Sunday, April 05, 2009

Entering Holy Week

I've slept for most of this Palm Sunday. I've eaten Chinese food in bed, and drifted in and out of consciousness with episodes of Grey's Anatomy playing on my laptop near my bed. I drove across the city (a terrible waste of gas, I suppose) just to buy one little item at a "one-of" shop. I've swept the kitchen floor, and wiped down counter tops. And cleaned the bathroom.

And nothing has worked to silence the way my heart has been wandering - talking loudly within itself. The way it hurts and longs, and drives itself into Holy Week. The inexorable, unstoppable movement towards crucifixion, and then, finally, resurrection.

I looked up the definition of inexorable just now, to make sure that was the word I wanted to use. I have this bad habit of using words that I'm fairly certain are the right ones, but words that I couldn't properly define if asked. The definition reads: not to be persuaded, moved, or affected by prayers or entreaties. It was the right word, for not even prayers and entreaties are capable of stopping the progress forward through this week, and the many memories it carries with it.

A year ago, I attend the Catholic Palm Sunday mass for the first time. I'd attended mass dozens of times, and I'd grown up in church, so I was pretty sure I had a handle on what to expect. It had just, somehow, seemed important for me to attend mass on one of the high holy days last year, after beginning Lent in Rome, at St. Peter's on Ash Wednesday.

I wasn't prepared for what I encountered. The more protestant tradition with which I grew up turns Palm Sunday into a sort of spectacle. A celebration really. Children waving palm branches made of construction paper. Songs of hallelujahs. The triumphal entry. Maybe a sermon on obedience - on how Jesus' way is best, with references to the way he knew the donkey would be available for use. Or maybe a sermon on this brief moment of acknowledging his kingship, or something contrasting the events of that day to the ones that would come in the coming week.

In the Catholic church, the palms are a short thing, distributed to each person in attendance at the beginning of the mass. And then, then you move into the account of the passion. Slowly and meticulously through the events of the coming week, ending as Jesus is laid in a tomb.

I wasn't prepared for the way they handled the scripture portion last year. Four readers, and congregational participation. I wasn't prepared for the impact it would have on my heart to be standing in a crowd, crying out "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" To see myself in that crowd clearly for what was maybe the first time. To have the knowledge of my own sinfulness, and the cost Christ paid for my sins again make the sudden journey from my head to my heart.

I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness and surrender in the last week or so. I've reached the conclusion that I'm terribly bad at both. Surrender goes slightly better than forgiveness, but not much.

My method of surrendering is sort of a kicking and screaming, okay, I guess you can have your way, but I'm really not happy about it thing, that is invariably an ugly and painful process. I've been thinking a lot about autonomy today. About how it seems that life would be a whole lot less complicated without the need to constantly surrender my will to the will of Jesus. About how rarely these days my will seems to fall in line with his, and how that can create a great deal of guilt, because in the deepest parts of my heart, it really is my desire to want nothing but his will.

I've been thinking, too, about all that kicking and screaming I do in the process of surrender.

And, I've been thinking about how, in some ways, forgiveness (with which I'm also struggling) requires that surrender. How I want to hold on to the bitterness, though I know it's not his will. How I want to exact retribution, and he says things like, "turn the other cheek" and "if a man takes your coat, offer him your tunic also."

I'm remembering a phrase that played on repeat in my head the day I was healed from depression. And a line that stood out when I googled the phrase "kicking against the goads" later that day. "The more the animal rebelled, the more the animal suffered."

But mostly, I've been thinking about some different lines of scripture. The bit in Isaiah 53 about how, "as a sheep before the shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." The bits in the gospel accounts where the prophecies of Isaiah 53 are fulfilled, and we are told that Jesus remained silent. And that moment, in the garden, where, sweating blood, in great pain, for more fully than we ever can, Jesus knew the significance of accepting his father's will, and the pain and suffering that it would bring, he cried out "If you are willing, let this cup pass from me, but not my will, but yours be done."

Not my will but yours. No kicking and screaming, though there was great anguish of spirit. Just a request - if you are willing, I'd rather not walk this path. And then a confession of surrender, "Not my will, but yours be done."

A few days ago I made a visit to my favorite park. I sat at a picnic table, surrounded by snow, and wrote for a long time. It was an oddly informative way to discover the current state of my heart. Eventually I wrote some confessions - some choices really - on a sheet of paper, tucked them into the front cover of my Bible, and came home. In our back yard I lit that piece of paper on fire, letting it burn away to a small pile of ashes, in a way of symbolizing for myself that these were choices that are irrevocable. Choices to surrender. Choices that put his will first. I buried the ashes in the snow, to prevent them from flaring up again, ash covered over in clean whiteness, and re-entered the house.

And, for a few days it worked. The surrender I'd chosen, the forgiveness I'd committed to offer. In a way, it still works, though, as the ugly things within me rear their head again, I am constantly having to remind myself that these are things that have already been decided, submitted to his will, permanently settled, and buried in the ashes and snow in my backyard.

And yet those things and other ugly things remain near, keeping company with me as I walk towards the cross this week. As I move in that inexorable way towards the crucifixion, and pray with deep longing for coming resurrection.

This is the journey of holy week, and it is affecting my heart deeply.