Reflection

come, let us adore him

Sacred: The Heart of Jesus, 2011
Charcoal on Paper, Stephen B. Whatley

Imagine you are the woman who anointed Jesus. You break open your jar of costly aromatic oil and tenderly pour it over his head. His head. You weep as you behold him. My Lord and my God! You fall on your knees. You cannot stop kissing his feet.

(Oh, to be in her place, to repeatedly kiss his feet! to come scandalously close to God!)

Hers was true worship, not some abstract awe at the theological idea of the Christ. This was worship from the depths of her person to the depths of his person. She knew him, Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee, and she worshiped him. All her excess of love— the potent aroma, her tears, her touch, and her uncovered hair—so exposed to the whole place, and yet, so tenderly accepted by Jesus, called beautiful. This is what Holy Week is like.

During Holy Week, more than ever, we enter into the Gospel story and cling as close as we can to Jesus. It takes both boldness and childlike humility, like that dear woman had, to enter into this story and really live it, to wave our palm branches and weep at the cross. If we have the courage, we can become the woman who anointed Jesus and who could not stop kissing his feet.

During Holy Week, we celebrate the Last Supper with Jesus, and we allow him to wash our feet. We watch and pray with him in the garden. We weep with the women who weep at the cross. We prepare his dead body with extravagant amounts of myrrh and aloe and tears and wrap it in fine linen, and lay it to rest in the tomb. We wait. We rise early, breathless, running, and meet the Gardener at the empty tomb, falling to our knees in joy and adoration. Will we be able to stop kissing his feet? Oh Jesus, how we adore you!

Holy Week is all about the adoration of Jesus, and all about coming as scandalously close to him as we can, until we can just taste resurrection, his body mingled with ours, his blood filling our veins. Come this Holy Week, and let us adore him. Let us be united with him in death, that we may be united with him in resurrection.

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His holy body wholly mixed
     with these our bodies, and His pure
               blood poured generously out
to fill our veins, His voice
     now pulses in our ears,
               and look! His lighted vision
pools within our eyes.  All of Him
     is mixed with all of us—
               compassionate communion. And as
He loves His church His body
     utterly, so He gives
               it more than bread, more
even than bread from heaven
      but His own, His
               living bread for her to eat.
Wheat, the olive, and the grape—
     these three—serve Your mystic union
               in threefold manner.
Your bread became our strength,
     Your wine our consolation.
               Our faces were renewed,
illumined by the grace and
     blessing of Your holy oil. For all
               of this and more, Your body—
saved by Your abasement—
     now unites in true thanksgiving.
               And Death—the insatiable lion
who consumed us all—by You alone
     its appetite was sated—by You alone
               its hold has burst, and we
rise strengthened, comforted, luminous.

“The Living Bread” from Scott Cairns’
Endless Life: Poems of the Mystics

the living bread

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Reflection

welcome home

The Return of the Prodigal Son
Pompeo Batoni, oil on canvas, 1773
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

A reflection on the beginning of Lent

For months and months, I’ve been reflecting on glory— the glory of God—and that mysterious promise that we humans will one day attain it. All have fallen short of the glory of God, Paul says, implying that we humans were intended to participate in God’s glory. We can (and must) still hope for it, for Christ in us is the hope of glory. I’ve been dreaming of that glory, of my union with Christ, his love for the world flowing through me without ceasing. I’ve dreamed of the day when I’ve grown to my full height; all my gifts and talents mature and excellent, useful for love.

And I’ve been living lately, too. I’ve chased after my own comfort and independence instead of my union with Christ. I’ve watched as the energy inside of me to love has withered up, dry and fragile. Things that once gave me joy have been made a trudging through resistant soil. The skills and talents I’ve been given, buried under dust. I’ve been fading, scrambling to redefine myself, and then wearing thin all over again. I have utterly exhausted myself, but I have not yet rested, nor climbed into the lap of Christ.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

On Ash Wednesday, it was made clear to me that I cannot have life without utter dependence on the presence of God. My sin in this regard is humiliating, but it is also what the ashes smeared cross-shaped on our foreheads represent. We are all made of dust, we all fall short of the glory of God, and we are all utterly dependent on the mercy of God. In my cries for mercy, I felt the welcoming arms of the Father. And this, my friends, is what Lent is about. Lent is a welcome home to all prodigals. Lent is our repentant journey home to the Father before we celebrate the great feast of resurrection.

This Lenten season, I want to take a journey into greater dependence on God. I want to give up my desperate scraping for independence and my habit of distracting myself from my own feeble condition. I want to pursue rest. I want to learn to lay down my weary head on the breast of Jesus Christ my Lord. Journey home with me, this Lenten season. Walk with me, with a contrite heart, into the healing presence of God.

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Reflection

seeing jesus

From the the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

From the the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

It’s been months since Holy Week, and the weeks of ordinary time drag on, very ordinarily, very humanly, with their rhythms of work and food and sleep. The in-breaking kingdom of God feels more like a dream I had, that’s faded, and only sometimes returns to mind. I see ordinary things all around me, like a mossy green 70s recliner, and theology books, and a worn out refrigerator, and ordinary people, like the college students and immigrants with whom I share the sidewalk. And I think, Where is God in all this? Where is Jesus?

Jesus. Several nights in the past few weeks, I’ve lain awake, remembering the glimpse of Jesus I had on Good Friday, and weeping for his return. I knew this day would come, and so I had wept then too. Jesus was then (oh, where have the words fled?) full of sublime compassion, on his knees, beckoning to me. His beauty was wild, wild like the allure of a forest that can be explored without end. His beauty was also love, love like water quenches a fiery thirst, pure water after a long, hot hike, cooling your throat, running down your chin, splashing your clothes, and then like jumping in an icy, frothy creek for the pure joy of cool relief. C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory says, “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” Yes, to be united with it, with Jesus (Oh, Jesus), is why I wept and I weep. And I knew this day would come, when Holy Week was over and I had lost sight of him again. Now it seems like I’m left with the mossy green 70s recliner and trying to make sense of how it and the refrigerator relate to Jesus.

I’ve often wished that I had lived in the first century, in Palestine, that I was Mary or Martha, or even the woman with the hemorrhage (no, that’s a lie), so that I could at least breathe his air or brush past his clothes.  If only I could spend a day getting covered in his dust. If only I saw his face, I’d finally know him. But would I?

What if Jesus was, after all, human, like the kid next door whom you never thought was anything special? What if you looked into his eyes, and saw love, yes, but human love? What if you looked into his eyes, and couldn’t see God? Maybe this is why thousands of Jews ate his divinely multiplied lunch, and then, just went home. Maybe this is why not even the disciples seemed to know who their Rabbi was. In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 16, Peter finally gets it, finally declares, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus says, “Happy, blessed, are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in the heavens.” Peter’s eyes, it seems, his flesh and blood and brain, weren’t enough to reveal Jesus to him. To see Jesus as he is? That kind of revelation only comes as a gift from the Father.

Whether we are first century Jews brushing past Jesus on a crowded street, or twenty-first century Americans studying him in theology books, to see Jesus, really see him, requires the eyes of faith all the same. Ordinary time, human time, with its ordinary, human things, and ordinary human people, can be for us the sacrament of the kingdom of God, of the presence of God, just as the presence of God came in what we saw to be an ordinary human in first century Palestine. We must pray for an apocalyptic opening of our eyes, for faith, that good gift of revelation from the Father. Jesus says to his disciples, “Ask, and it will be given to you… because if you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Let us pray, “Let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” and also for the eyes to see it.

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Reflection

participation goes both ways

Feast Day of Divine Mercy, Stephen B. Whatley.

Feast Day of Divine Mercy, Stephen B. Whatley. Pastel on paper.

Pain after pain. For a week, the pain burned along my trigeminal nerve, burrowing behind my eye and nostril, alternating from the right side to the left. I’d swallow an Imitrex, waiting for hours– “God! God! Help me!”– until the pain reset. And then it would start building on the other side of my face. By the end of that week, anything would leave me in tears. Exhausted.

Could this be the rest of my life?

One night, alone, I drew a bath for my feet. Multiple pairs of socks, slippers, blankets, and they were still cold. I sat at the edge of the tub and rest my head on my knees and began to pray. Well, I don’t pray. I don’t pray. And I’d been avoiding God all week. Wasn’t God to blame?

But I turned my face to God and I said, simply, “God, I don’t want to be angry.”

Immediately, Ι was overwhelmed with comfort. And then I knew: Christ suffers with me. He holds me close enough to feel each throb in himself. I was overwhelmed. I stripped, lit some candles, turned off the lights, and lay in the bath, in silence, in the dark, beholding Christ’s love.

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