THE RAGMAN

Even before the dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our City. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling in a clear tenor voice: “Rags!” Ah, the air was foul and the first light filthy to be crossed by such sweet music.

“Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!”

“Now this is a wonder,” I thought to myself, for the man stood six-feet-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city?

I followed him. My curiosity drove me. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Soon the ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, signing, and shedding a thousand tears. Her knees and elbows made a sad X. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking.

The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked to the woman, stepping round tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers.

“Give me your rag,” he said gently. “and I’ll give you another.”

He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes. She looked up, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She blinked from the gift to the giver.

Then, as he began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face; and then he began to weep, to sob as grievously as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was left without a tear.

“This is a wonder,” I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from mystery.

“Rags! Rags! New Rags for old!”

In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see the shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose head was wrapped in a bandage, whose eyes were empty. Blood soaked her bandage. A single line of blood ran down her cheek.

Now the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity, and he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart.

“Give me your rag,” he said, tracing his own line on her cheek, “and I’ll give you mine.”

The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and tied it to his own head. The bonnet he set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran a darker, more substantial blood – his own!

“Rags! Rags! I take old rags!” cried the sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman.

The sun hurt both the sky, now, and my eyes; the Ragman seemed more and more to hurry.

“Are you going to work?” he asked a man who leaned against a telephone pole. The man shook his head. The Ragman pressed him: “Do you have a job?”

“Are you crazy?” sneered the other. He pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket – flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.

“So,” said the Ragman. “Give me your jacket, and I’ll give you mine.”

So much quiet authority in his voice!

The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman – and I trembled at what I saw: for the Ragman’s arm stayed in its sleeve, and when the other put it on, he had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but the Ragman had only one.

“Go to work,” he said.

After that he found a drunk, lying unconscious beneath an army blanket, an old man, hunched, wizened, and sick. He took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clothes.

And now I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling for drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider’s legs he skittered through the alleys of the City, this mile and the next, until he came to its limits, and then he rushed beyond.

I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt to see his sorrow. And yet I need to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.

The little old Ragman – he came to a landfill. He came to the garbage pits. And I waited to help him in what he did but I hung back, hiding. He climbed a hill. With tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he signed. He lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an army blanket. And he died.

Oh how I cried to witness that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope – because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he died. I sobbed myself to sleep.

I did not know – how could I know? – that I slept through Friday night and Saturday and its night too.

But then, on Sunday morning, I was wakened by a violence.

Light – pure, hard, demanding light – slammed against my sour face, and I blinked, and I looked, and I saw the first wonder of all. There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow or age, and all the rags that he had gathered shined for cleanliness.

Well, then I lowered my head and, trembling for all that I had seen, I myself walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then I took off all my clothes in that place, and I said to him with dear yearning in my voice: “Dress me.”

He dressed me. My Lord, he put new rags on me, and I am a wonder beside him. The Ragman, the Ragman, the Christ!

Source: Walter Wangerin Jr, Ragman and other cries of faith (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004) pages 3-6

CONSIDER THIS

“If you are all wrapped up in yourself, you are overdressed.” – Kate Halverson

How free are you to let go of all your old rags, and how ready are you to receive some new clothes?

THE LEGEND OF HELIOPHER

Once upon a time there was a people that was lost in a great, dark forest. The trees stood so close together that the light of the sun could not penetrate the thickly entwined branches. There were also numerous wild animals which fell upon the people, especially the children when they wandered too far from their parents while they were playing. So everyone lived in constant fear of death and destruction, and a hopeless despair took hold of the hearts of the folk.

Continuous darkness had strangled all the light in their hearts. They could not love one another any more. They even hated and murdered one another in their rage. Yet they were forced to remain together, for it was impossible for any single man to defend himself against the attacks of the wild beasts. They had lost all hope of ever finding their way out of the forest. Many of the young people refused to believe in the light they had never seen, and they mocked their elders, when, with a last weak light gleaming in their dim eyes, they recounted tales of the festive, sunny days of their youth.

Among the people, however, there was a young man called Heliopher. He was very much alone, grieving over the misery of his people and seeking a way of salvation. He bore in his heart an endless longing for light and love in the desolation which surrounded him. Heliopher left his people to seek the sun. For many months and years he wandered through the dangers of the forest and of his own soul, and often, very often, nearly lost all hope and confidence. But Heliopher bravely withstood his enemies, whether within himself or around him, and at last he reached the edge of the forest and saw the light of the sun. In terrible amazement he fell into a swoon, and when he awoke he saw in the twilight that he was watched over in his slumber by beautiful people. In the green meadows stood the simple huts of the sun-people, and Heliopher lived with them in peace and endless joy as the most beloved amongst them.

Then Heliopher went back to the forest to seek his people. “Come, brothers and sisters,” he said to them, “I will lead you to the light.” At this there was murmuring and frowning, wavering and hesitation, wonder and questioning, incredulous laughter, and finally a jubilant “Yes!” And then, at last, the longed-for departure.

Then the light of the sun shone in Heliopher’s eyes, but the way was long and difficult, and demanded much suffering and sacrifice, and murmuring arose among the people. Some spoke and said, “Let us murder him, the betrayer of the people!” And the dark glow of hatred was in their eyes. Others were wiser and said, “No! Let us judge him in the presence of all, for it is dangerous to give the people a martyr.” And Heliopher spoke to his people, and talked about light and love. But the wise ones answered, “You lie! There is no light, there is no sun, there is no love. Let us be darker than the forest and more cruel than the wild beasts. Then we shall be masters of the forest!”

Heliopher answered in great pain, “O believe not, ye wise men, that ye can be victorious over darkness by being more dark, that ye can overcome the wild beasts by being more beastly. Only love is stronger. Only the light of the sun can drive away darkness.”

“Be silent!” said the wise men. “There is no light, there is no sun!”

And the people shouted, flinging their arms about in raging despair, “There is no light, there is no sun!”

But Heliopher called out, “Follow me!” And with his nails he tore open his breast, and his heart burned with love, and it glowed and shed its beams through the dark forest. Then he took it in both hands, held it high over his head, and strode forth in front of the people.

In reverent wonder and silence the multitude followed the burning heart.

And the people went in jubilation toward the sun and danced in its loving rays, and they loved one another. But Heliopher knelt down at the edge of the forest, and with the last strength of his outstretched arms he held up his loving, pulsing heart to the light of heaven, and gave his last smile to his people.

Source: First published in Plough’s Winter 1938 issue
based on Maxim Gorky’s story
“The Flaming Heart of Danko.”

CONSIDER THIS

“I wish each of us Easter eyes, able to perceive in death, life; in guilt, forgiveness; in separation, unity; in wounds, glory; in the human, God; in God, the human; and in the I, the You.” – Bishop Klaus Hemmerle

WHAT HAPPENED ON EASTER?

“Can anyone tell me what happened on Easter?” the pastor in an affluent inner city parish asked. There was total and utter silence.

The pastor, persisting, asked again politely, “Now I know that someone here knows what happened on Easter a long, long time ago.” Again, total silence.

Finally, visibly frustrated, the pastor asked more forcefully, “Will somebody, anybody,  please tell me what happened on Easter Sunday!”

Finally, little Freddie (never at a loss for words) tentatively raised his hand and said, “They killed Jesus!”

“That’s right,” said the pastor, “And then what?”

“They put him in the ground!” (Freddie spoke with more confidence).

“Right! Right! Very good!” the proud pastor affirmed, “and then what?”

“And he was there for three days!” continued Freddie, now fully trusting his voice.

“And then what?” the pastor continued.

“And on Easter morning, Jesus comes out of the ground!” continued Freddie, now fully confident he had it all right.

“Wonderful! Amazing! Perfect!” the pastor joyfully agreed.

And then Freddie continued, ”And if Jesus sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of bad weather, six more weeks of winter!”

Source | As heard and remembered
during a recent conference I happened to be part of.

CONSIDER THIS

A lot of people are like little Freddie –  they know bits and pieces about the Easter story, but the details are not all that clear. In the midst of easter bunnies and colourfully painted eggs, it’s easy to forget the real meaning of greatest festival of faith: Easter!

Today, and in the coming days, consider this: what is Easter for you” What does it mean? And what difference does it make in your life?

DON’T GET TOO ATTACHED

Little Alice was captivated with the stories of Jesus, especially the eventual death of Jesus on the cross.  And she was overjoyed when she was chosen to be an angel in the school nativity play.  She learned her lines to perfection.

However, little Alice was known to add her own logic to every situation.  So the nativity play was well under way and when it was Alice’s turn to say her lines to Mary, she said: “Don’ t worry, Mary, you will have a lovely baby and you will call him Jesus.”  Then she added, “But I wouldn’t get too attached to him because he’ll be gone by Easter.”

Source | Unknown

PONDER AND CONSIDER

As one year ends and another one starts, let’s ponder all the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of our own lives.  And in doing so prayerfully and playfully …  pondering … reflecting … reviewing and perhaps even reframing our lived realities, let’s not get too attached to any of the past chapter of our ever unfolding, unique, sacred biography.  All past chapters are only stepping stones that gently move us forward with courage and wisdom, hope and wild imagination into the new year.