“The Eternal is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy. 33:27
On occasions when I am alone and in a particular frame of mind, a steady stream of faces moves across my memory.
Some of them did not tell me their names, some gave false names. The troubles they were tortured into telling were true enough.
The hurt. The awful sense of inadequacy. The lostness, the failure, fear, guilt, despair, panic. The pain of being ripped apart by powers too terrible to comprehend, not knowing what to do, or how to go on, whether to go on.
So what do I say to them? Different things, of course, as circumstances differ, but it really all boils down to one essential truth; in life’s extremities, facing intolerable situations with impossible alternatives, there is hope!
The wisdom of the ages from Baha’i to Zoroaster come together at this point. It is a core concept of the cosmos. In the Judaeo-Christian package that hope is described metaphorically as “The Everlasting Arms.”
It is those Everlasting Arms I talked to them about, but rarely in religious terms. I have no stomach or time for pious platitudes.
It was important that they hear it, not in auditory capture of ancient texts, but hearing with the ears of the soul. When I talked to them about it I heard it again myself. I need to hear it, because I am one of them. I may not need it today, but I will tomorrow, and I want to remember when my time comes, again.
We err if we think the Everlasting Arms are mystical, mysterious, a divine rescue, God’s response to a 9-1-1 prayer. The Everlasting Arms frequently have a remarkably human look about them.
Years ago a physician colleague talked to me about a patient who, despite his best efforts, continued to get worse for no apparent clinical reason. His wife’s death sucked all reason to live out of him. He was angry with his physician, with himself, with God, with everything and everybody.
He was courteous enough but I couldn’t talk to him on his terms. I’d never been where he was, and I was getting nowhere.
I called for help from another man who had experienced a similar loss, and he did for our patient what two doctors could not do. The man found a lady friend, took dancing lessons, and got back to living. The physician discharged him. His Everlasting Arms were those of a 63-year-old plumber.
Some day you will be called upon to be the everlasting arms of someone who has dashed his or her foot against a stone.
Some day they will be your hands, reaching out to steady some soul stumbling in the dark, sliding into despair, whose strength is gone and you must carry him a while, if you will. Don’t miss it!
Empty vodka bottle on the table, bleary eyes watching the paramedic patching up his wife’s battered face, slurring words, “Yeah, I roughed her up a little, but God knows I didn’t mean to do THAT!” For him, for them, there were the Everlasting Arms.
White knuckles gripping the bed rail. A Catholic nun, Marine Corps Drill Sergeant, Baptist preacher and a terrified mother, their anxious eyes fixed on a tiny body whose breathing grew slower and slower and finally stopped. The pain was unbearable, but the Everlasting Arms were there for them.
Beige carpet soaking up blood from the big man’s self-inflicted wound. His angry eyes found the priest: “Who the Hell sent for you?” But for him the Everlasting Arms would come, unbidden.
Readily recognized woman’s voice, public voice, cultured accents not quite masking an about-to-explode inner tension, speaking softly into the phone: “I’ve done a terrible thing, I must talk to someone, but please, don’t tell me I have to pray.”
I didn’t, but the Everlasting Arms still came around to do their thing. It does happen!
Jack Wilson is an Episcopal priest who may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.