My son is spending the summer working with refugees in Amman, Jordan at a community center run by a nonprofit called the Collateral Repair Project. When I feel the need to root where he is in my thinking, I pull up a map, locate Amman and then work my way out in concentric circles. What surrounds him? What comes after that? And after that? In doing that, names I’d heard over four decades of being Catholic and being aware of strife and conflict in the Middle East, start to dance before me. The Jordan River. The Dead Sea. Galilee. And, of course, Jerusalem. My son plans to visit these places and more when he’s not working.
Perhaps with Morgan’s summer work in mind, my mother recently gave me Fr. James Martin’s Jesus: A Pilgrimage to read. [Barely has a week passed during my entire life that my mother hasn’t dropped off some articles or a book for me to read “during my spare time.” But when your mother gives you something to read, you read it.] Fr. Martin writes about visiting many of the sites that Morgan will see and being struck by the realization that the people he spent a lifetime studying actually walked these sites. These sites became real, with rocks and dirt and sea and sky. In one of many moving passages in his book, Fr. Martin visits Tabgha in Galilee, the site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It’s one of the most familiar stories, where Jesus takes five loaves and two fish and feeds thousands of followers. But, as Fr. Martin baked in the furnace-like heat of Tabgha, another lesson came to him from that story, one that spoke to me, particularly in the midst of the division, anger and stress we are all feeling today.
The little boy with the loaves and fishes clearly felt that what he had was inadequate and so hesitated to offer it. Fr. Martin realized that we all feel that way, that our meager skills and gifts are often inadequate, and so we don’t offer them up. We hide them. But what we don’t know, what we can’t predict, is what impact our inadequate offerings might have on someone who needs them. A simple kind word. Reaching out to someone who seems to be withdrawing. The small things we can do, which may seem inadequate or which we may not even remember doing, can have an overwhelming effect on someone who needed that gesture or comment or connection at that particular moment. What seemed inadequate or forgettable to us could be extraordinarily important to the recipient–a drop of water in a desert.
The miracle is that things we can do, little things, things we think are inadequate or inconsequential, multiply into something transformative.
And, according to Google Maps, my son is less than three hours from Tabgha.