Tag Archives: suffering

Stations of the cross III

This is my third year of doing only two stations of the cross and spending a bit of time on each one. You can check out stations 1, 2, 7 and 8 in previous years (one and eight), (two and seven)

  1. Jesus Falls the first time

When people are already beaten, already suffering, already beyond what is endurable and they are seeing in front of them still the long long road, uphill to more suffering and not even a friendly face in the crowd. Why do we sometimes feel disgust instead of pity for suffering people? We wih they would get out of our face. We wish we didn’t have to witness their indignity, as if we could catch it off them or something.

Or is it repressed guilt?

Or what about when it is me who falls? The problem with falling the first time is you realise how easily you can fall and how hard it is to get up again…and you see ahead of you many, many more falls and the aloneness of the struggle.

Is this why people sometimes give up? Jesus of course does not get the opportunity to give up, he is forced- whipped and threatened and kicked to get up and keep shuffling to doom and torment and death. This looks nothing at all like what we think of as “courage” or as “success”. Jesus in this scene is as much of a loser as we have ever been, and in the episodes of our lives where we can do nothing except shuffle along as someone forces us, or crumble under the weight are after all like Jesus.

Small comfort though because it hurts to be like Jesus.

Over the centuries we have put this burden on Jesus that he is carrying the whole weight of the world, that he is carrying our sins (there is that link to Julian of Norwich’s idea that Jesus is like a mother again). Perhaps Jesus does not want or need to carry everything for us. Perhaps it is not very helpful theology to put that on him so that we can avoid examining the sins of our society in too much detail.

Does the falling Jesus feel he has let everybody down?

Do we let “the least of his sisters” feel the humiliation and pain that we believe we would not have heaped on Jesus, himself?

They ought to stop blaming him, hitting him, forcing him. Someone ought to help him. Someone ought to rescue him. Someone ought to protest against this huge injustice.

But we are all too cowardly and aware of our own limitations.

So Jesus still falls.

Dear One, Jesus,

A few days ago I saw a three year old fall from a pile of blocks she had climbed on. She showed me her scraped knee, her grazed hand and she asked me to hold her and make it right.

“Falling is part of life” I told her and she looked at me and kept crying.

“It hurts doesn’t it” I said and she burrowed into my arms for comfort.

But no one comforted you, and your falling was not a natural part of life, it was something that the injustice of others caused to happen. It was something we should have prevented. It was something that still happens.

What would it have taken the first time you fell for it to be the last time you fell? What could people have done better?

How do I confront suffering and falling in others? What can I do? How can I respond?

Jesus, I am inadequate. I do nothing but weep.

Amen.

 

  1. Jesus is stripped

Like the soldiers who gambled for Jesus’ clothing, we profit from the misfortunes of others. We in a competitive, capitalist economy. We in the “developed” world. We the privileged.

We protect our borders by locking out the hopes and security of refugees. We choose the cheapest items, the best schools, the flashiest cars and stuff the fact that the environment or other people have to go without. It’s not our fault, we are not the powerful ones.

The soldiers, the foot soldiers. People doing an honest day’s work. They may well have had mouths to feed at home. They did the job that was available, they were soldiers, possibly underpaid. Part of the deal was getting the clothing of the “criminals” they helped execute.

Jesus however was left stripped, naked, humiliated and uncomfortable (well he was dying anyway so you can rationalise it can’t you?). He becomes a non-person in the system- just a set of procedures, just part of the job the soldiers have to do.

They didn’t make the rules.

Can you imagine what chaos the Roman Empire would have been in if no one enforced the rules? It wasn’t the soldiers’ job to find Jesus innocent or guilty.

And by this stage he is not even really a human any more. He has been “processed” he hangs between life and death, there is no remedy. There is no redemption possible.

So they may as well cast dice don’t you think?

And we may as well continue shopping and complaining about the cricket while the environment hangs on the cross of our over-consumption and while the refugees suffer dehumanisation and lack of hope.

There is no alternative. There is nothing we can do against a system so much bigger than us.

Even God has abandoned him.

Jesus,

I see you. I want to rehumanise you.

I cannot see the hope in his situation but I would cover you if I could. Even that!

Jesus, the small things I can do for people- the donation of money to a beggar, the meal cooked for a depressed friend, the non-judgemental smile for someone who feels cast out. Small acts of wishing I could take you down from the cross and let you choose from all my clothes.

I feel so powerless. I am complicit in evil systems. I benefit from unjust economics. I can’t find the answers to how we should live or what we should do to end this suffering.

Jesus remind me to seek integrity in all my life…not to give consent to systems that take away more and more and more from those already suffering.

Jesus, they never stripped away your goodness and your truth. Who we are goes deeper than trappings. Teach me to be filled with your truth to my core, to be more than my place in society.

Let us restore hope.

Amen.

Conclusion

I really struggled to get into the spirit of Good Friday today, and I really struggled to write something. I was too exhausted to make it to church, I could possibly have worked harder to get my body there but I felt I would not contribute anything (perhaps I ought to have tried).

Loving God, forgive me for being off-task. I long for hope and it seems impossible, and yet my immediate situation is alright. Perhaps I feel guilty not to be suffering more. Perhaps I have worn myself out with all the wrong things.

Today I am not like the faithful women at the foot of the cross, I am like the denying and cowardly disciples. I have run away. But even those ones, you continued to love and call.

I will do better when I can.

Amen.

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Becoming and Begoing

Priscilla Alderson in Childhoods Real and Imagined, looks at what critical realism can offer researchers in the field/s of childhood. One of the very significant points she makes is in reference to the way childhood is often seen as a time of becoming, a future oriented “not yet” time that assumes that some adult point (perhaps middle-age) is the destination. She reminds us that every becoming has a related series of begoings, that to become one thing (an adult) you have to cease to be something else (a child). So when a baby learns to walk they are “begoing” from their identity as someone who is carried. When a child learns to tie their own shoelace they are begoing the person who has those brief one-on-one interactions with a caring, shoe-tying adult…although this reminds me of a time when I was thurifering in church and the priest who was also a very well-regarded lecturer knelt to tie up my undone shoelace instead of merely pointing it out to me, this was a moment of surprising ministry that stayed with me in my wish NOT to always have the humble service role forced on me but also to think I am able to minister.

But every becoming according to Alderson has inbuilt loss and change and absence (ask why mothers cry on the first day of school, ask why mothers feel loss as well as pride and relief when their child reaches 18, or marries, or moves out).

Begoing is a theme very relevant to Holy Week, and very much already present in the glorious becoming of Palm Sunday. This is possibly why we read the passion through on that day…in the becoming of Jesus into Messiah, the sacrifice or else the one who stands out openly as a challenge to the powers of the day, there is a relinquishing of any comparatively safe identity, of the ability to melt back into the non-event of Nazareth and be just a carpenter’s son. When we act, there will be consequences, when we follow God’s call we will offend the powers of injustice and they will punish us if they can.

I am rereading Bernadette Kiley’s, Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, as we are in the year of Mark and I wish to focus on the whole gospel not just the separated out torture and death scenes in Holy Week (ok so I started early), to try to grapple with a wholistic concept of the life and death (and Life) of Jesus. Bernadette (since I know her in the real world it makes sense to use her first name) writes: “”If then, Jesus will be misunderstood and hated, the disciple must expect the same response. Mark’s community knew this only too well. Persecution and dissension were realities they had to deal with in their commitment to proclaiming the reign of God. For us, too, there will be a similar Jerusalem winter, when we, like the disciples of Mark’s Gospel and the Christians of Mark’s community, know something of the suffering that was part of Jesus’ life.” (p31)

My mother had some of this theology, but to her the fact that so many people hate and criticise the Catholic church was proof that the church was “right”. I want to be cautious in seeing those sorts of truths in my own experience, however much after a rough election where I only got 7.8% of votes and the worse of the two “major parties” got in statewide, it is tempting to see my own work in that light. Rejection by the world is no more proof of being “right” than its acceptance would be. However the rejections, struggles and disappointments we experience find meaning both in our integrity in doing our very best regardless of the risk and weariness and humiliation and also in the struggles and fleeting triumphs of Jesus.

I will not speak of any potential Easter event, even though having read the gospels it is tempting to place that “spoiler” in the picture to find meaning in the sufferings of Holy Week. But n our life we are not privy to any miraculous “happy ending” when we are caught up in struggle and suffering (our own or that of someone we love). Jesus at Palm Sunday, can feel the gathering storm, on Holy Thursday he knows it may be his last chance to influence his friends with some worthwhile Wisdom, on Good Friday nothing is real except suffering and loss. Any hope that we have makes no sense yet when we are caught up in the despair of true death (climate change, austerity, growing conflicts in the world, personal aging, difficult job markets, bad health). All we have is our soul’s confidence that we are from God and to God and cannot fall away from that destiny, even now.

Somehow.

Without seeing a clear pathway.

Jesus in becoming the feted star of Palm Sunday, becomes the abandoned victim of Good Friday. His Easter becoming will come after some extreme begoing. You and I are called to leave behind our comfort zone and to take on Jesus’ mission to call the world back from the brink of destruction, to bring compassion and criticism wherever they are needed. To be greater than we are and to be a challenge to the mighty.

Instead of a prayer, I will leave this on a quote by Marianne Williamson, that is often misattributed to Nelson Mandela

“…Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

We accept this challenge and this call.

Amen.

Healing, not just pain relief.

Drudgery. Slavery. Pointlessness. Job is feeling pretty negative about life. I have felt squeamish about getting into these readings because of my own battles with depression, my own difficulties with finding a work life balance which works for me and my children and the many depressed people in my life. I have been constantly struggling to feel hope for myself, my situation and the situations of friends who don’t even have enough to live on…let alone the people on Manus Island.

I am reluctant to grapple with the negativity of Job, on top of the negativity around me. What if I simply give a nod to the fact that scripture acknowledges depression and discouragement as part of the human condition. Acknowledges them but does not accept them- there is no acceptance in Job. Job complains, in so many other parts of the bible people complain when things go wrong. At time there appears to be a moralistic tone taken against this complaining (murmuring, whinging) and yet it continues.

Humans suffer.

Humans complain.

Humans make stories even about their suffering.

With relief I turn to the psalm where God is healing the brokenhearted, rebuilding Jerusalem, regathering Israel. I am going to wallow in this hopefulness verse after verse as God heals the brokenhearted (don’t we all want a little bit of that?), binds up wounds. God’s healing goes out to more than just humans, s/he is on first-name basis with every star in the sky. At this point I am cheering and calling for God to come into my world/s of work and friendships and politics and the larger world of the environment. Bring this healing and comfort! We all sorely need it!

The psalmist seems of the same mind, breaking into an ecstatic that God is “great”, “mighty in power” and unlimited in “wisdom”. Well, you’d hope so wouldn’t you? It ends on a very interesting two-liner that is echoed also in the Magnificat

“The Lord sustains the lowly;

the wicked he casts to the ground.”

 

Granted it does not explicitly state that “the wicked” is a synonym for “the privilege and powerful” however the structure of this triumphant challenge comes across as a reversal of the worldly status quo (especially if with Job we are approaching the psalm really disenchanted to begin with). If we are lowly then God will sustain us. If someone is wicked (including us of course) then they will be thrown down.

 

The dangerous temptation here is to rest in the cosiness of this psalm and think therefore we can let all the evil and injustice go on in the world because God will fix it all. As far as personal morality goes, that may well be a great strategy- leave it to God to decipher and change people’s interior life (and stay open to being called to change ourselves and to greater compassion and understanding). But as far as we see people deprived of food or dignity, left out in the scorching streets to fend for themselves or locked up in muddy unfinished gaol-camps we can’t simply shrug and say “ho hum God’s really nice and will fix it”.

 

I’d take this psalm as comfort and a safe space to let go of our anxieties and depressions but not as an escape-hole from the world. We rest for our Sunday meal, our happiness with this healing, fixing God and THEN we are empowered to learn from this God how to bring healing and fixing to others. We are God’s children not God’s puppets. We are apprentices not patrons for the master-craftsman of healing and justice that is Holy Wisdom. What God is, we must yearn to become and what God does we must learn. We may not be perfect and powerful and all wise like God in the psalm but we were created in the image of God, inbreathed with God’s breath and then called and sent to touch each other with God’s blessing and healing.

 

There is so much more in the second reading and gospel but I have already used too many words. I think Bernadette Kiley’s book on Mark has something on the gospel that I couldn’t improve on. If you have had enough of my words you may just want to repray the beautiful psalm. Or pray with me…

 

God of rebuildings and gatherings,

 

Teach us how to stop fracturing and undoing our human relationships and our place as part of the earth. Teach us to plant and nurture, to walk in bare feet and feel love again for our brokenhearted, blue and beautiful earth. Teach us to heal.

 

Show us that we can build tables instead of walls and we can bring people in to sit around the table of grace. Motivate our societies to be less about the miracle of some technology for the privileged 1% and more about the miracle of feeding the 5000. Indulge our curiosity toward the stars, but remind us to reach our arms up to embrace and appreciate the beauty of the stars not to colonise and exploit even the most distant and powerful things in our universe.

 

Surprise us with a different sort of greatness and power, than the one that must build walls. Show us the wisdom where power lies in sustaining the lowly. Be our unlimited wisdom that shines hope even into these days of suicidal politics toward climate change and conflict. Cast the wicked down from their places of power over others, give us back ourselves. Cast down the wickedness in each of us. Throw out our fearfulness and apathy and greed. Re-orient ourselves toward radical and trusting love.

 

Heal us as we praise you (and when we can’t) for we are the broken-hearted.

Call, and call, and call, and call again until we learn how to listen.

 

You are our hope and the Wisdom which is balm.

Be very near.

At the foot of the cross

I wrote this more than a week ago, but I have had internet problems (forgive me). I am hoping to get a guest blogger to belatedly post an Advent 1 reflection for last week, and then later today possibly I can post my advent 2 reflection. Sorry to do nothing so long then swamp you with three at once. Living in Australia, I must have learned something from the weather. Anyway the drought is broken 😉

This morning a mother came in (I work at childcare), and I was busy assisting with the French lesson- we have a group of children of varying needs and temperaments so it was not something I could take my eyes off, but I smiled a greeting at her.

“It was you” she said… “Sorry, I mean did you go to a protest last weekend?”

“About Manus Island” I said slowly. There you go St Peter; that is how it is done! Then again for all the momentary panic I felt (or was it panic at looking away from the children for a couple of sentences?) she was smiling at me, making a safe space for me to be “out” about how I am in the world. I suddenly understood that Peter’s denial of Jesus was about closetedness- and I do know something about that, even as an “out” person I sometimes retreat into various closets about my gender identity and sexual orientation and political views and of course religion. Sometimes perhaps I have two closets facing in on each other and run from one to the other depending who I am talking with.

My excuse is always that this is a time of stress and hatred and blaming all the wrong people. So apologies Peter, I owe you a beer. I don’t really do any better at being “out” than you did.

The mother started saying how sad she was…how hopeless…how she stubbornly hoped…how we ought to treat people bloody well better than what is happening at Manus Island at the moment and I thought back to the protest. My mind is my own while I work- which is to say there os plenty for it to do, but I can sneak in a few little thoughts of my own during the day at the quiet times when I am patting someone to sleep or comforting someone with a grazed knee (the no-brainer activities) or even wiping over tables and floors. So I thought a lot about Manus, and about being recognised in a photo that apparently is circulating on Facebook (I haven’t seen it).

Then I remembered the protest gathering itself and how I fit it in sneakily before the Feast picnic, how I was running late, how I saw my sister on the way there. The first person that I saw when I got there was another friend of mine…she had her family with her. Standing there with a sister and a female friend…at the foot of somebody’s cross, while the speaker told us she understood how powerless we all felt and we all wept. She told us there was no shame in weeping. She said (for us) that it was impossible not to. Powerless to stop someone else’s suffering.

But then the speaker and another speaker both mentioned communications they had had with the modern-day Jesuses on Manus island, the people caught up in someone else’s politics and paranoia and tortured and perhaps killed (if the government think they can get away with it). And unlike the original Jesus of Nazareth, these dark-skinned, suffering men at least have mobile phones (or their supporting angels do).

Compared to the marriage equality rallies, these rallies for human life are so small (but note that many queer looking people were at the Manus island rally, and some signs in the Feast Pride March carried signs about “no Pride in detention” and other words of solidarity, so there is no call to pit one against the other).

But according to the speakers there is some point to these rallies, even if our government appears to have no ears to hear us and no hearts at all! Because the men who are suffering hunger and thirst and heat exhaustion and sickness and the occasional beating and deprivation feel encouraged when they see us gathering in solidarity to know them and to love them and to wish to help them. There was a long message about humanity, that we are human and they are human and we are sharing humanity in this experience of suffering- our tears and nightmares and their reality. So we sat on the ground and crossed our arms above our heads (as the men do in protest) and we sat for what was probably about four minutes but to my aching arms felt like an hour. We sat in silence and we continued to sit as a message from a refugee was read out. Of the people passing by, some looked like tourists and took pictures of us and nodded gravely, their body language appearing to convey approval. Some joined us, most averted their eyes, a few car-loads of people hurled verbal abuse. Tears streamed down my face.

Why should we be abused for believing in the humanity of others. Why were these people so out of touch with their own humanity? What hope was there without ordinary Australians (more of us, most of us, all of us)?

Let us pray,

God who has suffered, I see your face in the refugee and likewise in the activist and the healer who seek to take you down from your cross. Teach me to weep publically, so that my tears may move the mountain of apathy and fear, of ignorance and greed, of hate and despair. Teach me to weep with others, embracing so that our sobs turn into songs of protest.

Where is the resurrection here, at this Golgotha at Manus Island? Where is the hope?

God of passion, break hearts of stone; turn our society around; show us the way, the truth and the life.

As we approach advent, Mary’s God bring in the Magnificat vision of restitutive justice! As we celebrate your coming, show us how to nurture you ever present in those we deem “least”

Maranatha

Amen.

Stations of the cross II

Once again this year I will confine myself to two stations of the cross, so I actually think about them. Please feel free to check out last year’s post which was stations one and eight.

  1. Jesus carries his cross

The crosses we carry, we might start to think of as part of ourselves, but in fact they are external to us. For example my cross is not that I am female, or a lesbian, or a low-income earner but my cross is that people around me value women and lesbians and low income-earners less. In the same way, we learn to have a deficit model of (for example) Indigenous students in schools but this is simply wrong. The disadvantage (cross) is not their identity but the value judgements we make about some types of people (refugees, disabled people, old people) that make their way of being valued less, work to make a cross for people to suffer on.

Jesus carries his cross. Traditionally we have been told that it is part of his “goodness” not to resist and that we should not resist the crosses placed on us. I don’t think so. I think he does not resist because he is tired and beaten down and knows it is ultimately futile- he is also possibly scared for himself or his apostles. How awful the parts of church history where Jesus’ carrying of his cross has licensed sadism or masochism in Christians (sadism by the powerful, masochism of the weak) because “we all must carry our cross”. It makes me wary of seeing Jesus as a role model. What if instead we view him as a lover or friend? What if it pains us to see him suffer? What if your instinct is to alleviate his suffering and put and end to the injustice that caused it? Is this not more constructive?

But Jesus is also radically committed, in this I suppose we can see him as a role model. He would rather accept the cross than fail in his liberative mission. His integrity and critical voice are more to him than the easy life. So  are the crosses we must accept, the crosses we don’t particularly want, but that are part and parcel of our solidarity with others- the loss of our privilege and security the danger of being honest. If Jesus is carrying his cross, we are called to walk with him as fellow-resisters of the system not as soldiers and cowardly bystanders. And that is the hardness of the Christian message because there may well be consequences for living with integrity and at best it is uncomfortable.

Where does Jesus draw strength to carry his cross? How do we alleviate or cancel unnecessary crosses of others or ourselves? How do we walk with courage and resist unjust systems? How do we find dignity and joy even in facing the weight of our burdens and the long road of suffering?

Jesus teach me how to bear some of the weight to alleviate others?

Holy Wisdom show us better ways to be humanity so that no one has to carry a cross.

Lover of the universe, make me one with Jesus, not part of the cross that must be carried.

 

  1. Jesus falls a second time

Once we could have forgiven, but there he is losing again, failing again- hopeless and helpless more than once. Once we could have got him back on his feet but he squandered that, he wasn’t wise with the help he was offered. There is a limit to how much you can help people. He must have made a bad choice somewhere. My ability to walk upright is because I make good choices and wise investments, not because of luck or privilege.

Jesus here is like a welfare recipient, bowed under immeasurable weight and falling and then having shuffled to his feet he is tired and beaten and the road gets steeper and the rocks get sharper and maybe so do the taunts or whips of the soldiers. And he falls again. “What a loser” says the system and also “he deserved this”. This is how we view the people who come into this country to find a new life, they are rejected once, twice, again and again. This is how we view welfare “recipients” who have more and more taken away from them and then are expected to keep battling on and on in steeper and steeper conditions with less and less empathy from those who do not struggle as they do.

And in our weakness also, we fail to respond to the person who needs our help or we fail to make ll our commitments, or we fail to be the shining perfect person we want to be.

And we live right now in a society that judges and punishes failures.

What is the stumbling block in my life? Where do I fall again and again? Do I have enough compassion for the falling, struggling Jesus to also learn to have compassion for myself and my imperfections? Can I learn to see Jesus instead of failure in those who need my compassion?

Jesus I see you fall again, teach me to understand how hard your road is.

God who calls me, I hear your voice but the world comes in with burdens and stresses and I fall again and again.

Holy Spirit teach me to know for real that there is no limit or due date on grace.

Conclusion

It is not yet Easter in our lives. All wrongs are not yet healed. This is an eternal truth that we encounter in Good Friday. Pain and suffering and even death are real. God’s grace sometimes seems in short supply and we cannot anticipate the fullness of grace when we are trapped in the “not yet” of our lives.

Jesus remember me, when you find a way through to liberation. Show me how to hold your hand and hold mine.

Ways of (not)Knowing

Is it good to bite into

the crusty, doughy wheatiness

of Word made Flesh made Bread;

to drink the cup- the complex bouquet

of birth and stars and long roads,

friends, stories, long roads,

betrayal, suffering, short road to death

but also hearth-fires and washed feet?

 

Is it good to remember

that love had courage

to speak out, stand tall,

stand with, be told;

learn and grow;

to hold firm and die?

Dare we shed a tear?

 

Is it “him” and is it even me?

Where is the place on earth

where love bakes, breaks bread

and wine is shared;

where suffering is acknowledged?

What does it mean

to have “life”?