Thursday, April 9, 2009

Lenten Voices: Small Deaths

By Ellen Hill

When my son Michael was a little boy, he underwent several operations for his heart. I read him many stories including those about his patron saint, Saint Michael The Archangel, who in the Talmudic tradition translates as "One who is like God". His name is the battle cry of the angels in their heavenly battle against Satan. Could there be a better saint for a small boy in a scary situation? Michael saw an angel that was bigger and better than "He-Man", his favorite toy. Larger than life, with bigger wings and followed by an army of angels, who better to surround you in the operating room? How does a child find the courage to confront the pain and fear that he is too young to communicate? Michael went through many operations with all the grace and dignity that a small child could manage. I do believe his faith was there sustaining him in those mighty images.

We all search for role models for ourselves and our children. As a child, I sought out strong women who battled adversity and survived. While I searched, I found something completely at odds with what I was looking for, not a woman, not bigger than life but someone who failed and failed terribly.

Three times Peter denied Christ. Three times. As the years go by and I grow older, more and more I take Peter to my heart. Peter, the fisherman who answered the call to follow. The rock on which the early church was built. The cock crowed and Peter faced his darkest moment. How did he confront that enormous unknown filled with the pain of betrayal?

Each day we make choices, decisions, actions. We make promises to ourselves and those we love. We take actions that succeed or fail. Each day we change by those choices. Sometimes life holds insurmountable pain as surely as it holds joy. And, we stumble along carrying our failures and vulnerability with us. And like Peter we manage to keep going. Surely, the third denial was an insurmountable moment, but belief carried Peter into a life of proclaiming the gospel and building the church. In the end it was his choice to be crucified upside down. Every day brings each of us moments of pain and beauty illuminated by faith.

Michael entered his operating room many, many times. Perhaps it is my conceit, that it was that belief of a child that enabled him to walk out.

Ellen Hill is a longtime member of St. Paul's.

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