It is early in the afternoon. I am visiting a parishioner in the hospital.
Usually, I ride my bike to the hospital; it makes parking so much easier. But these days, due to a knee injury, my bicycle stands neglected in the basement.
Even with my pastoral care parking permit, finding a space for my car at the hospital is always a challenge. I decide to forgo parking in the lot where I can park for free and park instead at a meter where I will have less distance to hobble from my car to the main doors of the hospital. The trek along the long hospital corridors, up the elevator, and down another long hallway seems daunting enough.
There are no parking meters available. I circle the roundabout outside the main entrance, turn right past the line of cars waiting to get into the four-story pay parking garage. I drive down the hill hoping to find a spot on the roadside, where I will only need to walk up the hill and across the courtyard to get into the hospital. The few parking spots on the road are all full.
Finally, I turn left at the bottom of the hill and go into the customary lot where my permit allows me to park for free. I get out of my car, cross the lot, enter the building between the lot and the main hospital. I climb the stairs, exit this building; cross the street; pass the Emergency Department, and start to cross the drive way in front of the main hospital building.
In the middle of the driveway, a man who appears to be in his eighties stops me. He looks me in the eye and announces, “The Virgin Mary got me a parking spot.”
I smile, touch his arm, say, “Wow! good for you.” Then I limp painfully on my way to make my visit, before having to retrace my steps and hobble back to my car, wondering where the Virgin Mary was for me.
Of course, navigating the wards of a hospital I am deeply aware that the pain and inconvenience of a meniscus tear in my left knee are utterly inconsequential compared to the real suffering and turmoil that permeate this place. Seven weeks of limited mobility, discomfort, and pain, are nothing.
But, this knowledge does not stop me from wishing for a magical Virgin Mary who would show up and at least find me a parking space, if not miraculously heal the wonky joint in my left leg. Sadly, I know it does not work this way.
Faith is not a magic potion – “Things go better with Jesus.” No matter how strong my trust in Jesus may be, no matter how committed I am to the deep conviction that the universe is ultimately oriented in my favour, I have visited in the hospital often enough to understand that things frequently do go terribly wrong. I am not insulated from the discomfort and brokenness of the human condition simply because I trust in God.
So, if my faith does not miraculously heal my knee and is not able to get me a parking spot closer to my destination, what is the point? Why bother with a faith that appears to be of no practical benefit?
Practical benefit is not the point. I do not trust in God in order to fix my life. I trust in God because the Spirit of God moves inside me and compels my confidence. And this transforms my life even when it does not heal my knee. The faith without practical benefit makes it possible to let go of the truly debilitating demand that things should be different than they are.
My faith drives deep into my heart the visceral awareness that letting go is the only way to navigate the inevitable discomfort and pain of life. It was the Virgin Mary after all who said,
‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ (Luke 1:38)
I am amazed at how much I have had to let go of in the face of even the minor nuisance of a meniscus tear. I have had to give up biking, running, kneeling in church, playing on the floor with my grandchildren, going for a walk with my wife. The list could go on and on.
As I grow older, I realize that every ache is preparation for the final great letting go.
So, although Mary may not get me a parking space, perhaps she will help me learn the great art of surrender. Perhaps she will prepare me for that day, when the letting go required will be much greater than merely no longer being able to ride my bike.