Posted by: Dan | August 18, 2007

Glimpses of Abundance

It's been an odd sort of week, full of death and resurrection; tears of sorrow, tears of joy.

After a suicide attempt, a good friend relapsed on crack cocaine. He had one and a half years of clean time and appeared to being doing well — no one foresaw the suicide attempt or the relapse. Now he's lost his housing, and we've lost all contact with him. I've been walking the alleyways and the neighbourhood where I know he goes to buy, but I can't find him. I don't know how he will be able to stay alive, if he is alive.

Another friend, a young girl, had also gotten a good amount of clean time under her belt. She had gotten off the street, out of sexual exploitation, and into a relationship with a decent guy who had no history of street-involvement. Yesterday I learned that she relapsed, is back on the street, and is working the trade again. Turns out she was recently grabbed, forced into a car, and gang-raped. Such an experience is not uncommon among the girls who work my neighbourhood.

One of my former professors, who continues to be a guide and friend to me (one of the three “'radical' academics” I mentioned in my last post) was just diagnosed with colon cancer and goes in for emergency surgery tomorrow.

So Death continues to work among us.

But resurrection was also at work this week (a rare event, but truly marvelous when it occurs). A few years ago I got to know an incredible young man (one of the most truly beautiful people I have ever known) who was addicted to crack and was suffering from a form of mental illness that caused him to hear voices that were constantly telling him to hurt himself, or kill himself, or whatever. He had gone through some horrible experiences that had shattered him before he had any real chance to develop into wholeness and so, over the time that I knew him, he drifted lower and lower into the belly of the beast. Finally, we lost all contact with him and, although we scoured the streets and agencies looking for him for ages, we never found him. A year went by and then, out of the blue, we got a phone call from him just the other day. Turns out he went to an “hard-core” treatment centre, got out of town, moved back in with his family, and has almost one year of clean time under his belt. He's working a good job, his mental state is under control, and he even volunteers once a week at a drop-in for street-entrenched youth in his town (I always told him that he would be able to do that sort of work far better than I can or could). What joy! This is the sort of miracle, the sort of good news, that gives me the strength to persevere and the ability to hope against all the odds. Behold, “this brother of [ours] was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (cf. Lk 15.11-31). Yes, he was dead; yes, he is alive again. Lord, have mercy on those who are still dead and dying.

It is weeks like this one that capture so well the reason why my blog is subtitled “This, therefore, is the life abundant.” I think we commonly misconstrue Jesus' promise of abundant living for his followers. We tend to put a sort of “health and wealth” spin on it, as though we just need to follow Jesus and “all our problems will be solved.” However, I believe that Jesus' promise of abundance is a promise that we will both suffer more and laugh more. It is a promise that we will experience greater sorrow and greater joy, abundant anguish and abundant peace. A promise that we will become intimate with both death and new life.

Thus, we come to know the life abundant when we begin to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” (Ro 12). Ironically, in our pursuit of other forms of “abundance” (for example, the accumulation of capital, and the pursuit of status or power) we close ourselves off from the truly abundant life that is found in places like my neighbourhood. If you wish to find true abundance then go to places where the Spirit of life is moving among the crucified, places of mourning and laughter (tears of sorrow, tears of joy), places of death and resurrection.

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