I asked him in a quiet voice, "Do you believe you're going to go to hell?"
He paused for a long moment, then answered, "My hesitation tells you a lot, doesn't it?"
My heart wanted to burst in that moment. How could I, who have sinned so greatly and hurt so many, offer my hope to him?
I wrote down for him the lyrics of a slow, gentle hymn I learned years ago, the words to which were written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
Goodness is stronger than evil
Love is stronger than hate
Light is stronger than darkness
Life is stronger than death
Victory is ours, victory is ours
Through Him who loves us
Today I went flipping through the psalms and found one in particular that might have resonated with him.
Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness;
answer me in your righteousness.
Do not enter into judgement with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued me,
crushing my life to the ground,
making me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.
I remember the days of old,
I think about all your deeds,
I meditate on the works of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
Save me, O Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
Let your good spirit lead me
on a level path.
For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life.
In your righteousness bring me out of trouble.
In your steadfast love cut off my enemies,
and destroy all my adversaries,
for I am your servant.
As a Benedictine Canon, my daily prayer etches the psalms on my heart. A few of the psalms I remember most easily are those I memorized long ago in song. Psalm 51, Psalm 130, Psalm 63, Psalm 23, and Psalm 91 spring to mind most easily when my heart is heavy.
What words do I repeat to myself about God when I am most low? How might I find fresh, life-giving, mercy-imparting words?