Have I Lost My Ability to Believe?

Caleb, my son, is back in jail.

After a three-month “run” on heroin, cocaine and other cocktails, he was picked up on a breach of the conditions of his release. No new charges; only the past with which to deal.

When I talked to him last week, he was, surprisingly, in good spirits.

Better than me.

I oscillated between sadness, the temptations of despair - here we go again - and relief that, at the very least, he was not dead from a fentanyl overdose. And I was profoundly disappointed that all the support that seemed to be in place when he was released appeared to lie either discarded or bent by the fast and deep drop.

I expected he, like me, might spend some time wallowing in sadness and regret; but, while some of this was present, the flow resembled a conversation one might have with a professional athlete after a blowout. Bad run, learn from it what I can, I can only control now, I’m looking to the next game.

Before being pinched, he began the switch to methadone so much of the process of weaning off the harder opiates had already begun. He is now on 40 mls/day. (This represents a drastic reduction from the 200 mls which has often been the pattern when re-entering custody.)

The legal issues need to be cleared. The jail-house guess is a 3 year sentence. This will put him in the federal system. He will then, with good behaviour, have a chance for parole at one-third or two-thirds of that time.

He reframes this one or two year period as a time of regrouping and preparation.

The short list of details includes the gathering of identification (health care, status card, etc.), physical rest, the healing of his broken hand, a commitment to physical fitness, abstinence from jail drugs, the tapering of methadone to zero by release time, whatever education he can access, reading literature and writing.

Almost everything I had worked up in the 4 am rehearsal of things I was going to say to him when we talked he covered. Took the air out of my balloon!

While these words have been part of many of our conversations when he has been in prison, it felt like something new has appeared.

Part of it has to do with identity and his place. The discovery of his Cree roots and the ceremonial way has changed the ground.

“I know I’m solid with the guys back in Saskatchewan,” he says. “When I do show up, they’ll say ‘Hey, where ya’ been? What’s taken you so long to visit?”

Similarly with the family. “We’re solid.”

Apparently, that phrase covers it and certainly would have shortened up a lot of the Biblical stories.

Although my spirit detected subtle shifts in him a part of me fights cynicism. Have we not had versions of these conversations before? Sometimes we sat at a table in the visitor’s centre, other times over a plexiglass divider, still others facing each other in a booth talking through phone headsets, and often just over the phone. Would it be different this time?

Even while I lectured myself not to yield to distrust, I also recognized that part of my reluctance to go “all in” this time mirrored all the years I have spent with the Christian practices of waiting.

During the four week period before Christmas, Advent, Christians seek to anticipate and prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus. Lent, the 40 days before Easter, are all about spiritual and other preparation to honour the resurrection of Jesus, with its life-altering implications. Behind each lies the assumption that such things could happen again at any moment so Prepare! Get your life in order for the new world!

The rituals have become so familiar that I wonder how much I trust them. If NASA said a giant asteroid was bearing down on earth and the collision was due in 40 days would my life continue its routine? If NATO warned of alien space craft in orbit around the earth, disabling communication satellites and blasting away space rubble, would I spend much time wondering if the candles will drip on Christmas Eve?

Just sayin’

Has the perennial Christian preparations of new life become so routine as to have lost their meaning and eroded my ability to believe in the value of preparation for new life?

Maybe my response to Caleb was not spiritual but psychological, a form of compassion fatigue.

Perhaps both, spiritual and psychological.

I want to believe.

And in spite of nagging uncertainties, I will help Caleb. And we will prepare as if the vision will take root.

Perhaps I am like the father in that story in the Gospel of Mark who brought his son to Jesus. The condition was that the boy had “a spirit” that “whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down … to destroy him.”

Jesus says, “All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9)

I get that.

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