Ray (not his real name) is a great friend of mine. He is a fine visual artist, a lover of music with a wicked sense of humour and, in the last ten years or so, a spiritual director. He is a true populist, instinctively left of centre in all things, a street performer/dancer and a confidante to many of the younger generation. All of these gifts and his present happiness have come to him by way of pain and suffering.
At a young age, Ray found himself living on the street and estranged from his difficult family. Years of drifting with an inner woundedness led him into dark moments, which in retrospect, have left him in wonder at his own survival.
Of all the stories Ray has told me of his journey, the following has lodged forever in my heart.
As life would have it, it fell to him to arrange his mother’s funeral. He had by this time managed to shake off many of the burdens which had more than once brought him to death’s door. He was off the street and, after an epiphany in the LCBO — “There’s not enough alcohol in here to quench my thirst.”— finished with drinking.
On the last day in which the family home would be in the family’s possession, Ray found himself sitting on the front steps wondering what to do next. Feeling a sudden inclination to go back into the house, Ray walked directly to his mother’s bedroom and straight to an old chest of drawers. He pulled open a small drawer to find a small cardboard box. He took the box outside, sat down on the steps, and opened it. What met his eyes was an old photo of himself — left hand on hip, right hand high in air, knees bent to the right, face looking straight at the camera, 11 or 12 years of age, in a gold lamé jumpsuit, à la Las Vegas Elvis. The entire box was full of photos of Ray. His mother had saved them all from her dance school days. He wept.
The photos touched his deep loneliness, his wounded soul, his deep heart hunger. All that had been taken from him, all that had been lost, all that seemed so impossibly far away, began its turn toward his heart’s deepest centre. He came to know after long reflection that his mother had loved him all along. Love had been with him all along, all through the broken and hard years. Love had sought him out, Love had indeed been patient, Love had indeed been kind, Love had been the Ever Present One.
In his 70’s, Ray is dancing at all kinds of events (temporarily halted by COVID-19!) and having a ball. He is in good form — a mover and a shaker! In a quiet moment, he will share straight out, that he counts himself among those gathered on the hillsides long ago to be healed by Jesus and among those in whom, “the memory, too, was changed into apprehensions of glory.”
(Quotation from St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night, Ch. 4.1)
The Venerable Max Woolaver is the Rector of St. Andrew’s (Grimsby) and Archdeacon of Lincoln.