But not all my scars are visible. I think of the scars in my heart from the deaths of loved ones, especially my father and son, and from my Mom's dementia, eroding her memories, her abilities to think and communicate so that's she's become a happy toddler. Other painful memories of traumas, like a friend's suicide, and another friend's murder, sear my mind. I look at the world around me, and think of the ongoing extinction and near-extincton of beloved species, the polluted water and air, the chemical laden ground, and my heart clenches with grief and worry about our world's future.
Sometimes I think that my emotional and spiritual scars affect me far more deeply than any physical scars ever could.
When we all examine our multitude of scars - physical, emotional, spiritual - it would be easy to become bitter. To think that the concept of a loving, personal God is an illusion, or worse, a farce. Yet what my physical and emotional traumas have stripped away from me is every misconception I had about Who God really is. Gone are any illusions of a God who would magically protect humans from all pain, all financial worries. Gone is the illusion of a Santa Claus God Who lives to give us everything we ask for that we think is good for us.
Instead of being bitter, we can be wise. We can choose to live face to face and heart to heart with a similarly-scarred God Who does not shield us from traumas but Who constantly renews us, and reinvigorates us. Living with Him and in Him, we can overcome all our traumas by growing more heart and soul-centered through them and because of them.
The shed tears, the exhaustion, the shed blood of Jesus remind us that Jesus did not flee suffering, did not attempt to flee this chaotic, sin-ridden world. He walked throughout his corner of the world, into every dark corner of it, and engaged it and disarmed it with healing love. He taught us that even the final suffering and defeat of death cannot overcome the Power of Divine Love.
Seeing that our scarring wounds can bring us growth and resurrection instead of destruction, we can pray Psalm 23 today with a far different mind and heart.
"The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I lack. In green pastures You let me graze; to safe waters You lead me; You restore my strength. You guide me along the right path for the sake of Your Name."
Our Shepherd God gives us everything we need to be Soul-Strong. Our souls graze in the green pastures of His Holy Word. Our souls are washed in the safe waters of Baptism; our souls, ravaged by sorrow and pain, are restored to strength. The most important goal for God is to keep us walking on the right path, the path of righteousness.
"Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm, for You are at my side; Your rod and staff give me courage."
God encourages us to lean on Him, to be supported by His rod and staff, when we walk through any dark valley: the darknesses of confusion, doubt, depression, despair, illness, grief, and finally our own death. God walks with us even through the darkness of our sins and mistakes so that while we grieve because of them, we can learn because of them.
In Jesus, God has walked through every darkness we have ever experienced and He has promised to never leave us orphans, even in our sinfulness. In our darkness, He glows, an ever-steady Light, faithful as the Night Light that sweeps away the shadows in a child's room.
Our God sets a table before us in the sight of our foes: the table filled with an abundance of graces and gifts to keep us resolute before our enemies and persecutors, and to help us communicate across the great divides that separate us from others. He sets the Table of the Eucharist for us, for He has promised to be Living Bread for our souls, to feed us when we grow so hungry and weary we could fall on our faces and give up.
Our God anoints our heads with oil: the oils of Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination, the Anointing of the Sick, the oils that strengthen us to be spiritual warriors for His Name's sake.
Lavished by our Shepherd's loving gifts, our cup of gladness overflows. He surrounds us with love! The goodness and love of family, friends, the people we serve, the work we do for Him. Heaven begins here, in this love, in this inner awareness that we choose to do right, we choose to do His will. This is abundance, this is plenty.
No abundance of electronics, fancy houses, money, hob-nobbing with the rich and famous, not even an abundance of radiant health, can substitute for intimacy with our Loving Shepherd. Wisdom is knowing that our food and drink is to walk the right path, to do the will of the Father, to live through loving His people. This is joy; this is contentment; this is inner peace.
When we contemplate our scars, Wisdom gives us a new vision and understanding of them. Through the eyes of Wisdom, we can look beyond the pain our wounds have caused us to finally see the spiritual riches and strength that have bloomed in us because of those scarring wounds, through the mercy and grace of our Good Shepherd. Even though we walk through the valley of death, He walks beside us to lead us to His house, where we will dwell for years to come.