It hovers, the knowing that soon, with the rising of the full Paschal Moon on March 28th, it will be time to re-enter the Sacred Days of Holy Week and Passover.
For years, decades, I approached Holy Week with a kind of dread, knowing I must engage once more in the agony of Jesus, his sufferings, his death, followed by the long tomb-time of his absence , before I could even remember the truth of Resurrection….
I would get up during the night after the Holy Thursday Eucharist, to spend an hour in prayer, remembering Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, his friends asleep around him, as he faced the certitude of his coming death.
It was a Mystery Play, perhaps not unlike the ancient Greek and Roman Mystery Rituals, but the emotions were manufactured.The darkness I experienced through these intense feelings of grief and loss was real, as was the physical discomfort of fasting.
Yet some part of me knew it was play-acting: both the terrible loss of Good Friday and the exploding joy of Easter. Jesus IS risen and will never die again; the Christ is with us always.
Seven years ago, something shifted. I wakened in the deep heart of Holy Thursday night. Yet I was drawn in prayer, not to the Garden of Gethsemane, but to the earth herself, in agony, dying. I sat through that hour with her suffering.
Later, I came upon this lovely meditation by Susan Griffin which spoke to my heart:
As I go into the Earth, she pierces my heart. As I penetrate further, she unveils me. When I have reached her center, I am weeping openly.
I have known her all my life, yet she reveals stories to me, and these stories are revelations and I am transformed.
Each time I go to her, I am born like this. Her renewal washes over me endlessly, her wounds caress me.
I become aware of all that has come between us, the blindness, of something sleeping between us. Now my body reaches out to her.
They speak effortlessly, and I learn that at no instant does she fail me in her presence. She is as delicate as I am, I know her sentience,
I feel her pain and my own pain comes into me, and my own pain grows large and I grasp this pain with my hands,
and I open my mouth to this pain, I taste, I know and I know why she goes on, under great weight, with this great thirst,
in drought, in starvation, with intelligence in every act does she survive disaster. This earth is my sister, I love her daily grace,
her silent daring, and how loved I am, how we admire this strength in each other, all that we have lost, all that we have suffered,
all that we know: we are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget what she is to me, what I am to her. (Susan Griffin in The Body of Earth)
Since that time of awakening, I experience these Sacred Days of the Paschal Mystery, the Mystery of life/death/life that is at the Holy Heart of the Universe, in a new and deeper way. The suffering is not a remembrance of events in the life of Jesus, but rather a reawakening to the raw suffering, the unaccountable losses, the seeking for light and hope in darkness that is the Mystery Play of our lives, especially now in this year of 2021 on Planet Earth.
I wakened two days ago, as you did also, to the news of another mass shooting, ten lives snuffed out in a grocery store. No motive known for the young man who shot them….
Our Canadian news is revisiting the death a few years ago of a young Indigenous man who was shot by a farmer on whose property he was trespassing. The farmer was acquitted. The young man remains dead, his mother’s humiliation by the RCMP who investigated her son’s death only now coming to light.
These agonies rose in me that same morning as in a Sacred Dance Class we were invited to meditate on the Black Madonna… for the first time I really understood why we need a Sacred Feminine Presence that is more than sweetness and light, One who is also fierce, strong, capable of holding us in the darkness in which our lives are shrouded. The Dark Mother, Who was present in the very chaos in which our Universe was birthed, is strong enough to remain through eons of destruction and rebirth.
Statue of the Black Madonna in Chartres Cathedral, France
In the poetry of John O’Donohue we find words powerful enough to hold the agony as well as the ecstasy of the Paschal Mystery. In this poem I grasp the gift we’ve been given by Jesus in his suffering and death: the courage to endure the suffering within and around us.
“The Agony in the Garden”:
Whatever veil of mercy shrouds the dark
Wound that stops weeping in no one, cannot
Stop the torrent of night when it buries thought
And heart beneath the black tears of the earth.
Through scragged bush the moon discovers his face,
Dazed inside the sound of Gethsemane.
Subsiding under the weight of silence
That entombs the cry of his terrified prayer.
What light could endure the dark he entered?
The void that turns the mind into a ruin
Haunted by the tattered screeching of birds
Who nest deep in hunger that mocks all care.
Still he somehow stands in that nothingness;
Raising the chalice of kindness to bless.
(John O’Donohue in Conamara Blues)
May the Dark Mother hold each of us as we too stand in that nothingness, raising the chalice of kindness to bless.