I was so going to nail Lent this year! Came up with a great scheme to avoid tired, cliche observances-- no fasting from sugar, caffeine, gossip or coveting my neighbor's anything for me this year. I was going to put my faith on a steroid regime and refrain from asking any Big Questions for forty days. This is nearly Mary Hershey torture. I am obsessed with the Big Q's. I see my life as a three million piece jigsaw puzzle, and I am o a quest to find every single freakin' border piece. The middle be damned. Please just let me get the border. After five decades, I am loathe to confess, I am still short two corner pieces as well. I would ransom my retirement fund and a couple of molar for the top right corner.
I could only imagine the tiny six-pack abs my soul would grow if I simply stopped questioning, wondering, agonizing-- and instead just sat in faith. Sat and breathed through my celestial gills. Trusted that as crazy as things seemed, it would all work out. There wasn't anything that I needed to know for sure until Easter, was there? EVEN if it felt like I really should get on the ball and start making some big decisions about my life.
I struggled through my Morning Pages every day because normally, there is nary a declarative sentence to be found. Every time a question popped out, I turned it on its little arse and tried to find some gratitude for not having to know that answer or that outcome. At least until Easter. Then look out! I was going to get my semi-automatic Question Bazooka gun back out.
This past Holy Week, there have been a number of great articles on faith and resurrection surfacing in the world, and I was particularly taken by a sermon by Reverend Anne Howard of The Beatitudes Society and also Diana Butler Bass, whose former weekly Sunday column was a major fave of mine.
The thing is, I have a very bad time with Holy Week. I hate thinking about what Jesus endured. How can a mere mortal be asked to comtemplate the torture of another human being? I have a very vivid imagination and a Black Belt in empathy, which came in my DNA package, no credit due me. I have struggled with this since grade school, when I first saw a live Passion Play. Suddenly, I got it. The giant crucifix I had stared at each Sunday at Mass came to life for me. I was absolutely horrified! The Stations of the Cross were a walking daytime nightmare for me. I didn't have any idea how I could possibly formulate an adequate apology or thank you big enough to cover the sacrifice Jesus made. I still can't and still don't. It is larger than I will ever be. It's the Milky Way vs. my little fingernail. I like to think I would take a bullet for Jesus any day of the week, and yet I can't do anything to mitigate his humiliating treatment death. There is no greeting card, perfect penance, act of sacrifice. I got nothin.'
One of the sermons that really moved me spoke of the shift that can be made by replacing the preposition :for: with the preposition :with: in considering Holy Week, Instead of the usual meditating on Jesus dying for us, suffering for our redemption, etc., consider Jesus joining us-- as in Jesus dying with us, Jesus suffering with us. In some way that I can't yet fully articulate, this shift moves me closer in. I don't feel I am merely standing under the cross wringing my hands wishing there was something I could do. Instead, I feel this sense of AWE and gratitude that Jesus put his money where his mouth was. Because we are such recalcitrant sheep, not only did he tell us everything we need to know to get through our voyage, but he showed us, in completely excruciating fashion, the Way. He showed us just how enormous God is, and he showed us the true face of love and forgiveness. He wants to be with us each in our suffering, in the way that I want to be with others that are suffering. In my completely small and shallow way, that is. And I want to be with him through this powerful reenactment. It is not my job to try to stop the Passion, or apologize for it, but to be brave enough to look Love right in its exquisitely wrenching, beautiful face.
Which is just about the time when I realized how completely laughable my Lenten observance was. Because it was all about M-E. Me, who is not suffering from anything but middle-aged self-absorption. Dear Lord. How did I join with anyone in their suffering, in their loneliness, in their fear? Sure, I sent out my small rectangles of paper to my church, and they do a bang-up job attending to the needs of the community with our tithes. But seriously, Mary? You sent paper rectangles out to the hungry, cold, alienated during Lent? Geez, knock yourself out.
The thing about Jesus that I have learned is that even when you totally flunk your spiritual curriculum, he will pull you into Him and kiss you on the head. Seriously. Of THAT I am sure. No question.
Anyone else out there flunk Lent? Come on by and I'll kiss you on the head, too.
Love and grace,