in Tall Tales

Lord, if you had been here…

And if God is great,
and God is good,
why can’t he change the hearts of men?

Maybe God himself is lost and needs help,
maybe God himself needs all of our help,
maybe God himself is lost and needs help,
out up on the road to peace.

~Waits/Brennan, “The Road to Peace”
The other night I ran into an old friend, let’s call him “Mike” — a young man imprisoned by the Powers of crack and alcohol and anger. Mike is one of those guys who grew-up fast, and gained a lot of wisdom with his brokenness, something that can’t be said of all of us. But the Powers that have a hold on Mike are stronger than he is, just as they’re stronger than me or the “help” some of us tried to give Mike half a year ago.
So Mike was not doing well when I ran into him the other night. He was high and hadn’t slept for six days. To top it all off, he had found a place for himself and his girlfriend that night, but another fellow had run him off. So, he paced up and down beside me on the sidewalk and waited to see if his girlfriend was going to come out to be with him, or stay in with another guy. Barely coherent, he was cursing and swearing and boxing the air.
Anyway, his girlfriend showed up but she brought another guy — and I knew there was going to be trouble. As soon as Mike saw this other guy, he jaw clenched, as did his fists, and sure enough, after a few words were thrown back and forth, I found myself jumping into the middle of things, bodily intervening to ensure that physical violence didn’t follow verbal violence. Mike’s girlfriend jumped in as well and, thankfully, the two of us were able to diffuse the situation.
I wasn’t able to do anything meaningful for Mike that night. He was bouncing from crisis to crisis, the Power that we call Addiction was stronger than anything I had to offer, and so after after helping Mike in a few trivial ways, after sharing a few affectionate words, he was gone back to “Hell’s Acre” to score some crack in “the belly of the beast” (his words, not mine).
More and more these days, I find myself praying the words of Mary (the sister of Lazarus) in Jn 11.32. Her brother had just died and Jesus, their friend and a great healer, had delayed in coming to them. So, when Jesus arrives, she kneels at his feet, weeping, and says:
Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
Perhaps if a few more of us take up this cry, perhaps then our Lord will once again be “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” Perhaps he will weep now, as he wept then, and perhaps he will set us free from the Powers that bind us, just as he once called Lazarus forth, out of the tomb. Perhaps then our Lord will greet people like Mike with the same words with which he greeted Lazarus:
Unbind him, and let him go.
Perhaps. Because it appears that my prayers, and my tears, are — by and large — unheeded. And so I pray, again and again, “Lord, if you had been here… Lord, if you had been here.. Lord, if you had been here…”

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