So you look at me…
…when they do this thing. You look at me.
l’ll be the face of love for you.
Sr. Helen Pejean, Dead Man Walking
I saw the movie only once and this line stuck with me, even haunted me. The movie, Dead Man Walking, is an adaptation of Sister Helen Pejean’s book by the same title telling the story of her weekly visits with Patrick Sonnier before he was executed in a Louisiana Penitentiary. These are the words she spoke to him in their last meeting before his death.
In October, we attended the Opera, Dead Man Walking, and lecture by Sister Helen during that same week. Sister Helen is a storyteller (in her own words) and for me her story was more than the advertised one about the power of art performances in the anti-capital-punishment movement. Part of the story she told was about her own realization of the pain and journey of all parties involved, mothers and fathers, victims and the accused. Her words differently persuaded my own realization of being God’s face of love and as she also recounted, failing to be that face as we get caught up in our own complicity with our worlds’ perspective. While the issues she presents on one hand seem complex; seeing in each other, no matter who we are or what we do, the face of God’s love is at the heart of our being.
Over the past two weeks, both of my adult children have been here to visit. Now that they are making their own way in their worlds, I don’t know how to be their mother as I thought I knew when they were younger. Even more challenging is how to be the face of God’s love for them; the children I have attempted to guide implicitly and explicitly. How do I live my own life in the presence of that love and honor the strong and sometimes-disconcerting ways they are learning to live—without saying those motherly things—and just be alongside them?
Frederick Buechner made a seminary commencement address that I am going to take some liberties with—a remix if you will, in modern terms. The words are closely recopied, the emphasis and play with white space are mine. There are no answers to my wondering here; but knowing and sharing “the joy and pain and holiness of our own lives” and lives together is a beginning.
Christ is our employer as surely as the general contractor is the carpenter’s employer,
Only chances are that this side of Paradise we will never see the face
Except mirrored darkly in dreams and shadows, if we’re lucky,
And in each other’s faces.
Christ is our general,
But chances are that this side of Paradise we will never hear his voice
Except in the depth of our own inner silence
And in each other’s voices.
Christ is our shepherd,
But the chances are we will never feel his touch
except as we are touched by the joy and pain and holiness of our own life
And each other’s lives.
Christ is our pilot
Our guide, our true fast, final friend and judge,
But often when we need Christ most,
Christ seems farthest away because he will have always gone on ahead,
Leaving only the faint print of his feet on the path to follow.
And the world blows leaves across the path.
And branches fall. And darkness falls.
We are here. Christ is with us…
In unseen ways, as subtle and pervasive as air.
We are Love’s face, voice, and even life to each other, as subtle and pervasive as air.