Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Our Tender God

       Each morning we gather to Praise God with and for all Creation, using the ancient Psalmody of the People of God.  The prayer closes with the sung “Canticle of Zachary” from the Gospel of Luke.  Lately the closing stanza has held me in prayerful thought for a long while.  These days I am more and more aware of how these words encompass the Advent theme.

By the tender mercy of our God,
The dawn from on high will break upon us,
To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
To guide out feet into the way of peace.

Or in Sr. Deborah’s version, we sing on another day:
You are merciful; you are tender.
You are the sun’s rays
striking the eastern horizon at dawn.
You are the Morning Star, rising to shine on us.
Brightening our shadowed steps, banishing death.
You are our beacon, drawing us on in peace.

Calling our God, tender, had never stirred me before.
      Then, in reading a set of books I received for Christmas, the word tender has caught my eye again and again.  Many have heard of Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ, who has worked with gang members in Los Angeles for three decades.  In his first book, Tattoos on the Heart, he introduces us to the “Homeboy Industries” that he began; the largest gang-intervention program in the world.  He shares stories of conversion, crisis, death and new life that bring tears to one’s eyes.  I have watched Fr. Greg’s You-tube presentations to which he always takes two former gang members along to tell their stories.  The audiences get very touched by the homies’ stories and Fr. Greg’s approach with them.
      In his second book, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, (2017) he shares his philosophy of convincing these folks of their own goodness, that it is only in a culture of tenderness that this can happen.  He sites Julian of Norwich’s thought, that “the true and most authentic spiritual life was one that produced awe, humility and love.” Fr. Greg says, “It is awe that softens us for the tender glance of God, which enables us to glance in just the same way.”  He says that “Homies” (Homeboys or Homegirls) “begin to inhabit their truest selves once they are on the receiving end of tenderness. This they soon discover is its own reward.”  Once Shaggy texted him, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”  He shares about a prisoner who has become one of his teachers, “He has learned the tender gravity of kindness, and knows how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.”  Fr. Greg says, “We don’t try to get them to be ‘good’; they already are. We’re hoping they’ll find the goodness and seek happiness in their “yes”.
       In Luke’s Gospel we read recently of Jesus speaking of the coming of earthquakes, plagues, and famine, and then says, “Do not be terrified.”  “Be not afraid”, “Fear not”, he says over and over.  Jesus wants us to see terror as he does. This is what Greg teaches the gang members who come to their center.  “They can confront terror with an openhearted kindness as Jesus does.  Suddenly, plagues and earthquakes have lost their menace when met with such tenderness”.
      Fr. Greg considered it a singular blessing to have known Cesar Chavez, especially his keen skill of listening.  Nothing or no one else existed in that moment but you, no matter who you were.  Once a reporter commented to Cesar, “Wow, these farm workers, they sure love you.”  And Cesar smiled, shrugged, and said, “The feeling’s mutual.”  “When the feeling’s mutual, we are seized by a tenderness that elevates us to the very largeness of God…The affection of God unfolds when there is no daylight separating us.” 
      It is so evident that the Home boys and Home girls feel very “at home” with Fr. Greg and his staff.  And I have learnt a lot about what a Culture of Tenderness can mean for folks on the edge of society.  I am grateful for such Christ figures who show forth the “tenderness of God” in our midst!
     Happy Advent! 
                                Sr. Mary Tewes, OSB


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  2. Dear Sister thank for telling me about this good work done by Fr. Gregory Boyle, SJ -- I will find out more. The version given by Sr Deborah of the last part of the Benedictus (Zacharias' hymn) is very good. We need to be reminded of the power of the old prayers. The theme of tenderness is the core of the faith. Let us me tender to one another in safety and confidence to give healing and strength. It may sometimes be risky to do so but it strengthens our family bond and realizes Jesus and Mary with us. Merry Christmas OSB God Bless OSB amen