Healing Presence

A few weeks ago, I was at the Chiara Center in Springfield, IL for a retreat. There was a lot of time to wander and explore, and so I did. The Center is run by an order of Franciscan nuns, and so they have a small museum for their order. It happened to be open while I was there, so I wandered in.

I’ve been on a Civil War kick recently, and so the bronze statue of Mary Todd Lincoln stood out to me. As I read the accompanying plaque, the reason for its presence became clear. Apparently, during the last years of her life, Mary’s mind became unhinged and she required constant care. By this point, three of her four children had died, due to disease, and she had witnessed the murder of her husband as they sat next to each other in Ford’s Theatre. This seems like enough to drive anyone to the brink. What a tragic life!

I see that I haven’t described the statue yet. In it, Mary is lying in bed. A nun is sitting by her bedside, holding Mary’s hand. The name of the statue is “Healing Presence.”

In that moment, I was struck by the true nobility of that calling. Here is a woman, broken by a life of tragedy. But in that moment, that nameless nun was able to offer care and love to her. Such a quiet calling; no great pomp or notability. And yet, as their hands meet, the presence of Christ is there to be seen.

I don’t have many ambitions left. But one that still drives me is to be that sort of person. The kind of person who comes to the sick or weak or dying–those used up by life and then cast aside–and to be a comfort to them. To be to them the very healing presence of Christ.

To reach out with hands that have become the hands of God.


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