I was settling in for my Sunday afternoon ministerial nap with a little channel surfing, and there it was on CNN: Philip Seymour Hoffman found dead in his bathroom; heroin in apartment; needle in his arm. I hollered downstairs for son Micah, a former addict. He sat on the bed at my feet, said, “Oh, no!” and put his face in his hands.
I let a minute pass. “Would he have known what was happening to him?”
“No,” Micah said. “He would’ve passed out right away. He died in a couple minutes.” Clean for over eighteen months, Micah would know.
Heroin has been in the news in Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio lately—maybe beyond, I don’t know. Some sinister entrepreneurs came up with the idea of mixing fentanyl with heroin. The problem: fentanyl is 10 to 100 times stronger than heroin. One recent batch from Allegheny County in southwest Pennsylvania contained 50% fentanyl. Good night!
People are dying, and Hoffman himself appears to have overdosed on that sketchy brew. Maybe because Micah’s a fan, this average-looking-at-best actor is taking up spiritual room in me today. He was at the top of his game, most likely in great shape financially, but there was an ache in him somewhere. At least I imagine this was so. I bet most of us have pain burrowed down so far inside that nothing much can reach it.
Without knowing it, Hoffman foreshadowed the difficulties of another troubled celebrity in a 2006 60 Minutes interview. He may as well have been talking about Justin Bieber, who at that time was probably up close to the mirror, searching for his first whisker. Hoffman said,
I always think, God, I have so much empathy for these young actors that are 19 and all of a sudden they’re beautiful and famous and rich — I’m like, ‘My God, I’d be dead’ — 19, beautiful, famous and rich, that would be it, you know … I think back at that time and think if I had the money, that kind of money.
Ironic, of course: Hoffman’s dead anyway. During Micah’s first months of sobriety, he mentioned that eventually shooting up wasn’t any fun. Life was just about getting ahold of drugs so he wouldn’t feel like crap. I wonder if that’s how it was with Philip Seymour Hoffman.
And what’s Justin Bieber thinking? Beautiful and famous and rich, he’s apparently shaking his groove thing at the edge of the abyss; that is if the news is accurate. Fast cars, booze, some weed. Who knows? Is Bieber going through too much, too fast, too young? Nineteen year olds can be explosive to start with. Whatever his deal, I’d say from my spectator’s distance that inner-peace isn’t part of the package.
What must it be like to have over 200,000 citizens sign a petition calling for you to be deported? My friend Mark posted an insightful defense of the Canadian heartthrob on Facebook a couple days ago:
I’m about tired of people crushing Justin Beiber. Get all your jokes out now. Ha ha ha. No, I don’t have a thing for teenage boys. Are you done? Good. I may be over sensitive to the abuse put on the kid because one of my girls loves him. She is crestfallen every time she hears bad press and even more devastated with the ensuing public dismantling. I love her. So when she hurts, I hurt. I don’t like his music and he’s made some absolutely stupid decisions. HE’S 19! Who among us didn’t do stupid stuff at 19? Okay, take 19 year old you and add, say, 10 million dollars. Holy Crap! Now factor in that everybody with a camera wants to take a picture of you. If you’re doing something wrong, even better. Multiply that by the fact that nobody ever told the kid “no”. He was their meal ticket. They had to keep him happy, no supervision makes a happy teen. All this, and he has screaming hoards of women of all ages wanting to, um, get with him. It’s just math people. He’s going to be a little screwed up.
I don’t know if Bieber was never told “no,” but Mark’s got it right. If anything, the kid deserves our understanding. It’s easy to condemn Philip Seymour Hoffman’s junkie death and Justin Bieber’s dumb-ass choices, but only if addiction’s never had you by the throat or your post-pubescent brain has never told you the evil-twin lies: “You’re always right, and you’re invincible.”
The last thing Hoffman and Bieber need is my judgment. What they need is all the compassion I can muster. (And it ain’t easy with the latter’s chronically raised eyebrows and extravagant fitteds.) In fact, that’s what every corner of creation needs: my compassion.
Each week I spend hours in contemplative prayer, and you’d think heroin addicts and crazy kids would barge in on my silence and demand my attention. Sometimes this happens, but Hoffman, Bieber, and company are more likely to visit me at an inconvenient moment. On Sunday mornings, just before the congregation receives Holy Communion, we sing the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. The last words are “grant us peace.” We sing it three sweet times: “Grant us peace. Grant us peace. Grant us peace.”
I stand still and pray quietly: “Grant us peace!” I have just a few seconds; if I don’t start distributing the bread, people will think I’ve fallen asleep on my feet. Ah well. Philip Seymour Hoffman will arrive next Sunday, and I’ll sing, “Grant him peace.” Justin Bieber, too: “Grant him peace.” The four-year-old Erie girl who died in a house fire yesterday will appear: “Grant her peace.” And the firefighters who tried to save her: “Grant them peace.”
“Grant us peace.” Part of me wants to stand still in my alb and stole long after the congregation has gone home and sing: “Peace!” Peace for the wealthy and poor with needles stuck in their veins. Peace for the invincible. Peace for saints and sinners everywhere. Peace and healing to that hidden place in all of us, that dark corner where tears reside.
All are welcome in this prayer. Are you suffering? Are you alone to blame? Are you dead, gone into Mystery? Can you hear me? Show up in my spirit. I’ll sing your lovely name to God.
I love you! Thank you!!!
Love you back, sistah! Peace.
Thank you. I find that contemplative prayer softens your heart more and more, and so the pain of the world hurts more. It is the cost of growing closer to the Divine. I will pray for peace for YOU as you pray for peace for others. Blessings.
I couldn’t have described the fruits of contemplative prayer more perfectly. Prayers your way, too. Peace, John
Thank you, thrice spoken in my mind. Have mercy, have mercy, grant us peace.
So very thoughtful and insightful. You help me to grasp where we all have been
to some degree.
Thanks, Brother Ray.
Thanks, Evelyn. Hope you’re having a good time. Peace, John
You’ve struck a chord with me. I have been thinking along similar lines lately…more compassion, less judgement, happier people, happier world. It makes sense to me, but it isn’t in our culture, unfortunately. My best to you, Rose
I think you’re right, Rose. I guess we’ll just have to march to the beat of our own little drummers. Peace, John
God love you, John. I am so glad and proud to call you friend and brother.
Right back at you, Mark. And I’m so glad you read my stuff. Really appreciated. Peace, John
This is expansively and beautifully written. It filled me with peace.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to church. I am not fond of organized religion in general, but I do consider myself spiritual. I believe in a higher power, or force, or energy — something that is bigger than ourselves. I believe in kindness.
I’ve never been to Erie. My brother died there nearly 22 years ago and I’ve wanted to go see where he lived and worked and breathed. One day, perhaps, I’ll make it there, and if I do I would like to listen to one of your sermons. I enjoy your words.
Thanks, Mary. You sure are right: organized religion has its problems. You can put my name down as one who believes in kindness. By the way, what’s your brother’s name. Erie’s a “small” city. Peace, John
His name was Peter. Peter Pierce. He worked for – I think – Erie Animal Hospital? Sadly, he died because he didn’t have health insurance. He had an un-diagnosed brain tumor that hemorrhaged one night. He was 34.
I was curious because when I was growing up a Pierce family lived two blocks up. Thought y’all might be related. Never knew a Peter Pierce, but I’ll be wishing him peace this Sunday–and now, while I’m at it. To you as well, Mary.
That was really beautiful John. In the end, we are all brothers and sisters and their sadness is our own. I think those whose compassion and tolerance seems… Lacking at best are the saddest of us all.
Thanks much. Somebody suggested to me one time that what we judge most harshly in others is what we hate most in ourselves. Seems true to me. Peace, John
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