Love through Locked Doors

An Excerpt From Bruised and Wounded by Ronald Rolheiser

Some years ago, some other friends of mine lost a daughter to suicide. She was in her early twenties and had a history of clinical depression. An initial attempt at suicide failed. The family then rushed round her, brought her to the best doctors and psychiatrists, and generally tried in every way to love and coax her out of her depression. Nothing worked. Eventually she died by suicide. Looking at their efforts and the incapacity of their love to break through and save her life, we see how helpless human love can be at a point. Sometimes all our best efforts, patience, and affection can’t break through to a frightened, depressed person. In spite of everything, that person remains locked inside of herself, huddled in fear, inaccessible, bent upon self-destruction. All love, it seems, is powerless to penetrate.

Fortunately, we are not without hope. The redeeming love of God can do what we can’t. God’s love is not stymied in the same way as is ours. Unlike our own, it can go through locked doors and enter closed, frightened, bruised, lonely places and breathe out peace, freedom, and new life there. Our belief in this is expressed in one of the articles of the creed: He descended into hell.

What is meant by that? God descended into hell? Generally, we take this to mean that, between his death and resurrection, Jesus descended into some kind of hell or limbo wherein lived the souls of all the good persons who had died since the time of Adam. Once there, Jesus took them all with him to heaven. More recently, some theologians have taken this article of faith to mean that, in his death, Jesus experienced alienation from his Father and thus experienced in some real sense the pain of hell. There is merit to these interpretations, but this doctrine also means something more. To say that Christ descended into hell is to, first and foremost, say something about God’s love for us and how that love will go to any length, descend to any depth, and go through any barrier in order to embrace a wounded, huddled, frightened, and bruised soul. By dying as he did, Jesus showed that he loves us in such a way that his love can penetrate even our private hells, going right through the barriers of hurt, anger, fear, and hopelessness.

READ: Into Safe Hands: A Meditation On Dying for Advent and Christmas by Ronald Rolheiser

We see this expressed in an image in John’s Gospel where, twice, Jesus goes right through locked doors, stands in the middle of a huddled circle of fear, and breathes out peace. That image of Jesus going through locked doors is surely the most consoling thought within the entire Christian faith (and is unrivalled in any other world religion). Simply put, it means that God can help us even when we can’t help ourselves. God can empower us even when we are too hurt, frightened, sick, and weak to even, minimally, help ourselves.

I remember a haunting, holy picture that I was given as a child. It showed a man, huddled in depression, in a dark room, behind a closed door. Outside stood Jesus, with a lantern, knocking softly on the door. The door only had a knob on its inside. Everything about the picture said: “Only you can open that door.” Ultimately what is said in that picture is untrue. Christ doesn’t need a doorknob. He can, and does, enter through locked doors. He can enter a heart that is locked up in fear and wound. What the picture says is true about human love. It can only knock and remain outside when it meets a heart that is huddled in fear and loneliness.
But that is not the case with God’s love, as John 20 and our doctrine about the descent into hell make clear. God’s love can, and does, descend into hell. It does not require that a wounded, emotionally-paralyzed person first finds the strength to open herself to love. There is no private hell, no depression, no sickness, no fear, and even no bitterness so deep or so enclosed that God’s love cannot descend into it. There are no locked doors through which Christ cannot go.

I am sure that when that young woman, whose suicide I mentioned earlier, awoke on the other side, Jesus stood inside of her huddled fear and spoke to her, softly and gently, those same words he spoke to his disciples on that first Easter day when he went through the locked doors behind which they were huddled and said: “Peace be with you! Again, I say it, Peace be with you!”


A message of hope — Paraclete releases “This Child of Faith” by mother and son writing team on 5th anniversary of Sandy Hook

Today as the world remembers the tragedy at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut, Paraclete Press is privileged to release The Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World by mother and son writing team, Sophfronia Scott and Tain Gregory.

“This book we feel is a message of hope,” says author Sophfronia Scott. “By sharing our story we hope other families will see it is possible to help their children have spiritual lives in this very secular day and age. And that spirituality really can help in dark times.”

Taking the events of that tragic day, but also the years preceding it, and the days of recovery and healing that followed, Sophfronia and Tain share stories, experiences and ideas to help parents get to the heart of the question: How do you help a child have faith—real faith that they own—in the challenging world we live in today?

Read more from Sophfronia about This Child of Faith and her family’s journey of faith today in TimeFox News online, and Religion News Service.

This Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World
Releases today, December 14, 2017
Trade paper, $16.99, ISBN 987-1-61261-925-5
Read more

Sophfronia Scott is a novel and essay writer who spent a large part of her early career as a writer and editor for Time and People magazines. She holds a BA in English from Harvard and an MFA in creative writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Tain Gregory is in the eighth grade at Newtown Middle School. He enjoys riding his bike, playing video games with his friends, acting in musicals, and playing piano. He’s also a Boy Scout in Newtown’s Troop 770 and appeared in the documentary Midsummer in Newtown.





Photo credit: George Duncan

In this beautiful and timely memoir, mother and son share insights from a family’s spiritual awakening, a journey that led to a deep experience of God and a new way of life in the world. Not only do they offer practical advice on faith formation, but they tackle a difficult question: How does faith prepare us not only life’s joys but for its most shocking tragedies? The answer is deceptively simple: by paying attention to the Spirit and trusting one another. Read this one and weep. And discover the hope of a child. Diana Butler Bass, Author, Grounded: Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution

For more information contact Laura McKendree, (800) 451-5006 x 316

Rilke, Advent and “the Slowing”

My life is not this steep hour
in which You see me hurrying so.”

Many of us know could claim these lines, taken from one of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems, as a true confession, particularly in Advent.  For while we always seem to be leading hurried lives, rarely is this as true as it is in these often frantic weeks of December leading to Christmas.

But for this very reason Advent is a needed countercultural force, calling us to risk turning aside from this hurried pace in anticipation of the mystery that waits to find us. Of course, we know that this is rarely easy, even when we know it is the truth we most need to follow. Perhaps we’ve even heard someone quote the line from one of Rilke’s poems, “You must change your life,” but we sense how hard this is to do and how unlikely, given the stress in our lives.  

Rilke has become, for me, one of the trustworthy guides into what the late Gerald May simply called “the Slowing,” a theme that is at the heart of Advent. For we need to slow down to savor what this season is about, opening ourselves to the lure of its mystery. In one of Rilke’s letters, he suggests what this might entail in our lives: “To let every impression and every seed of a feeling realize itself on its own, in the dark, in the unconveyable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of your understanding, and to await with deep humility and patience the hour when a new clarity is born:  this alone is to live artistically, in understanding as in creation.” This is what we are made for, as the themes of Advent remind us.

May this call of “the slowing” guide us in this Advent, helping us create space in our lives to live more patiently, more generously, more attentively. To wait in the dark we face until a “new clarity” is born in our lives.

Poems of this sort remind us to seek to center ourselves, refusing to be “consumed” by the hurry of these weeks. They remind us, as Rilke went on to write in this letter to “a young poet,” to ‘let [our] judgments follow their quiet, undisturbed evolution, for this, like all progress, must come from deep within and cannot be pressured or hurried in any way.” Advent is a time for just this kind of slowing; of attending to what matters most; and, yes, of turning from our hurry and relinquishing our worry, at least a little, as we live into the mystery of mercy.

Mark S. Burrows

  1. Rainer Maria Rilke, Prayers of a Young Poet, translated by Mark S. Burrows (Paraclete Press, 2016), 28.

In Celebration Rilke’s Birthday

Each year it strikes me that the birthdate of the Prague-born poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, December 4 (1875), falls near the beginning of Advent. It is an auspicious coincidence. To mark this day, here are two lines from an unpublished stanza he wrote in 1913, intended as part of what would become The Duino Elegies:

Unknowing, I am caught in wonder at
the heaven of my life.

Unknowing. The birth of wonder depends on it, and in a sense it is what matters most in our lives. We might sense “the treasure [we carry] in earthen vessels,” as the apostle Paul once put it, but a knowledge of this lies beyond us.

Wonder, though, is the path into the mystery that is the heart of our lives—the “heaven” within us, as Rilke put it. What the poet meant by this penetrates our mind little by little as we attend to it. It is a wisdom that penetrates slowly, beyond explanation. It longs to be discovered within the veil of the ordinary, which is where Advent hope always waits to find us.

The key to Rilke’s wisdom lies in the opening word, unknowing. It is an Advent word, to be sure, a deep note of truth against what seems capable of overwhelming us in this season: the frenzy of social obligations, stores and malls glittering with lights and crowded with weary shoppers, and a legion of Santa Clauses listening to children tell them of the things they want. In all this, the Advent tidings go unnoticed, but for that very reason we do well to begin, again, with a glad unknowing, one that reminds us to open ourselves in this season to what we cannot understand: that the Word became flesh and lived among us, heaven “touching earth,” as it were, in the form of a newborn, grace manifest in the vulnerability of this world. And, yes, heaven waiting to be disclosed in our own lives, in the midst of all that is ordinary and human, broken and depleted, within us.

Advent is a time of pausing, of learning to hope for what we cannot know. It is a season to practice the kind of unknowing that enables us to unburden ourselves from our too hasty certainties. Advent calls us to open our hearts, in wonder, at what is coming to pass in our midst—and, yes, within us: God among us, Immanuel. In this holy season, as the flickering candlelight of the first Advent candle begins to dance in our eyes, let us learn to be carried beyond the boundaries of what we know, and in unknowing stand in wonder at the “heaven of our lives.”


Mark S. Burrows, translator of Rainer Maria Rilke, Prayers of a Young Poet (Paraclete Poetry, 2016).