Easter 2020 – We Must Bear the Suffering
“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” [Lamentations, 1:12
I begin this reflection with a quote from Fleming Rutledge, an author and also a parish priest who served for over 20 years in New York City:
“For Christians, Good Friday is the crucial day, not only of the year but of world history. The source of the word crucial is significant. It comes from the Latin crux, meaning ‘cross.’ Here is Webster’s definition of crucial: ‘Having the nature of a final choice or supreme trial; supremely critical decisive.’ That conveys something of the unique character of the day.” (Fleming Rutledge, The Seven Last Words from the Cross. 2005)
I am not sure if there was ever an Easter that bore more significance in my life than the one pending this coming Sunday. As I feel the deepest of sorrow burying itself within the cavity of my chest. My heart clinging to its own beat, my breath exulting as many moments as I possibly can retain. Painfully watching relatives of friends pass away, with no lingering thoughts of being able to be present to them, except via a cyber extension of sorts. Faced with coming to grips with such a misalignment of values, and so, so much being politicized and capitalized. And yet, we also have the fully sacred poignancy of infinite acts of kindness. And the inextricable beauty that roars with every sunrise and sunset, with every glimpse of a nova or rising star.
As I sometimes struggle with my faith, (don’t we all?) I understand that for me, part of that struggle lies with some kind of doubt as its bedfellow. However, I’ve always attested that I believe that doubt be the philosopher of faith. As a person who struggles with Christianity ‘per say,’ and all of its trappings and yet also succumbs to all of its glorious places of worship, a rich, historical monument to the decries and cries of the human condition, the outpouring of some of the most renown art and music of the world, and the list goes on…. we also cannot deny the atrocities that occur in the books in the name of religion. Any religion.
Though I have done my fair share of blaming, (don’t we all?) the day arrived, sombre as it was, with a dark crescent of the bluest a dusk blue can be, that one concept for me was to consider the possibility that religion is nothing but a microcosm of life – and vice versa. And there is history, and concepts, and hearsay. And lies and deceit, and bravery and depths of courage we all are called to face at one time or another in our lives, young and old alike. For such is the savage rawness of the human condition. And such are the times we are presently living and experiencing.
There are the meek, and the merry and the sorrowful, the poor and the rich alike. It’s all there – coded in the text of sacred scripture. For those are the stories of who we are: slaves, prostitutes, and criminals, heroes, and heroines, fallen giants, and the rich and the poor alike. There are travellers and seekers, naysayers, and wise men…and the women. There are the testimonies of the women who bore the suffering of the world, and remained unnameable in so many places. The galaxies of sacred literature are painted with the being of life itself: reality. And this reality – any given dimension of our personal realities, communal realities, global realities, some call God. Some don’t, but seek nonetheless. There are the countless names for the same Divine Experience – to be. Being. Existence.
What does this have to do with my faith? Especially when I am provoked at times with barren feelings toward my faith, and my understanding of faith. I wrestle often. Numbed and traumatized by a world – or at least part of a world – which I honestly have to ask – is it settling deeper and deeper into madness? Apocalyptic times are not designed for the faint of heart. Rather, understanding that no, we have yet to reach the finish line, but the Greek word for apocalypse is indicative of a reveal of sorts, and that such things could only be known in its actual unfolding. As such, there is cause for shock and trauma, and the consequences of the fall out. People need to understand that prevention is necessary if you are going to remain reasonably sane. Otherwise, we live like this for a very long time. A prospect none of us want, but have to grow up enough to face the possibility. For that is where we have arrived – it is no longer a page out of a sci-fi novel or movie, this folks, is the pathway toward a new reality. We need to face it. And do our best to cope and adapt accordingly. Another great shift in the history is happening. And we are part of this – now. Which brings me to my faith.
My faith, the story of which I have been most engaged with, most of my life, as a seeker, as a student, as a teacher, a philosopher, an artist, a poet, a lover…an angry, gay person, a wizened senior, a person of disability, a white privileged person, and a person who honours my Indigenous ancestry. As a person with no direct family or children, and a person who values highly the compensatory actions and support of an embraceable community, I humble myself with the questions of what indeed is the Pascal Mystery all about. The renunciation of a life, the barbaric ritual of a crucifixion, the symbolic Christ – as a humanity suffering – and withering away gasping for air, and water, the impact of the onslaught of tenderness as a limp body withers away painfully slowly on a cross for the world to see, a descent into death, and a resurrection – a transformation of matter, and energy – and Power. Even in the writing, I cannot hold back the tears, as my humility while acquiring the taste of my own salt, calls me to bow my head onto the bosom of Mother Earth, asking for forgiveness. And making promises that actually may be simply pleas – like the psalmist ever chanted – for safety, for understanding of purpose and meaning, and more the infinite struggles of regrets and remorse. The chanting of laments and prayers so that I know where I am to stand, at the foot of this cross. Along side Mary, who stood, not collapsed, but stood in defiance at the foot of this cross. The courage.
We are living in sombre, poetic times. Which compels us to move into the embrace of hope, and how that differentiates from what faith means. Faith being the robe in which we will dress ourselves so we may order ourselves – our minds, and our hearts, and our personal and communal tenets – into what merits action. Moving beyond our fears, and anxieties, and holding off the demons of impulse and reactivity, have we yet to grasp the ideological meaning of what this Holy Time is all about? Have we come to not only embrace the value of our own lives, but the value of the life of our neighbour as well? Are we humbled yet? An era of agape is upon us, once again. We are asked to not only ‘wake up,’ but to grow up! We are called to fully embrace the responsibility of what it means to value life ~ our own, and our neighbour. We are experiencing an unprecedented time when no action of kindness is too large or too small.
I leave you with this one quote by renowned theologian and activist Dorothy Sölle, “Faith struggles for the clarity of its cause.” May we find ourselves united, not necessarily in thinking, or with the mission to align ourselves religiously or spiritually, but rather in unity with the tenets of universality – loving and caring with humility, kindness, compassion and empathy as our Holy markers gesture us toward living out the love that is embodied when we speak of the Christ. Regardless of the gesture or manner in which we reconcile what this Love may look like, or how it is experienced, but rather to embrace it with our personal understanding, and to move forward into a communal celebration of our gifts, and with our love for each other. There is nothing else. The time is now. Amen.
Dr. Vivianne LaRiviere, MPS, MTS, DMIN
Spiritual Arts Practitioner