Sr. Fidence was like a beautiful rose in my hand, but her fragrance drifted just beyond my grasp as she stood there barefoot, her white-draped physical being unable to contain an other-worldly joy. I didn’t understand her at all.
I wanted to, desperately.
How, in the midst of despair and hardship, hunger and lack, did she radiate this strange jubilance?
I glimpsed a clue a few days later at a service for novitiates, as they pledged their lives in service to the poorest of the poor. “Your lives will become like this rose,” the priest said as he instructed the women to pass a rose down the pew. “You will become ragged and spent, like this flower; but your lives will spread beauty wherever you go.”
I kept going back to these broken places, drawn like a moth to the flame. My own heart cracked irrevocably, even as I closely watched these mysterious people slipping in and out of the pain with a radiance I craved.
Oh, how I wanted what they had!
I saw hints of it on top of a slum church looking out over Mathare Valley, as Pastor Karau, after laying down his life for those living in abject poverty for more than two decades, playfully called out, “Follow me as I follow Jesus!”
And it slipped almost into my reach when I asked Sr. Fidence several years after meeting her, “Does it get easier as time goes by?” Perhaps, I thought, she simply became numb, detached. But her somber reply shredded my theory, “No, it only gets harder.”
A little window opened when I fell head over heels in love with a baby, hovering on the brink of death in an orphanage, when I held her for hours pleading with God for her survival. It swung wider when I stayed in a hospital with an HIV+ little girl, trying to bite me in exchange for my tenderness.
I know I still don’t fully understand, but I think I’m on the right track. I’m still hunting, a “joy hunt” you could call it.
The only thing I’ve learned for sure is that I will find it in the least likely places, in the places most horrible and agonizing. It’s there, I now know from experience, the paradoxical heart of God runs deepest and truest. It breaks open to pour out the greatest joy to the ragged and spent who will meet Him there.
I keep painting the same image over and over, like a toddler repeating the same word again and again, trying to de-code its mystery.