trilliums flowers in the wilderness

Reflecting on Finding Life During Difficult Times

Posted : Oct-06-2023

The below is an excerpt from Archdiocese of Toronto Deacon Robert Kinghorn’s book, The Church on the Street, chronicling his ministry for the poor, the ill, addicted, and homeless in one of the roughest parts of Toronto. In light of World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, he shares his thoughts on finding life during difficult times.

There seems to be a law of nature that in order to bring life, then something must die. We see it in the smallness of creation when a seed gives its life to be transformed into a tree from which it fell. We see it in the grandeur of the universe when stars explode into supernova to offer their fragments to a new creation. We see it even in human relationships where, for one person to grow in life and freedom, then another has to give their life so that the life of the other is not overpowered and left to wilt like a trampled flower. We are called to willingly offer our lives to die to pride and seek humility; offer our power to seek powerlessness; offer our ambition to seek the lower place. And in a mysterious fashion, this brings life not only to the other, but to us as well. I may be wrong, but nature seems to be teaching us this life-giving message which we understand in the depths of our soul and yet struggle against it.

A.A. Milne, in his wonderful books about Winnie-the-Pooh (Edward Bear) and his young owner Christopher Robin, writes, “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn't.”

We often don’t really want to be healed. We want the bumping in our life to stop, we want to get relief so that we can fully participate in life again, but such healing itself is painful and that’s where we draw the line. And we wait in the darkness of depression until we find the faithful friend who will give their life to walk with us as we search for the courage to allow ourselves to be healed.

For me, this was a reality in my life for several years when I lived that darkness of depression and prayed that the bumping would stop, and yet I hid away from those who could lead me to life. Much as I hid, I still had a friend who did not give up on me and he would continue to call me and invite me back into the world of the living. My answer would often be a curt, “No,” and yet undeterred he continued to call me to life by his presence, persistence, and holy acceptance. It was on this journey that I received the unexpected sense that God was asking me to go to Canada. It brought with it a deep clarity, peace and certainty that this was not a running from, but a running to; to an unknown future that held the seeds of a new life. It proved to be a future that would lead to a call to marriage, followed by a call within marriage to Diaconate: both of which have led me to this promised new life.  

There was a man who came to a chaplain once and asked her to take away the tears that he cried for his son who had just died. She said to him, "I can’t take away your tears, but I can help you to make them holy." We all need someone to help us. Someone who can look beyond our brokenness to the person inside who is crying out in powerlessness. Someone who can teach us that even in our illness and poverty we are weeping tears which can be holy, which can help us to be open to the power of the Spirit in our life. We don’t know one another’s past or future, we only know the present.

There are times when we are the poor crying out for help, maybe a silent cry from within for someone to see us, to hear us, to notice us. To throw us a scrap of respect and to let us eat at the table of forgiveness. However, there are also times when we get caught up in wanting more and having more, that we don’t care who gets in our way. We don’t notice or don’t take time to notice the poor by the roadside, or in the hospitals or working beside us or in our own home. Why is it this way? Why do we choose it so often? Tom Pillich, a permanent Deacon who died a few years ago would tell the following story of a clock.

A village once had the most beautiful clock in the world. It was renowned for its charming elegance and the beauty of its clockface. It had only one flaw; it could not keep time. It was 5 minutes fast and after adjusting the hands it immediately became 5 minutes slow. They adjusted and re-adjusted the hands but to no avail. Five minutes fast, five minutes slow. Finally, in desperation they called the best clock maker in the world, and after examining the clock he said, “Don’t blame the hands, the problem lies within.”

Sometimes the problem is that we are broken people who have nice faces, but who deep within are broken. In silence we have to look within so that our heart that sometimes is a heart of stone will, as Shakespeare said, “melt, thaw, and resolve itself into a dew.” And then our eyes will be opened, and lo and behold we will notice the hearts of the poor who are all around us. It is the poor who call us to life.

Jesus still speaks the Beatitudes to each of us: Blessed are you who face illness and still trust in God’s love. Blessed are you who have become rich and still trust in God’s love. Blessed are you who live close to the poverty line and still trust in God’s love. Blessed are you who have been pushed aside and abused and still trust in God’s love. You will all find comfort and support and peace, and one day your holy tears will be wiped away.

We forget that the message of Jesus has always been for the people of the beatitudes: those who understood their poverty and need for a saviour, those who wait in their private prisons and like the disciples of John the Baptist ask us, “Are you the one who is sent to save us, or should we look for someone else?” So often we see people all around who go from person to person, from relationship to relationship asking the same question, “Are you the one, or should I look for another?” Are you the one that will bring me happiness? Are you the one that will free me?” Are you the one that will bring me this mysterious joy that I hear some people have?”

Maybe you know how it feels to be searching and you remember a time in your life when you were waiting for that one who will free you from your personal prison; a prison of doubt, or loneliness or fear or shame. Maybe it is today, and you look for someone strong to free you; someone strong enough to break open the walls. And you see no one until you realise that the saviour comes in many guises into your life. Sometimes in the flesh and blood of people whose sins are very obvious, and yet people who are thirsting for the healing contained in a word of comfort or encouragement. And you reach out to them, and in the way they reach back to you, you find the healing touch that you are looking for. We say to them, “Can you possibly be the one, or am I to wait for someone else?” Can I possibly be freed from my prison by being with someone so weak? Someone so helpless?  And in that meeting between ourselves and the poor we are both freed. And we find joy. And we rejoice. And the blind see. And the lame walk. And the dead come to life.

For more information on Deacon Kinghorn’s book, The Church on the Street, please click here.