There is important wisdom to be gleaned from those on the margins. Vulnerable human beings put us more in touch with the truth of our limited and messy human condition, marked as it is by fragility, incompleteness and inevitable struggle. The experience of God from that place is one of absolutely gratuitous mercy and empowering love. People on the margins, who are less able to and less invested in keeping up appearances, often have an uncanny ability to name things as they are. Standing with them can help situate us in the truth and helps keep us honest.
It seems to be a recurring theme with me that God appears nearer when we are undeniably fragile, incomplete and messy. When life is good, and we have our health and strength, it is harder, sometimes, to become aware of God’s constant presence.
No matter. God is faithful if we are not. In the words of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”, we acknowledge both our own fragility, etc. (in Pureland Buddhism, our bombu nature) and God’s unfailing mercy.
Richard Rohr, another Franciscan, wrote:
The edge of things is a liminal space – a very sacred place where guardian angels are especially available and needed. The edge is a holy place, or as the Celts called it, “a thin place” and you have to be taught how to live there. To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return. It is a prophetic position, not a rebellious or antisocial one. When you live on the edge of anything with respect and honour, you are in a very auspicious position. You are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways.
The challenge is to maintain that liminal space as a home, in the midst of present happiness, without, as some artists, writers and musicians have found necessary, wrecking one’s life and loves in order not to drift into complacent, fruitless mediocrity. Perhaps it is not a challenge after all. Perhaps it is enough simply to be aware of the fragility, incompleteness and inevitable struggle of the world in which we live – the turning seasons, our aging bodies, even the dear cat, still such a kitten at heart, beginning slightly to slow down in middle age, spending less time abroad and more asleep on the bed as I write, living close to us in the warmth of our shared and transient mortality. That is enough.