I met a man recently whose bangs and forehead were laced with a silvery dust. At first glance, you might think he’d been sprinkled with fairy dust or brushed by the wings of an angel. But such benevolent thoughts are quickly swept aside. This man was disoriented and confused. Not drunk with booze but clearly debilitated. After a moment, he knelt at my feet, not out of any reverence or fear, but simply because standing for any length of time proved too laborious.
He took a sandwich in his silvery hands but didn’t eat it. His paint-covered hands seemed otherworldly, alien, in a way that made me think for a second: a Halloween costume, perhaps? But nothing so benign as that. He had been huffing fumes from a can of spray paint. The reality of it made me wince, made my lungs ache and my heart hurt. If a coroner opened his chest, what would he or she find? Swirls of green and blue? Flecks of silver and gold?
How could he do that to himself, one is tempted to ask, and yet I know all too well the desire to change one’s reality, to dive into oblivion when the pain of life crowds in.
I read a book once (can’t recall the title now) that suggested that the urge to create and the urge to destroy are actually two sides of one coin, which come from the same place inside of us. If indeed we are created in the image of God, the Creator of all things, this urge to create must be a part of who we are. But what of the inclination to destroy or be destroyed, whether it be in the form of substance abuse, or other more socially acceptable excesses?
When things are going well, when I seem to be participating in the creation of something good, it is easy to sing praises to heaven. When I am swept up in a wave of negativity or self-loathing, usually the grace comes to cry out to the One who loves us all. To plead for deliverance from bewilderment, from destructive forces, seen or unseen.
There are times in most any life when we do not know what or how to pray. There may come a time, when we find ourselves without the capacity to dream of something better, to dream of mercy, of loving-kindness and restoration. It is in those times that we must hope that the angels are as close as our own breath, crying aloud for us. Ever calling out for the voiceless and the defeated in our midst.