Crutches On the Church Wall

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­On a hill in Montreal beckons the grand edifice, its cross-peaked dome the crowning point of the city. Looming, hovering, intimidating, inspiring, St. Joseph’s Oratory stands watch as pilgrims prayerfully climb its stream of wooden steps on their knees, inching higher and higher to place they hope to find healing. Within its walls one finds the remnants left by those who have come before—racks built into the walls covered with the long wooden crutches of men and the short ones of children, and well worn canes once gripped by desperate hands. They are the marks of the sick, the disabled, the weak, the injured, those whose bodies bore the blight of our human frailty. They are the marks of ones who came to a holy place broken and left whole, healed, restored.

 Michael Barera

Michael Barera

Imagine with me for a moment if our church walls were covered with the symbols and markers of what were once our greatest weaknesses, our most painful limitations, those low places in which God met us and changed beauty into ashes, mourning into joy.

This is something I can’t help but love about the Catholic tradition—there is something very physical and embodied in the way they mark the places in which God has worked, as physical signs of remembrance memorialize spiritual histories. They are modern Ebenezer stones, declaring “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Sam. 7:12). But for those of us in more Protestant traditions, we rarely are left with tangible objects to remind us of God’s workings in the past.

What would your “crutch” be hanging on the walls of such a place, my friend? What infirmities have you left behind to walk in freedom?

Some are physical—like the crutches and canes hanging on the walls of St. Joseph’s—the defeated cancer, the miraculous second chance at life, the work of the right treatment by the right doctor in the precise moment of your need. For some, though, dare I say most of us, our weaknesses, our “crutches” in which God has done his work, are hidden, subtle, difficult to embody in a form for all to see—depression lifted, shattered relationships restored, secret addictions defeated; overcoming pornography or eating disorders, perfectionism or workaholism, anger or shame. These victories too are the healings of God, the moments in which His hand of mercy reached into our helplessness and set us on our feet again. These too are His work in strengthening us to run in places before we could only limp and crawl.  

For so many of us, this definitive sense of healing is fleeting—we may wait for decades and never find wholeness in its completeness. The disease that never abates, the relationship never healed, the doubts and anxieties plaguing our hearts, the wayward child we never see return. Though these “crutches” may never fully leave our hands in this life, it is in these things He meets us, and says, “Dear one, I am with you even here. It is in this place of weakness you find me, in this place of darkness you can mostly clearly see my light.”

So whether your “crutch” has left your hands, or whether it becomes worn smooth as you grip it day-after-day, let us look to the presence of God in our most apparent weakness. For whether we find healing, or whether we are graciously given strength day after day to continue, it is God’s work. May we set up markers to remember where we have met him—and to show those yet to come in this journey of faith that we did not seek Him in vain.