relation to their children, they feel exactly what God feels in the face of our state of forgotten-ness, our joylessness. And central to the response of God is, “I will never forget you!” The example of motherhood is one of the strongest expressions of what God feels for every single one of us.

Jesus uses examples from nature in His effort to help us not to worry, to move from worry to hope and trust. Look at the birds of the sky, the flowers of the field, reminding us that we are worth much more than they are!”

That sense of worth, the care and love that God feels for us is often communicated through other people in life-giving situations.

Some of our community spent the weekend at the Divine Mercy Conference at the RDS, Dublin where we were on our feet most of the day ministering to people in one way or another; being ministered to by the people we met. We were all enfolded in the one, vibrant and loving atmosphere where we were free to be Catholic without having to explain or be apologetic for ourselves. It was a living experience of the Divine Mercy we were celebrating.

Recently on social media I came across an astonishing video from Aleppo in Syria where a young expectant mother, nine months pregnant is on her way to the hospital to give birth when she gets injured in a bomb attack. She is unconscious with a broken arm and leg in the labour ward where the medical staff deliver her baby, a fine-looking boy whose heart is not beating. For twenty minutes the medics work on him trying to revive him and eventually he lets out a cry and lives!

It struck me that God was showing his presence and care for the woman and her baby through the doctors and nurses. They are the living evidence of God saying, “I will never forget you!” I am with you, you are precious to me. Their commitment to the life of the baby is a Godly thing, a reminder that the one who is conceived in the womb is meant to come to birth.

God does not offer any glib or trite answer, He is not saying to any of them, “smile” or “be happy”. His first response is a compassionate attention to the real trauma, the tragedy and the pain of the situation. The smile and the joy emerge later as if gracefully and because of the compassionate attentiveness of God and the medics who are His instruments of life.

The other thing that is worth pondering is that the coming to life of this baby is accompanied by a lot of pain – the prodding, the rough rubbing, the slapping – and his own first experience of life after birth is one that makes him cry. And it’s so heartbreaking to hear his cry, to see his eyes before he instinctively covers them with his arm.

Our own coming to new life, the rebirth that is necessary in all our lives is also accompanied by a lot of pain which is the very thing that makes us reluctant to go through the process. The suffering, which we often interpret as reflecting God’s absence, is somehow an indication of God’s presence. The pain can often be translated into “I will never forget you!”, “I am with you!”

Of course, there are lots of unanswerable questions that come to mind when I look at that situation in Aleppo, when we think about all the tragedies in the world, when confronted with our own personal situations that are currently unsolvable.

We cannot find answers to many things but we can take each experience of life one at a time and find in them the meaning that keeps us going on step by step; hearing in them the promise of God, 
“I will never forget you!”

It is worth taking some moments of quiet to let this word settle in your heart and do what it is sent to do. God says, “the word that goes forth from my mouth does not return to me empty, without succeeding in what it was sent to do.” (Isaiah 55:11). “I am with you!” “I will never forget you!”

Eamonn Monson sac

(Listen to Lilies of the Field and Be Not Afraid by John Michael Talbot. I will never forget you by James Kilbane)

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