The captive

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I first noticed her among the many who were eagerly awaiting a hot meal. As I scrambled to ready another plate on the breakfast assembly line, I happened to glance up. Her eyes met mine and we exchanged a brief smile amidst the morning rush. But it was the teddy bear in her arms that caught my attention.

Although the woman was well along in years, she clutched her stuffed animal with obvious delight, like a child with a cherished Christmas gift. It was an odd sight, which I tucked away in that hurried moment.

Later, as my eyes swept the crowded cafeteria, now swelling with the sound of friendly chatter and clatter of empty dishes, I glimpsed her again. This time, she was sitting at the edge of the room, quite a distance from my observatory in the kitchen. She held the bear close to her, its face buried in her chest as she rocked back and forth in a chair, eyes downcast.

At first glance, she looked like a mother with an infant, and I couldn’t help but stare at her and wonder at the circumstances that brought her to this place. What kind of loss was this that she cradled in her arms and carried in her heart? Was it the loss of a little one, who long ago had come unbidden, and whose desperate cries were silenced before they could escape her womb? Or was it the loss of a child, now fully grown and yet unknown to this mother whose aching arms longed for one more meaningful embrace?

Perhaps it was none of these things. Perhaps the loss she cradled was more about her own childhood, forever locked away, where memories dare not go for fear of discovering the reason for still-born joy, dried-up tears, and smothered dreams.

Now, as the Christian church enters the season of Easter, I pause to reflect. The mission of a suffering and resurrected Christ still rings in our ears: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18–19, NRSV).

I imagine the Living Word arriving on that sad little scene which lingers in my mind. Here, Jesus scans the room, and with deliberate steps, he makes his way through the noisy crowd and kneels before the rocking woman. Touching her tenderly, he fixes his gaze upon her until her vacant eyes adjust to see him.

The moment is held in the sacred now, until divine love penetrates the brokenness that holds her captive. A flicker of response appears on her face as recognition dawns, and she embraces the mercy that finds her here.

Even as this wordless exchange takes place, I can feel the gaze of the Saviour as his eyes find mine. Penetrating questions arise in the quiet places of my own heart. Who will have eyes to notice the lostness of this one? Who will have hands that will tenderly touch her withering body? Who will sit with her sadness until her vision changes enough to hold on to the hope that her life can be different? Who will go to the least of these with me? And in the reaches of my heart I desire to answer with the words of the ancient prophet saying, “Here am I, send me.”

But I hesitate. There is part of me that knows I will need to leave the safety of my observatory to embody the answer to these uncomfortable questions.

And so I pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I, too, need your healing touch in order to take courage enough to walk beyond these walls – to follow you on this dangerously narrow path, where the distance between heaven and earth is bridged by complete surrender to divine love. Let your kingdom come and your will be done.

Perhaps today it is enough to be thankful for the safety of Siloam Mission, where displaced people can come for daily nourishment. Perhaps today it is enough to recognize that compassion begins to flower in me, transforming my vision to see with the “eyes of my heart.”

With this, I leave the woman and myself in the loving care of Christ.

Jan Woltmann is a freelance writer from Winnipeg. She attends The Meeting Place and volunteers at Siloam Mission as a writer and meal host.

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