Father Mark, Reflections

Moccasins are soft

“Judge Softly”

“Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps,
Or stumbles along the road.
Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.

There may be tears in his soles that hurt
Though hidden away from view.
The burden he bears placed on your back
May cause you to stumble and fall, too.

Don’t sneer at the man who is down today
Unless you have felt the same blow
That caused his fall or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.

You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, unknown to you in the same way,
May cause you to stagger and fall, too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins.
Or pelt him with words, or stone, or disdain.
Unless you are sure you have no sins of your own,
And it’s only wisdom and love that your heart contains.

For you know if the tempter’s voice
Should whisper as soft to you,
As it did to him when he went astray,
It might cause you to falter, too.

Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse.
If just for one hour, you could find a way
To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.

I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind and narrow-minded, even unkind.
There are people on reservations and in the ghettos
Who have so little hope, and too much worry on their minds.

Brother, there but for the grace of God go you and I.
Just for a moment, slip into his mind and traditions
And see the world through his spirit and eyes
Before you cast a stone or falsely judge his conditions.

Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins
And remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave
In other people’s lives, our kindnesses and generosity.

Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.”

~ by Mary T. Lathrap, 1895

The spewing of incivility lately caused me to remember the saying, “Don’t judge a person until you walk a mile in his moccasins.”

As a youngster I was very close to my extended family, uncles, aunts and cousins. It was always a treat when we could visit and play. My dad, uncle, brother and I would go hacking (a low quality of golf). When I got into high school, my uncle and aunt divorced. I was heartbroken. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned why. My uncle whom I deeply loved was involved with domestic violence with my aunt whom I also loved. I was confused. I couldn’t see him doing this. He was so fun to be with and loving to me.

After college, I began to learn about the darker side of World War II. I had known the battles, places, dates and all of this since my childhood as we were given to know the history of the importance of the sacrifices made to put an end of the tyranny and insanity that had overcome the world. Earlier as a child I recall my uncle playing with my battery powered Bulldog Tank I received at Christmas. When he visited, I didn’t get to use it much. But what I didn’t know is that he was a tank commander in Patton’s 3rd Army and one of the conflicts he was in was the Battle of the Bulge. My uncle never talked about any of this except on two occasions when I was in college and both times he stopped before he completed the sentence.

I began to understand the reasons why people do what they do. Just because Louie had “battle fatigue” (a.k.a. PTSD and Moral Injury) didn’t excuse his earlier behavior. I never witnessed the behavior but now at least I understood the inner turmoil that would occasionally explode outwardly from him. My uncle got help after the divorce and we remained close whenever I returned to visit my parents. Had I been where my uncle was from 1943-1945 I have no idea what mental state I would be in. I cannot even fathom it.

Suffering creates a series of inner wounds and concoction of fear and anger that mostly remains hidden to the human eye. Suffering creates a hardness and rigidity within, that we were never meant to carry. When Jesus teaches the Beatitudes (Matt. 5), he is speaking to our need to wear the moccasins of others.

Jesus teaches “Blessed are those who mourn”–blessed are those in emotional turmoil. People who suffer often do not know how to mourn so that they may be comforted and healed within. Jesus follows with “Blessed are the meek”–Healthy are those who have softened what is rigid within.

My uncle was my first experience of learning to wear the moccasins of others. I would see the suffering of others as a priest and intensely so as a therapist. Some of my clients were victims. Some were perpetrators. I learned how to soften my inner rigidity to work with the latter. Both victims and perpetrators tend to repeat behaviors that are driven from their invisible wounds and the rigid places within. When learning their story I understood, the “why” of their history even though not all would be willing to enter the mourning to heal. That remains a mystery to me of why some do and some do not.

It’s easy to live in a small town and to notice the idiosyncrasies of others–their weaknesses while being unaware of what drives them from their rigid places within. We may never know. But this doesn’t keep us from looking for the rigid places within ourselves that react to the rigid places within them, and simply pray, “Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus will soften our rigid places within. And who knows, once our rigid places soften, others may in some mystical way, begin to soften the rigid places within themselves.

What do you think?

I used to own a pair of moccasins. Moccasins are soft and comfortable, much more so that my rigid leather and cordura snake boots. I need the snake boots sometimes. But I think I’ll get me another pair of moccasins. And remember to remain soft within when I am around others who may not be able to be so.

Here’s to being meek, and softening what is rigid,

Fr. Mark