Note: this is an address I gave on the Sunday after the feast of Ascension, to our parish. If you’d rather check out the recording, go here: http://htocclayton.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Scars.mp3
Before I was a 40 something mom of five, I was an athlete. I loved running more than anything. A lot of non-runners assume runners are just crazy and that’s probably reasonable. Are there any other runners here? Allow me to open a window on the insanity. Eric Liddell – do you remember him from the film “Chariots of Fire?” – said “God made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.” God didn’t actually make me fast, but He did show me that there is a kind of purity of purpose in running that is prayerful, and I loved that. I didn’t mind getting up early to run before work. At least once I cut my college classes to run. I ate, slept, and breathed running. I ran on roads and I ran on trails. I ran on beaches and in Hawaii I ran the whole volcanic rim of Mt Kilauea. I ran races, including marathons, and I was even in training for a triathlon when my head was turned by a dashing gentleman from the East coast who eventually became my husband and the father of my children.
We started having babies. I had an emergency cesarean with my first, which left me with a beautiful little girl and scarring that altered my core strength forever. Age began to get the better of me. Habits I’d had for years, like rolling out of bed in the morning and onto the road for an hour, had to end. I kept trying to hold onto them, but my joints began to crackle. Through months of nursing newborns, sleep deprivation ate at my ability to recover from training. Joint laxity from pregnancy affected the alignment of my hips (my hobble as I walked up here today is more than theatrics). When I could no longer run, I felt like I lost a part of myself. I was depressed, I cried, I tried to believe things might be different someday.
So when I read in the psalms about running and not growing weary and flying like an eagle, I was comforted. Somehow, to me this translated into a fantasy that in the Kingdom of Heaven, running would be restored to me. My injuries would be gone and I too could run endlessly. Maybe God would give me the endurance of Paula Radcliffe and the speed of Usain Bolt!
But then something caught my attention. Something you might have noticed in the gospel accounts of the resurrection and ascension. Jesus both rises and ascends with his scars. Does that surprise anyone else, like it does me? In my mind a glorified body would be both healed and perfected, but it looks like Jesus body isn’t.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, He took his scars with Him. His glorified body…still had scars. “Glorified” did not mean, apparently, completely repaired and devoid of what we’d consider physical imperfections.
Now, I have a lot of physical scars. Some are from silly things I’ve done, like overestimating my rollerblading skills and wiping out on a steep hill when I was 19. Others are professional battle scars from my life as a veterinary technician, which often put me on the wrong end of animal teeth and claws. One is the emergency c-section scar that reminds me of the birth of my oldest child.
Many of us regard our scars as unsightly. There are therapies and pharmaceuticals designed to rid us of them, if we are really bothered by them. Some of our scars are truly debilitating, like the injuries that largely took my running away from me. And many people have more severe scars than mine – missing limbs, missing organs, missing loved ones.
Emotional losses like bereavement are definitely scars. The older I get, the more populated the cemeteries become with people I thought I couldn’t live without. This year alone, we here in our community have lost some really significant people from our lives. Sometimes I feel more slowed down and afflicted by those losses than by any physical injury or scar I’ve ever had.
At the council of Nicea in 325, out of 318 church fathers present, only 11 had not been significantly maimed through torture by heretics. When the king entered the place where the council was being held, he venerated the scars of the fathers by kissing them, because they were the marks of their participation in the suffering of Christ.
CS Lewis famously compared God to a sculptor. He said that events in our lives that hurt us are the blows of God’s chisel, shaping us into His mature creations. The pain and scars, physical or emotional, actually are God making us who we are. We are souls and bodies, so scars both physical and spiritual are part of us. They can’t be reversed or removed without changing who we are.
So why did Christ ascend with his scars – wounds in his hands and feet, his side, punctures from a crown of thorns, wounds from being scourged? When we see the martyrs in heaven, will their glorified bodies still be physically maimed? What about us? Will my shoulder still audibly crackle when I move it? How about the scars on my arms from medicating fractious feral cats – will they still be there? Will I ever run again or compete in my triathlon?
Did the wounds and injuries and scars and bereavements change us? Were they God’s chisel, shaping us into saints? Then I don’t see how He can remove them without undoing the good He has done through them. What’s more, He tells us in Revelation, “I make all things new.” In our glorified bodies, perhaps it isn’t the scars that will disappear, but our understanding of them will be made new. We won’t see them as unsightly or debilitating, but we will see how they have remade us into the new creations God intended. My scars gave me the most significant gift of my life when they made me a mom. Losing running hurt – a lot – but I wouldn’t trade it. The pain was part of His perfect plan all along. In the end it wasn’t pointless suffering at all. As Jesus described the apostles’ suffering in the gospel, it’s the pain of a woman in childbirth, which is forgotten when she feels the joy of holding her baby. The scars – Christ’s and ours – are the evidence of God’s love for us, which could never leave us in Hades. The scars are, in fact, an integral part of our glorification, as they were for Christ.
Will we still feel pain from our scars? The book of Revelation also tells us “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” We will still, apparently, have our scars – physical, emotional, spiritual – but the pain will be gone. The pain has done its job if it has contributed to our wisdom, our strength, our virtue. Pain is, perhaps, a necessary evil: like any good parent, God doesn’t wish pointless pain on His children. But as we hear in the liturgy of St Basil, He will “make the evil to be good by [His] goodness.”
So there’s still hope for me. In the Kingdom of Heaven I’ll either run and not grow weary, or He will have made my perspective new. With time He has done so already. I would certainly never trade what I have now for the privilege of running a marathon. Parenting is the most extreme sport there is! I wonder how He will change our perspective on our other scars?