Walking Honestly Through Holy Week in Pandemic

[Photo credit: Misha Friedman/Getty]

April 9, 2020 Writing Group Essay, inspired by “Untitled,” by James Baldwin:

Lord,

when you send the rain,

think about it, please,

a little?

Do

not get carried away

by the sound of falling water,

the marvelous light

on falling water.

I

am beneath that water.

It falls with great force

and the light

Blinds

me to the light.

Part I – Broken light

Can your light blind us to the light? Can your love harden our hearts to other love, human love? It seems a worthy question, but maybe it is a blasphemous question. Or at least a question that should not be uttered, like Calvin’s reservation about discussing predestination. Can your love ruin us to all other love, your healing scar over the sensation of other wounds? 

You make your way to the cross this week, encouraged by the Holy Spirit. And in that is the answer. I think. You make your way to the cross, not by your initial will, but the will of the Father whose love you share with the Holy Spirit. 

As you make your way to the cross, we lag behind or jump ahead. I am a lagger, scrambling around the internet in search of numbers, data, a real yardstick, but all the yardsticks have been broken and I can not tell where we are. We know this is not good, but how not good? And does it matter? My brain says yes, it matters. Do not pass Go without pausing in prison. But others want to jump ahead to Easter morning, ignoring your time with the dead, to say nothing of your agony. But what is passion without agony, or agony without passion, for that matter? Yours in particular. And thus ours. 

Do not pass Go. But don’t stay in prison, either. You did not stay away from Lazarus’ body but for a few days. You did not stay out of Jerusalem but for a few more. Or was that just hours, not days? You had the meal, you invited Judas to go and do what he was going to do, and quickly. And you prayed, but not forever. No, you got up. You neither slept nor lingered in the last uninterrupted moments with the Father and the Spirit. Oh, I would have wanted to stay safely and deliciously in that love. But you got up. And you walked. 

You would have worn a mask because the doctors said so. And you would have walked into the hospital, if it were your job. But you would have had us see the sickness, you would have had us pull away the stone and risked the smell of death. Face it, Martha. But get up, Mary. 

In this historical, embodied world, we do not pause much, but we do not avoid taking note, we do not avoid witnessing with and for each other. What is compassion but suffering with? Do not rush to Easter. Do not look away from the cross. Recognize what Judas is going to do, in fact, do not even stop him, but only because you’ve been consumed by a higher love. 

Love believes all things, and yet is never deceived. 

Part II – And Bacchus, too.

I’ve been struggling this week to know if I should be more like Cardinal Groslaye in The Agony & the Ecstasy, the Cardinal who commissioned Michelangelo’s Pieta, and then some. Michelangelo’s agent noted that the Cardinal walked in such a pure state of grace that he hardly saw the shambles that was Rome at the time. And yet the Cardinal did not hesitate to pay Michelangelo more than what was agreed to because Michelangelo found himself caring for ailing family members and the times were tough. Can you do that if grace has blinded you to the need for grace, if it has filled in all the gaps? 

Mother Mary cradles the body of her son, her brother, her Creator. And yet, were she to stand, she’d have been several feet taller than him. Perspective accounts for so much. Or, should I say, our limited human perspective, the angles, the bias. Michelangelo was working on a Bacchus, the drunk and hedonistic pagan god, when the agent snuck the Cardinal into Michelangelo’s studio. And the Cardinal saw past it into the Pieta. The moment between agony and ecstasy, the peace of death before quiet resurrection. The love that somehow does not undo all other love. It is unlike your light that blinds to light. Or is it? You tore the veil that day, did you not? 

And what of it? Can we hold both loves? Can we stand 3 feet taller? By holding you as son, as brother, as Creator…as friend? Cardinal Groslaye saw past the Bacchus into the Pieta, he paid the stone-cutter’s fees and then some. 

So let us not skip ahead, but let us also not languish, at least not for too long. Forty days in the desert is long enough. Let us face and name and counter evil with scripture that believes all things and isn’t deceived. Let us witness the anguish of the sick, of the grieving, and of the healers, in both their successes and their losses. Let us hold them up without denying their reluctance, their need to call out to the Holy Spirit for encouragement, the fact that they sweat blood and may rightly want to bow out of this one. Let us not push them into Easter, because they are not you, and it is not even Good Friday yet. 

May we do this in your name, in your love, in your light, and may all of this keep us honest. 

Amen.

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