Tag Archives: crucifixion

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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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
Read more about prayer www.fromholyground.org,
Contact the author lross@fromholyground.orgwww.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross

How the Light Gets In

Weeping before the box, she lifts out the pieces and places them on the counter. All but one or two are broken.
Two weeks before when the boxes arrived, I had carried, heartsick, this one filled with the chink and clatter of broken pottery to the basement. Then I forgot all about the box of broken dreams, until I heard her carrying it up the stairs, shards rattling like a chest of huge coins.
She moves the pieces on the counter, sorting and fitting parts together.
In a distant city another young woman also picks out the ruins of herself from the broken jar of illusion.
So much is broken – plans, relationships, jobs, dreams – and rattles around inside us. We take out the pieces, hold them to the light, and try to fit them together. This confrontation with our fallibility and that nothing earthly lasts forever brings deep suffering. Loss is always more painful than the books can say, the scriptures convey, or the prophets of prosperity preach. We need a picture.
A man at the end of his own dance with mortality, hunched over on his knees in a dark garden, tears rolling down his face. He says to his father, the Heaven Dweller, “Take this cup from me.” And to his friends, “Can you not stay with me one hour in this agony?”
There may be something harder than watching one’s children suffer, but on this day I do not know what it is. The hardest thing I do in this work of ministry, prayer, and listening to souls in their journey to God is staying awake with others in their pain. This is to say, that the hardest thing is staying awake with Jesus as he suffers in others.
Some days I fail. I numb out. I fall asleep. I deny the suffering, blame the sufferer, quibble and become annoyed and irritated with how the person expresses her pain. The other day I thought of one family, “Always lots of drama in this family system.” I suppose, applying the same cynical criteria, one would have to say that Jesus was the all time drama queen.
Can’t you just stay with me in this torment? Can we just be there, trusting God and the soul to figure things out? Respecting the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the awesome autonomy of an individual life, while lifting up the candles of faith, hope, and love seem to be my task.
I fidget. I want to fix things, pass out band aids. Leaning over her shattered treasures, she tries to wire one sculpture back together, fashioning a frame of cardboard.
“We need some glue. I’ll get some glue,” I say. “Let’s go to the store and get some good glue.”
She refuses.
Finally I stop.
Several days later I ask about the box of jumbled shards on the porch. “Oh, I don’t care what you do with it,” she tells me, as she heads off with her eyes on new heights.
To love, to know passion, and bliss is also to have our hearts broken. I know of no way to get around this and anyone who tries to tell you different is a liar. To live, we must die. To touch transcendence and eternity is also to gaze upon and weep over the box of our own finitude, our broken handiwork, our illusions, and limited understanding. “Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in,” sings Leonard Cohen.
The man in the dark garden gets up. It is time, he says, to be broken.
It is time
for us to be made whole.

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen
Dear Hearts: Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. For fun – A couple of video versions of Cohen’s Anthem.
You Tube: Cohen in concert singing Anthem
You Tube: Photo interpretation of Anthem
Read more about prayer at www.fromholyground.org
Tracking Holiness – Newsletter
Contact the author at      lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross
Become a fan of the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer

Dying for Love

The moral revival that certain people wish to impose will be much worse than the condition it is meant to cure. If our present suffering ever leads to revival, this will not be brought about through slogans, but in silence and moral loneliness, through pain, misery and terror, in the profoundest depths of each man’s spirit.             Simone Weil

To accept defeat, to accept suffering for love of God and in obedience to God’s will is extraordinarily difficult. Yet such surrender is what saves us. The purification of our intention, the corrections in our thinking, the deepening compassion, and the redemptive power released from the profoundest depths of a person’s spirit transforms, heals, and frees. The church, as the place which could most clearly articulate and live out how to die to oneself, personally and corporately, seems to avoid any direct attention to such a notion. More often we find ourselves caught up in the push and glamour of success, the tasks of survival, and pumping up egos, rather than teaching them how to die.

That I must die to myself and suffer loss and pain and that such a death might be participation with Christ in a redemptive mystery goes against the grain of the independent self reliant spirit and the “me first” character of our times. However, when we settle for slogans, consultants, and committees, we circumvent the opportunity to discover strength in weakness and victory in failure. We build our case on ideology and successful practices, rather than a witness to God and faith. We succumb to a simplistic understanding of God’s saving action in history as winners or losers, and do not know ourselves as active participants in the redeeming of a broken world.

I am not sure why we don’t get this. Christians are a people who bow before a man dying on a cross, for heaven’s sake.

Christians the world over are about celebrate that dying man. They will tell again the ancient story of their God and how he came to be betrayed, humiliated, beaten and nailed to a tree. They will recall how this God, who was supposed to bring an end to their sorrow and oppression, failed miserably.

They will remember, too, how they failed miserably. How they betrayed, abandoned, and killed their God. They will see again how they had got things all wrong, how they had so horribly misperceived the truth with their narrow minds, jealous hearts, and faithless souls.

And they will be astonished by the Grace, which rolled away the stone of their rigidity and fear, and defied their wildest imaginations. What they thought was ruined and dead now stood before them in the bright morning sun and spoke, “Go and tell the others to go to Galilee. They will see me there.”

This was an old story. Calling something names, beating up something, and killing it to take away our pain and anger and sin wasn’t new. For thousands of years, we had been killing things and one another and offering them up to God as a way to set things right, get what we want, and make up for the messes we made.

But this time was different. In their fury and fear, this time they killed God, divinity itself. And Holiness let them. God wore their spit upon his face, their rage upon his back. He opened wide his arms to be penetrated by their malice.

This time God said, “OK. I will show you. This is what it looks like to kill God. This is what it means to see the truth about yourselves. This is how to love.

I am willing to bear the pain of your sins against me and against yourselves. This is what forgiveness looks like. This is what peace costs.”

With that willingness and love their God sucked the poison out of sin. He defused the power and grip of evil on the human heart. He took the hell out of everlasting damnation and gave them eternal life.

And he told his followers to do the same with the suffering in their lives.

Today many Christians wear little replicas of that cross of execution like tiny gold electric chairs or lethal injection needles. They wear death on a string and carry life in their hearts.

For having died with their God, they rise with him. And from the profoundest depths of their spirits flow rivers of living water.  This is what a moral revival looks like.

Everyone who is thirsty, come.

Read more about prayer at www.fromholyground.org
Tracking Holiness – Newsletter
Contact Loretta at lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary
Follow at http://twitter.com/lfross
Become a fan of the The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer