The Muddy Porch
August 26, 2012
Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time
Joshua 24:1-18; Ephesians 5:2-32; John 6:60-69
Last Sunday, after mass—after I served as a deacon at mass—I was standing on my own front porch, at home, yelling at Barb. It’s a big, new, concrete porch, a kind of half circle as you walk up to the house, and I’d just washed off the concrete and hosed it down to get ready for company. It looked clean and beautiful. Sparkling. Then Barb let the dogs out and they ran through the flower beds and back up to the front door, and there were muddy paw prints all over the place. Everywhere. I was so mad the top of my head was tingling.
Husbands, Paul says, “love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church.” Husbands, love your wives, even “as you love your own bodies.”
This is a hard teaching, Master. Impossible.
I was really moved by Father Pete’s homily last week, about the orphanage he’s built as a Maryknoll missionary in Peru and especially by his story about Carlos, the sexually abused little boy they took in and brought back to health. But as Father Pete said, we’re all missionaries, we are all charged with serving Christ in our own ways, and for husbands and wives the mission is in marriage and in family. Marriage gives us a thousand opportunities a day to serve our spouses and die to ourselves and so to come closer to Christ. They’re not dramatic. They’re not heroic. No one sees them. But that only makes them all the more difficult in a way, and all the more important.
This is where the battle is won or lost, not in the headlines and not in the abstract but on our own front porches.
I’m obsessed with that stupid porch. It’s supposed to be an entrance, a way of welcoming people in, but I’ve made it into a barrier. An obstacle.
Porches are of no avail, material things are of no avail, having the perfect house is of no avail. It’s the Spirit that gives life and that Spirit is in Barb, in her needs, in her dignity as a person, and in mine, too, when I’m not behaving like a little boy myself, and even then.
It’s very simple, really, however hard to act on. Last Sunday I was committing the sin of anger, as I’ve committed the sin of anger day after day most of my life, and the path to holiness for me is in trying day after day to rise above that, and in asking forgiveness when I fail, and in realizing that I usually will. Marriage is a school for holiness because it teaches us humility, it teaches us our limitations, again and again—and we need to accept these limitations, admit to our flaws, with compassion for ourselves, too, and with a good sense of irony, a good sense of humor. Because ultimately our sins have much to teach us. They teach us our need for grace. For Jesus. For the Bread of Life.
We’ve all been heartsick at the news about our friend, Father Angel. It’s shaken us all.
We don’t know yet what’s true and what isn’t, but we do know this: that proven abusers must be punished, swiftly and unambiguously; that the abused must be cared for, with love and understanding; and that we must pray for both, for all the abused and all the abusers, and for an end to whatever systems and structures allow such things to happen.
But I also think that we have to be careful here not to fall into the sin of outrage—of rage, and of rage directed purely outward—because emotion like that can turn our attention away from our own challenges, our own humanness. It’s much easier to rail against someone else’s sins, especially sins that we’re not prone to ourselves, than to face the darkness within us, too. It’s much easier to play out the drama of faith in our heads, through the headlines, than in our hearts, through our own lives, on our own front porches.
What I suggest is that we turn inward. What I suggest is that we focus on Monday morning, our own Monday morning, and that we pray something like this lovely prayer, given to me by a friend. It’s from the Episcopal prayer book:
I will try this day to live a simple, sincere, and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity, and self-seeking: cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity, and the habit of holy silence; exercising economy in expenditure, generosity in giving, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust, and a childlike faith in God.
In particular I will try to be faithful in those habits of prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating, and sleep which I believe the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right.
And as I cannot in my own strength do this, nor even with a hope of success attempt it, I look to thee, O Lord God my Father, in Jesus my Savior, and ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What’s lovely about this prayer is its everydayness, and its practicality, its hominess—and its recognition that even here we will fail. Even here we need grace. Every day we find ourselves in the Land of Egypt, every day, and only God can bring us out. Only God can free us of our slaveries.
So last Monday morning I started again, I started over, and I decided that I could make things up to Barb by emptying the dishwasher.
I do a lot of the housework at our house, including the dishes, but I hate emptying the dishwasher, and I’m a genius at getting out of it. It’s all about timing. If you can just avoid being in the kitchen at certain key moments during the day, you can make your wife empty the dishwasher for weeks, even months.
But I needed to do something that morning, anything, and so I emptied out the dishwasher while Barb was taking her shower. And it wasn’t that hard, after all, and it made me feel good, as if I’d maybe undone some of the damage of the day before, and Barb was happy when she saw it, and she’d already forgiven me, because that’s what she does, and besides, the kitchen was clean now. It looked great. Sparkling.
Then Barb opened the door and let the dogs in, from outside, and they ran around in their muddy paws, and the floors were covered with their paw prints, and I could feel the top of my head tingling again.
Every day marriage is a school for holiness. Every day we are given opportunities to grow and change. Every day there are muddy paws, and there will always be muddy paws, and for this, finally, we should be thankful, because salvation, in the end, is just to accept that, to live with that, to laugh at that, to come in the end to know and believe what the Lord is always trying to teach us: that the Spirit gives life. The Spirit of Christ. The Spirit that is always rushing in on us.