This week, I had access to about 80 women at the two residential drug treatment facilities that serve as my "base camp" for ministry. Interestingly enough, there is one phrase that best captures the look on most of their faces: shell shock.
They looked as if they had intentionally cut off their emotions; lobotomized themselves; removed any possibility that they could feel anything. Their expressions pleaded that I not bring them into the moment; make them come back to life; make them admit that they were required to participate in ... being. If they could deny their existence, maybe, just maybe, they could find some relief from the pain.
So what can I possibly have to say that would matter? The lesson was on the Sermon on the Mount; specifically the Eternal Law (and Jesus' assurances that he came not to demolish the law, but to fulfill the law; to put it all together, as The Message renders it).
In each class, knowing what the reaction would likely be, I teased that we would be talking about a subject near and dear to their hearts: rules. Each time, an audible groan reverberated throughout the room.
Frankly, the oppressive rules they find themselves living under right now serve as a perfect backdrop for teaching this particular lesson; for showing them that what the people of Jesus' day were experiencing -- hopelessness because of all the religious rules heaped upon their heads -- was very close to their own experience; and that this experience was something that Jesus came to do something about.
I often feel I am "pleading" my case. Yet as the class progressed, I could feel the atmosphere loosen up just a little. I could see women coming back to life. I could sense their relief.
Yes, it really is OK to live and breathe and endure and maintain and struggle and hurt and go on, somehow. And I assured them that as chaos reigned around them, they could find away to grab hold of a corner of peace; enough to sustain them and help each other. It was their responsibility to do so; and their calling.
This week, I could say to myself, I was a cool cup of water. That feels satisfying. And I continue to marvel at the privilege of being placed in a room where women need desperately to be delivered from the prison of shell shock.