I was recently introduced to the music of Merry Clayton, and in particular a line from the title track of her latest album Beautiful Scars: “I’ve got beautiful scars and I wear them like a tattoo.”
Merry is best known as an award-winning backup singer. She was ‘the other voice’ when Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones’ released Gimme Shelter in 1969. She was featured in the documentary film 20 Feet From Stardom which won an Oscar in 2014. There were plans for recording and touring, but just a few months after this success Merry was involved in a car accident. She broke both her legs so badly that the surgeons had to amputate them both. Despite this traumatic experience the only thing she was concerned about when waking in the hospital was any damage to her voice and whether she could still sing. After years of recovery and rehab, Merry has this year released a solo album with the title track “Beautiful Scars”.
Whilst the song details her personal story, written by Dianne Warren, it led me to reflect on how we see our scars, how we think about the struggles in life that leave their mark, and how we reflect and move forward – carrying those scars with us.
In John 20: 19 – 31the disciples are locked away – in fear. They had been told of the encounter the women had with the risen Jesus, but they were still fearful. Jesus comes to them and says “Peace be with you”.
But Thomas is missing and when the others retell what happened he didn’t believe them. He wanted proof. He wanted to not just see Jesus but to place his finger in his scars before he would be able to believe that Jesus had risen. The scars were what would confirm for Thomas that Jesus was real.
We all have scars – some more visible than others, some fade with time, some are completely hidden from view, others are very clearly seen all the time. Our scars tell our story. When we look at them, we remember the past, the things that have happened to us. These memories can sometimes be difficult, or they can bring us to place of gratitude – a reminder of making it through, of being here to tell the story.
Merry Clayton sings “These are beautiful scars that I have on my heart.” “I wear it proud, like a badge. I wear it like a tattoo.”
Jesus’ scars remind us of God’s great love for us – and that his story didn’t end with those wounds.
Jesus didn’t just come to visit the disciples, alleviating their fear, bringing peace. We read in John’s gospel that Jesus “breathed on them”. This seems a very strange thing – and would at the moment send us all running for the sanitiser and masks! But the English translation of the Greek word that Jesus used doesn’t give us the full meaning. It is used in only three places in the scriptures. In Genesis 1 – God breathed life into Adam. In the Book of Ezekiel God breathed life into the dry bones – and we have it here in John’s Gospel – Jesus breathing on the disciples and sending them out with the Holy Spirit.
It doesn’t appear to have done much the first time. When Jesus returns a week later to see Thomas, the disciples are still in the upper room, the doors are still locked! But we know what happens next – they find the courage with God’s strength to share the good news that they experienced with Jesus.
So what could this mean for us, individually and for our school communities at this time?
Many schools carry the scars of events and difficulties at various times. Most of them heal well, some fade away, some feel raw at times, some memories pop up unexpectedly. What are we do with them?
In February 2020 my GP sent me for a scan for unexplained symptoms and discovered that I had a tumour growing inside my heart. This type of tumour is pretty rare – not cancerous but life-threatening due to the position and risk of stroke and worse. So suddenly I went from having issues with shortness of breath to being admitted to hospital and undergoing open heart surgery to remove the Myxoma. With the wonderful support of my medical team, family, church and school communities, I am doing very well and have made good progress in my recovery. It has taken quite some time to be able to write about the experience but the words from Merry Clayton’s song sparked this reflection which I shared with our staff at the beginning of this school term.
Bishop Cameron (Bishop for the Western Region of Southern Queensland) calls my surgery scar – a reminder of the miracle that I am here, that I am alive. They are his words that haven’t quite sunk into to my inner belief system fully as yet – but I’m working on it! It is difficult – sometimes all I see are the scars, which still hurt and cause trouble. It takes time, patience and breathing in some courage to move past what happened and embrace what can be; living in the miracle that is life. It is interesting to reflect on the idea that I literally had a stone growing in my heart, hardening physically but I was totally unaware of it until the scan revealed it to me.
This leads me to ponder the metaphorical stones that grow in us, that are so often invisible to us until we are told that they are there. What steps do we take to remove them and what are the scars that are left for us to look at every day?
My school has also experienced a period of uncertainty, change and difficulty over the past couple of years, as many schools have – and the scars of this time have not fully healed as yet. But these scars can be looked at differently – as a visible sign that we are still here, together, we have survived – and that is something to be celebrated.
But we need to be more than individuals and communities that can see and acknowledge our scars – we need the breath that brings new life into each situation.
What is life giving for you?
Where do you find refreshment and energy and positivity?
What breathes life into our school communities?
God and our faith, each other, our students and families?
I think it is all of these things along with the amazing skill and gifts that God has blessed each member of our schools with, working together to bring hope, courage and healing to our world; to make a difference in the lives of others; and to educate for positive change in the world around us.
It took courage for the disciples to leave that locked room, to leave behind their fears and to follow Jesus’ command. Their lives were turned upside down by Jesus’ death and resurrection – and they had a job to do. They could have given up, they could have stayed safe in that room – but then what would the church be?
We have beautiful scars that we wear with pride, that weave our past, our traditions and our hopes for the future together. With God walking with us let us bring peace to one another and set out boldly to truly be the best we can be.