Dr. Yolanda Pierce continues her six-week series of Lenten Devotionals. Devotionals can be found on KineticsLive.com every Wednesday beginning with Ash Wednesday.
She told me: “I need to get my own act together before I am in a position to help anyone else. Until my own stuff is correct, how can I be a blessing to someone else?” She spoke of brokenness and loneliness and grief. She shared both her emptiness and pain. “This,” she said as she pointed to her invisible wounds, “is all that I could bring to the table.” And yet, even as she shared her painful testimony, she was helping to heal others who did not have the courage to speak.
Broken and cracked vessels offer multiple layers of compassion in the work of caring for those in need. Who better to feed the hungry than those who have known seasons of hunger in their spirits? Who better to care for the homeless than those who have walked with loneliness as their companion? Who better to tend to the sick than those whose emotional scars may still be healing? We are not the sum total of our visible or invisible wounds; there is something greater within us. As the Quaker tradition affirms: “there is that of God in everyone.”
I was humbled by a New York Times article this week on the care and compassion prisoners are providing to their fellow inmates who are suffering with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. These men, many of whom are serving life sentences for the most heinous of crimes, have become gentle caretakers: they are showering, shaving, and even changing the adult diapers of those unable to care for themselves. Our prison industrial complex seeks to punish and not rehabilitate, but somehow, these men have become more and better than their status as “felons” would indicate. Cracked vessels still have a use, a purpose, and a value.
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors not because “we” are better and “they” are worse; or not even because “we” are whole and “they” appear to be broken. In ways large and small, spiritual or financial, we are all broken and flawed. The work of love is an acknowledgment of shared humanity and dependency. We need each other in order to survive. And there can be mutual healing as we pour out love onto others, even if it is love that flows from cracked vessels.
Dr. Yolanda Pierce is the Elmer G. Homrighausen Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary, and Liaison with the Princeton University Center for African American Studies. She blogs @ Reflections of an Afro-Christian Scholar