(Photo of gait belt from Amazon.com)
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."
June 29 was the feast day of St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles. Now, never mind both St. Peter and St. Paul get their own days; for some reason we also do them together. I had mentioned on Facebook that it does seem a little odd to put them together since Peter and Paul really didn't like each other that much...nor had much in common. Uneducated, rough fisherman vs. cosmopolitan member of the Jewish community.
There is also something about the Gospel reading on this day that creates a modern, totally unintended image for me, and it's one that over the last couple of years, anyone who's around patients has a tendency to think it. That business of Jesus telling Peter that someone else will fasten a belt around him and take him where he doesn't wish to go, conjures up images of "a gait belt."
Nurses and caregivers are particularly familiar with them. You put the gait belt around the person you wish to transfer. The really nice ones have handles, or a harness to distribute the weight better on the person doing the transferring. They are useful for lifting people up out of a wheelchair, to transfer from bed to wheelchair, etc. The patient helps with his or her legs in the transfer but doesn't have to support his or her whole weight.
Most of the time, the person being hauled around with the gait belt wants to go where they are being taken, but the more elderly, sick, or dementia ridden a person gets...not so much. I have always felt a bit bad in those situations when I have helped transfer an "unwilling transferee."
I thought many times yesterday about the places I've been, emotionally and mentally and spiritually, I've been these last few years. Many of them are places I would not willingly have gone, but in some ways, I, too, have felt "pulled out of my chair" with a celestial gait belt. Some of them are places I would have gone but my "legs" were not strong enough to support me. I was embarrassed to have needed assistance. I wanted to go there, but not so fast, not so rough, and not to have been unceremoniously dumped there and left.
But what I've come to discover is when assistance comes, it comes when it comes, we don't always choose the person by which it comes, and they have their lives too. They can't always stay.
When I moved to Kirksville in 2000, I had this mental picture who I'd be, how I'd spend my days, who my friends would be.
It's nothing even close to my life in 2011.
In 2000, I would not have wanted or liked this life.
Yet, even in a fair bit of change and turmoil, I feel pretty okay with it. Oh, don't get me wrong, I really dislike some days. I really dislike some situations. I mourn some of the changes. I miss people I didn't ever think I'd miss, and I don't miss some people I could not imagine in my day to day.
I am not where I thought I would be financially, and I'm not living the way I thought I would live. Yet I am content beyond my wildest imagination. I would not, however, have been so content had I not had that celestial gait belt slapped on me and dragged a few places.
On Pentecost Sunday, I had the treat of being not just at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis to worship, but I had the fun of waving one of the big 20 foot long streamers on a pole in the processional and recessional, thanks to one of my friends in the diocese who CCC is her home parish. I also got to listen to the Rev. Dahn Gandell's homily as guest preacher that day.
Now there's a person who probably went a few places she didn't plan on going herself. She grew up Baptist. In a previous life, she did standup comedy. She's a self-proclaimed southerner living in Rochester, NY. Yet somehow, the twists and turns of her life led her to the Episcopal priesthood.
I wrote down some of the more pithy parts of her message:
"Change is inevitable, but growth is optional."
"Transformation not shared is transformation wasted."
"Be now here, or be nowhere."
"It is our scars that tell our stories."
"There are always moments when you can be inviting."
"The question is not, "How does God use sinners," but, "What choice does God have BUT to use sinners?""
But my favorite was, "It is not our deepest fear that we are inadequate, but it is our deepest fear that we have power beyond measure."
That last statement has a lot of carry over to yesterday's reading, as well. Think about this one. Jesus just told Peter, "You are gonna go some places you do NOT want to go...just like I am, too." Then he basically says, "Follow me to those places, anyway."
Those places we don't want to go, when we sit around and fear them, it's not that we can't endure them. It's that we CAN endure them, and there is a reasonable chance we will be transformed by them. We sense that this transformation is beyond us, even despite us or despite our best efforts to resist it.
In that sense, because it's not OUR power, it's a power that is truly beyond measure. What's weird is, if we had sat back and enjoyed the ride, we would not totally "get" its power and our powerlessness.
Could it be that "suffering" is not a personal insult, but an opportunity--and when it's all said and done, if we are led through the pain into new joys, new realities, our painful times simply become threads in a larger story?
So in that sense, yes, Peter and Paul get a feast day together--contrasting threads in a larger tapestry of all the saints and angels and the company of Heaven...and there's a thread in there for us, too.