"YOU ARE HERE!"
Maps, paths and doorways from photos in Wikimedia Commons and from Benjamin Pratt.
We've all read the signs. They remind us of our current pinpoint on Earth-and, if we prayerfully reflect, we realize that these are sacred truths:
We are here.
We are among the living.
We stand on a tiny spot of God's Creation-ready to take a step.
For Christians around the world this week, that next step carries us into the three most important days of the year. So, let's pause in our Lenten Journey. Remember where we started? I wrote these words: "Holidays are history. That's the way most of us approach the ancient traditions and family customs that we love to repeat each year. But, the yearlong cycle of Christian holidays are much more than that. These seasons are timeless, yet they also are very clear invitations to affirm our personal journey as God's people."
Remember how far we have come? You may want to review the earlier parts in this series.
Now, in Holy Week, everything we have summoned in this Lenten Journey rises and converges in a kaleidoscope of life and death, hope and tragedy, community and isolation. In these final days before Easter, we pass through enormous sorrow and abandonment as we move toward the spectacular joy we proclaim as Christians. On Good Friday, Jesus was tacked to a tree-his spirit broken. Holy Saturday is a long period of waiting when, some Christian traditions say, Jesus descended into Hell. Easter brings-resurrection.
We might think of Friday as the day of "NO!" As we experience Good Fridays, life throws us against a rock, tacks us to a tree, devastates our innocence and dreams for our marriage, our country, our children, our lives. That "NO!" breaks our spirit and almost destroys our faith in the goodness of God. On such Fridays, the pain is excruciating, and it is appropriate to be angry, enraged and in deep grief.
Saturday is "I DON'T KNOW." We move-as Jesus's followers did 2,000 years ago-into a soft cynicism or despair. We can't stay in Friday's intense pain, but we haven't reached Easter's joy. Saturday is the janitorial day. We can't mourn; we can't celebrate. So, we get up and start moving through our many tasks. Grief and anger from Friday evolves into a flat, soft, lazy, cynical bitterness, a spiritual deadness. This is life without any spice, vitality or vigor. This is spiritual accidie-a term I describe in my books on Ian Fleming and on coping with the challenges of caregiving.
And, Sunday? "YES!" We yearn for Easter, when we are reborn with new directions, new possibilities. It is the day of a clean and restored heart. We are able to sing praises and live with purpose, compassion and gratitude. The Psalmist writes: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit, not a cynical spirit, not a bitter spirit. You will not reject a humble and repentant heart, O God." (Psalm 51)
Perhaps you can see, already, that this Lenten journey really is a cycle through which we live, over and over again, throughout our lives. The Catholic Church calls this the Easter Triduum-three inextricably linked days packed in Catholic tradition with more sacred firepower than Christmas. Bishops around the world bless all the holy oils that priests will use for 365 days until the next Triduum. The church's mighty leaders wash the feet of the powerless, including at the central altar in the Vatican. Good Friday becomes the only day of the year without a Mass. And the liturgies for Easter? The Eastern Orthodox prayers go on for hours and hours-and hours.
In some Easter vigils, outdoor fires are lit and carried in processions. Such powerful images in these three days! My own prayers in recent years begin with images. I crave the clarity of images that reflect awe, gratitude, hospitality, compassion, fear, anxiety and hope-a vast array of feelings. These images may turn into words, some of which I record, but often I stay in the meditative clarity of the images. I often carry a camera and sometimes, I simply capture an image whole and wordless. I have given you lots of words, so let me turn to images for this most important of all periods in our journey.
You may want to set aside a few minutes to read these next three paragraphs. You may want to gather up a notebook or journal to record your reflections.
A FRIDAY IMAGE: Remember the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre? Some images are burned into our collective memories: that single-file row of fleeing students and, later, the tears in President Obama's eyes as he spoke to the nation. But, now, turn your mind's eye toward another detail-one we all missed. As the tragedy unfolded, parents were told to report to a local fire station to pick up their children. Officials tried to bring all of the surviving students to that fire station to send them home in an orderly way. Envision a doorway-the doorway to that fire station. You are among the parents coming to take your children home. Then, you realize that all of the surviving children have been hugged and taken home. People are staring at each other, now. Weeping. Some parents are left standing. Some can no longer stand. The truth is: No more children will go home. A shocking image, isn't it? Yet, that is what happened on Friday, December 14, 2012.
A SATURDAY IMAGE: On Saturday, January 8, 2011, U.S. Rep. Gabriel "Gabby" Giffords was shot numerous times in a Tucson shopping center. Initial news reports declared her dead, but an intern in her office, Daniel Hernandez, Jr., ministered so effectively to the severely wounded congresswoman that she was alive when she reached the hospital. During and after surgery, she was placed in a medically induced coma. She did not open her eyes for days. Imagine the doorway of her hospital room on that Saturday night: a white-wrapped body all but lifeless. It was a Saturday in which the whole nation could say only: "I don't know."
A SUNDAY IMAGE: Gabby Giffords has had many spectacular Easter moments over the past two years. Sunday June 22, 2011, we all saw her again-for the first time since the shooting-in two photographs she and her family released to newspapers and TV news that day. But think of another Sunday, July 31, 2011, when we all heard the news that Giffords would return to Congress the next morning! Hearts stirred in Washington and nationwide as each of us heard this news and prepared for what would unfold on that morning of Monday August 1. Focus your mind's eye on the doorway into the U.S. House of Representatives as Giffords approached that portal. Inside, hundreds were poised to leap to their feet and applaud. In that moment at the doorway, envision the radiance of joy and purpose on her beautiful face-the resurrected image of a woman who will always live with the marks of her Friday but who lives with courage, purpose and faith in the future.
Wondering where you are this Lenten season? These three days take hold of us from that despair we all feel when we are utterly lost and scream: "No!" We have no choice but to move through those first stumbling Saturday steps-without much hope at all-admitting: "I don't know." And then, our faith says, we reach the "Yes!" of Easter. The Good News comes to us with that sign so clearly in our eyes again-pinpointing our sacred spot in God's great Creation and allowing us to live again:
"YOU ARE HERE!"
May the One who called you unto life and who will call you unto death-the One who holds you Beloved and yearns that you know Eternal Life now, Bless you so that you may be an instrument of Peace, Love, Hope, Compassion and Forgiveness to all whom you encounter.
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