Category Archives: Good Friday

Valentine’s Day

But standing by the cross of Jesus was his mother…
When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near,
he said to his mother, “Woman behold your son!”
Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!”   John 19:25-27

It was Valentine’s Day.  She held his limp body across her knees, as though she could rock a full grown man.  His head rolled back against her shoulder, his throat bared to heaven’s jaw.  She reached for his torn, red smeared hand.  Did she remember the valentines he had made for her…the way his tiny hand gripped her finger, and the dear sounds he made when he nuzzled her breast?  Did she remember the valentine gifts…the pretty rocks he brought her, the bird feather, the ripe olive, shiny and black?

It was Valentine’s Day. And there on the hill called Skull she held her Valentine and sang him a love song, a lullaby.  It had no words, but was a mixture of the sound of angels’ wings, the smell of frankincense, and the taste of dust and blood.  She looked at his eyes, the muscles of his chest, the strong sweep of his thighs, and thought of how divinity had swelled within her, of how she grew big and awkward as she puffed up the hills of Nazareth.  My, it seemed only yesterday.  She thought of him moving within her and of his birthing out of the dark pain.  And she remembered how she felt that she could not bear his sweetness.

It was Valentine’s Day.  He lay slumped on her lap like a great heavy mail sack stuffed with the cards and letters of creation’s lovelorn.  They spilled from him with the blood.  “Save me.  Heal me.  Help me.  Love me.  Save me.  Heal me.  Help me.  Love me.”  Over and over the messages were the same.  Some were written in the scraggly script of the old, some in the sprawling letters of the very young, some on the finest stationary.  Others were on scraps of newspaper, prison walls, and sheets from hospital beds.  Some were stamped out in the snow, and some were imprinted on faces, especially around the eyes and mouth.  “Save me.  Heal me.  Help me.  Love me.”

It was Valentine’s Day.  She sat there with God on her lap,holiness in a heap.  From all appearances the love affair between God and creation had gone terribly awry.  The Valentine sent to us had been trampled, torn, spit upon, and rejected.

She held her Valentine and her heart broke, and he, broken for her, for us, allowed himself to be held.  And holding him she held all the others spilling from him, the whole aching lonely hearts club. And in that moment she became a Valentine herself sent from Love to be Love.

Those who follow God’s ragged Valentine, Jesus, get their hearts broken over and over.  For Christ dwells in them, swells in love, and bursts their hearts with compassion. Such are the lovesick fools who hold creation’s broken ones.  Such are the lovers who mother God’s children and in their mothering discover their own brokenness is mended.

It was Valentine’s Day.  Some will come to call it Good Friday.  It might even be fitting to call it Mother’s Day.  But calling it Valentine’s Day helps me remember what love is all about.

This piece is from a collection of monologues and reader’s dramas I wrote a number of years ago titled Blessed Are the Poor.
 This post first published Feb 12, 2009
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Blood on My Hands – A Reflection on Love and Violence

If the Judeo-Christian ferment is not dead, it must be engaged in an obscure struggle against deeper and deeper layers of the essential complicity between violence and human culture.    Rene Girard

Only a few weeks ago on Easter Sunday we sang “The strife is o’er, the battle done; the victory of life is won; the song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!”

Something in me wants to say: Not!

Just what kind of strife is over, what sort of battle won? The constant drumbeat of war and strife seem to drown out any victory for life. Battles erupt and spread through the world like wild fire. Reading Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw’s  Jesus for President , I came across these statistics about defense spending:

The US arsenal is the largest stockpile of nuclear weaponry in the world, equivalent to over 150,000 Hiroshima bombs. US military budget is over 450 billion per year, and it would take the combined budgets of the next 15 countries to equal that of the US (Russia is the next biggest spender at around 70 billion, China at 50 billion, and the entire “Axis of Evil” is less than 10 billion. (p.178)

Then last week we learned of a decisive, courageous act of violence which seeks, if not to end the war on terror, to seriously debilitate it, while attempting to obtain justice for those so horribly wronged.

On the surface I felt a mixture of relief, satisfaction, and a sober resignation to the violence. As the days passed I kept asking, was not the state sponsored violent execution, to which the Son of God surrendered, supposed to end all this? Why are we still killing each other in the effort to preserve peace, when we have already killed the Prince of Peace who shook off death and rose to proclaim the forgiveness of sins?

Christians declare that in Christ’s death and resurrection a momentous, wrenching, earth shattering shift occurred in our relationship with God and with one another. So why is it business as usual? Sin, evil, resentment, lust, greed, war continue to thrive and spread.

With the Judeo-Christian ferment still strong in my heart, the killing of Osama Bin Laden has engaged me in that obscure struggle, which anthropologist Girard describes, against the deeper and deeper layers of the essential complicity between violence and human culture.

The very fact that I may live safely on a quiet street in Kansas, as I leisurely consider such questions, is a tip of my hat to countless individuals whose struggles, deaths, and acts of preemptive and retaliatory violence, have helped to preserve the peace I enjoy.

That peace was troubled six weeks ago, when I woke in the night terrified by a dream. I was staying in the home I grew up in, where I had been sorting through family treasures, photos, records, and sixty years of lives well lived. My father is deceased and mom now lives in a care center. My siblings and I are preparing the home for sale. I was in town that weekend to attend the auction of my father’s collection of Indian relics. The stone tools, arrow points, ax heads, and weapons had been his passion, a focus of a life-long study of the early people who lived in Southeast Iowa and whose history extends back thousands of years.

The dream was deeply disturbing. A demonic, ghostly presence is in the house moving about. A small white poodle lies under a table. Suddenly its fur turns bright red, like blood, as though a red light were shining upon it. I place my hands on the side of the dog where the light was shining. When I pull them away, my palms have real blood on them.

I want to show my hands to my brother. Then suddenly a terrifying presence is with me. I scream very loudly and in screaming, cough up a wad of phlegm, which flies out of my mouth into the air. I think to myself my brother will be here soon, and I wake myself up screaming.

Good grief, I thought, shaken, what was that about? As I lay fearful and pondering the blood on my hands, the blood seemed to change in my memory from wet blood to a small rust colored stain in the center of the palm of each hand.

 

I got up and walked through the house, past the stacks of old photographs and the large ornate memorial pictures commemorating the deaths of various family members. A blue willow plate that traveled in a covered wagon with my Great Aunt Ethel sat among old family dishes. A china chamber pot leaned next to a pile of scrap books containing local history.

The process of closing a home is disorienting, chaotic, and uprooting. Objects handled by generations are stirred up, turned over, lifted out of boxes, hauled down from attics, and exposed to the light. Once Dad took me to Indian mounds under excavation. I remember walking along a wooden platform that circled the mound and looking down at the tiers of the remains.

There are whispered stories of violence in my family history – suicide, murder, conflict, suffering, grief. Who am I to rail against war, when my hands have blood on them in ways both known and unknown to me? My civilized life is complicit with violence. In fact “civilization” stands on the shoulders of violence and layers upon layers of sacred bones.

 

The story does not end here, nor the gift of my dream. Though the roots of terror and violence run deep in the human heart, succumbing to violence to end violence is only a temporary solution.

Anthropologist Gil Bailie writes:

Violence is immensely compelling. Those who witness spectacles of violence can be seduced by its logic even when – perhaps especially when – they are morally scandalized by it. Violence is labyrinthine. It turns back on itself in serpentine ways. The paths that seem to exit from its madness so often lead deeper into its maze.
… We may no longer be able and willing to turn violence into religion [as in primitive approaches to violence, such as human sacrifice and scapegoating], but neither are we able to turn the other cheek, and the conventional way of resisting evil causes the contagion of evil to spread, perpetrated by those who are most determined to eradicate it. How to resist evil in ways that prevent its spread is now history’s most fundamental dilemma. Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled – Humanity at the Crossroads, (p. 90)

How do we resist evil in ways that prevent its spread and prevent our own vulnerability to its contagion?  For the followers of Christ, the Way is in the manger and hanging from the cross. The Way is meeting us as we remember Christ’s suffering and resurrection. The Way is obedience to the greatest commandment: to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Perfect love is what casts out terror, not more terror.

There is no terror in love. But perfect love drives out terror, because terror has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
                                                                        I John 4: 18.

When our love is divided, when our love is parceled out and diffused among many desires, we are like a branch cut off from the vine. When we succumb to fear and anxiety, we wither, wilt, and die. When other desires stand between our hearts and that supreme Love, the power given to us in the cross of Christ is diluted, blocked, and becomes irrelevant to us.

Cain Leads Abel to Death

After I walked through the house, I went back to bed and a fervent prayer rose up in me. I prayed against that dark presence and for each family member, going back through the generations, all the way to Cain and Abel. I prayed for the ancient people, whose relics had been in my family’s respectful care for close to sixty years. The artifacts, now scattered, rested in unfamiliar hands. I prayed for all my relations, my brothers and sisters throughout time and space. I prayed for their protection, for forgiveness, healing, freedom, and peace. I prayed for their fullest joy in God. I prayed with the authority of my baptism for anything evil to depart and leave these ones alone. I prayed through the victory of Jesus won by his shed blood, once, for all.  I prayed like a house afire for everyone I could think of. Recalling my dream, I not only spit on the devil, I hocked a big loogie. Then I turned over and slept like a baby.

Gil Bailie illuminates the significance of the mysterious redemptive power of the crucifixion and the implications for our time with his anthropological perspective.

Humans in crisis easily succumb to social contagions that end in violence that is accompanied by a primitive form of religious intoxication.  In the final analysis, the only alternative to the simulated transcendence of social contagion and violence is another experience of religious transcendence, one at the center of which is a God who chooses to suffer violence rather than sponsor it. (Violence Unveiled – Humanity at the Crossroads, p 66)

“Put down your weapon!” Jesus told Peter, when Peter drew his sword to defend his master and severed the soldier’s ear.

The choice to suffer violence, rather than sponsoring it, is made possible by an extraordinary love for God, the Transcendent Power of the Universe. This is the greatest and first commandment. Only as this is followed may the second commandment of love for neighbor and self be fully embraced. For it is love for God, which gives one the strength for suffering the sins of others, the capacity to forgive, the faith to believe in the unseen possibility of new life, and the hope to endure. Love of God bestows the deeply sustaining and transforming inner communion with Love itself. Love of God releases the rushing river of redemption to flow through us into the world.

.

We are all complicit. We all have blood on our hands. The strife is o’er, the battle done; the victory of life is won for those who have suffered, along with Jesus, the crucifixion in themselves of all that is not love. These carry the stain of the blood of the Lamb in their palms.

Love wins.

For love is
as strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.   Song of Songs 8: 6b-7

The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
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Contact the author lross@fromholyground.orgwww.fbook.me/sanctuary
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A Spare, Bare Love

Spring is coming, maybe. A man, whom much of the world will declare is God, is making his way inexorably to death. He is going to do that ordinary thing people do everyday: he is going to suffer and die.

What makes this different is that it is God, who is doing it, and God overcomes the sting of it all by being God, by being One who attains victory, not by escaping evil or by beating it to a pulp, but by surrendering to it and going right through the heart of it, while remaining God.

As we watch Jesus walking toward the cross, we call out: “Don’t do it. Don’t go that way. And for heaven’s sake, don’t ask us to do it, too.” But he, who has set his face like flint, will not hide from the insult and spitting. No, the amazing claim is that this gray day, this aging body, this meager life, this broken world houses glory. And our reluctant following after Jesus is grounded in the slim hope that somehow, some way, this is true.

Spring doesn’t come from some far distant place like an eagerly awaited guest bringing exotic presents.  Spring recoils, bounces up from the heart of winter, and jiggles before us like a jack-in-the-box. The joke is on us.

We strain to turn the crank that sets free joy, and just when our guard is down and we think life is only a meaningless turning to an idiotic tune, out pops Jesus, winking his eye. “Now, die!” he says. We, who thought we were chasing joy and were hot on its trail, find ourselves swallowed up by Life and dwelling in the inner parts of the God who creates joy.  . . .

Amazingly, God wants to be with us and has gone to great lengths to get our attention, even condensing divinity to fit into a mortal being.  And that is almost more than we can bear. What do we know about being company for God? For thousands of years we have been trying to get it right.


 

 Someone hears a Word from the Lord and says: “Here do it like this. Here are the answers we are seeking.” We give names to Truth. We compose prayers, and rituals. We sew up little suits for Truth to wear. Over time Truth grows beyond the suits. Its legs stretch below the pant cuffs. Shirt sleeves ride up to the elbows. We try to stuff Truth back in its tearing clothes. We sew patches here and there. We get into fights about the right color of patches. We pay more attention to the clothes than to Truth.

Truth condescends to wear the forms we give it, only briefly. Jesus bursts the wineskin of the tomb we called death. The church shudders, draws in its breath and exhales, bursting its seams. Some panic. Some become weary and simply turn away.

When Truth as we have known and cherished it begins to grow beyond the forms which have mediated it for us; that is, language, institutions, and rituals – we may shrug our shoulders and walk away, feeling betrayed.

For a good part of the journey our relationship with the Holy is largely self serving. We seek God for our and others’ benefit. Then during this tedious lent we go seeking help and find a forlorn God carrying a cross.


 

Jesus asks, “How long have I been with you and you still do not understand? I want to be with you – not just to bring you peace, joy and good, but even more, because I need a place to lay my head.  Will you stay with me one hour?”

“We usually begin our acquaintance with God from the outside in. Jesus is external, beyond us.  I learn about God from the historical record, the witness of the church, scripture – through forms, rituals, disciplines, words, symbols. Could it not also be possible to know God from the inside out? To experience God from God’s interior reality, a reality which the forms seek to represent or express?  “Where are you staying?” John’s two disciples ask Jesus. “Come and see,” he says. And they went and saw where he lived and remained there with him that day. (John 1: 38-39)

How would it be for you to live in the place where Christ lives? To eat and sleep and move about in his home?

The shift from knowing Jesus from the outside in to the inside out may be perilous. The structures of meaning, categories for naming and holding one’s experience and truth, begin to disintegrate. They no longer work to contain one’s experience of self and Christ. We may feel confused. What was certain and absolute seems less so. We may feel abandoned by the God of our past experience. We may think we are losing our faith.

Spiritual growth may involve the pain of withdrawal we feel, as God is yanking our cherished means of knowing Divine Reality away from us. Our spiritual sense is still too unrefined and accustomed to spiritual glitz to appreciate the more subtle flavor of pure faith. Hence we may feel aridity and dullness. 

 

As God calls us away from familiar ways of knowing God what is left? Nothing but loss and a cross on hill with a dead man hanging from it? Stay there a bit longer. Wait. Be confused. Consent to not knowing or understanding.

Something you cannot even conceive of is preparing to spring up. Something so new, so radically different your mind cannot name is sending out roots in the silent darkness. Tiny tendrils are thrusting through the heavy earth, threading their way around stones to living water. Wait some more.


Oh, it’s hard to bear the ambiguity, the urge to plow up the soil and rip out the root, to hold it to the light, dissect it, name its parts and feel that secure sense of power and control where we can say this is this and that is that. Yet we can wait. We can trust until it stands before us in the morning sun. Then we reach in joy to touch once more our Beloved.

      “Don’t cling to me,” he says. (John 20:17)

Here is a spare, bare love. All that is left is a man walking alone carrying what will kill him, the merciless weight of mortality. Here is only a naked soul surrendered to God, slung from the pillar of its own predicament.

If God could enter into our humanity with humble love, can it be too much for us to do the same? There is no other way into the Kingdom.

Here this is what is so:  we all screw up. We all are limited and frail. And we can rejoice, because we do not have to lie about it anymore. 

Spring tenses in the roots of the pear tree. And all who were ever carried off in the teeth of jealousy or simply in the way of things, all innocence defiled, all vulnerability exploited sink with a sigh into a white dawn that stretches like a shroud wound round the world.

“Come follow me,” the Dawn whispers. And we are invited to take another step into that place beyond knowing, beyond feeling where everything really is all right.

Excerpted and adapted from Letters from the Holy Ground, by Loretta F. Ross (Ross-Gotta)
The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
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