Utterly drained

They were no more than girls, a Japanese and a Singaporean, and they gave everything they had to their game of table tennis. The Japanese lost but the cameras showed she was utterly drained. She had given the best her mind and body could give.

The Olympics are amazing: they celebrate the stretching of men and women to achieve their limit. They symbolise all the efforts of people to reach their best: students, artists, explorers, but also single parents rearing their children under hard conditions, sick or disabled people facing each day, destitute people feeling the effects of bankers’ profligacy.

Henri Nouwen was a Dutch priest who wrote books that touched people deeply and gave talks that filled large halls. But at the end of his great efforts he often felt totally empty and used to phone anyone he could think of who could just listen and give him some support. He looked so strong in public. The reality was he was quite broken by his giving of himself.

Elijah had a similar experience. After destroying the prophets of Baal he ‘went into the wilderness, a day’s journey, and sitting under a furze bush, wished he were dead’ (I Kings 19:4).

Even Jesus himself was drained at times by the constant failure of the people to understand despite his best efforts. ‘Stop complaining,’ he almost shouts at them. And then he says, ‘no one can come to me unless he is drawn by the Father’ (John 6:44).

There comes a point in human endeavour where a person can do no more, go no further. They have in a sense given all that humanity can give. This is the very point where they touch the divine, because to touch the limits of our experience is to discover, in the end, our poverty. And this poverty, this limit, is the doorway to the divine.

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ Jesus says because they are the ones open to the life God offers (Matt. 5:3). ‘For it is when I am weak that I am strong,’ says Paul, boasting that it was precisely the extremes to which he was driven that opened the way for the Spirit to work through him (2 Cor. 12:10).

This divine life is called many things but in John 6 it is ‘the bread of life’. We are thrilled by the Olympics because they show the best that we can do and we share the joy of the winners for a moment. But we can also see them as a threshold of the divine when the best that is human is drawn to enter ‘life to the full’ (John 10:10).

Post published in: Faith

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