Monday, April 18, 2011

Holy Monday

Aaaaand here's Holy Week. That high drama, the pageantry, the darkness. Oh, the darkness.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, marking Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Thursday we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist (the "Last Supper" which we remember each week during communion). Thursday we also remember the Agony in the Garden and the Arrest. Friday is the trial and crucifixion of Christ. Saturday is the lonely day- we remember the agony and fear and confusion the Apostles felt. And finally Saturday night we hold a vigil, waiting to hear the blessed proclamation of the Resurrection.

The Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, however, seem empty. Many churches will hold additional services to encourage devotion. There is one special service, Tenebrae (Latin for "Darkness") which consists of Psalms and readings which bring us deeper into the mystery of redemption. It ends in darkness and is one of the few services without a dismissal. A loud noise is all the ends the service. No comforting words. More on this tomorrow after I lead Tenebrae.

But back to Monday.

Holy Monday has no special liturgies in the Western church. It is still a fast day and it gets a special prayer (called a collect), but it does not get a special ritual.

The collect of the day is, interestingly enough, used in Friday Morning Prayer during the rest of the year in the Episcopal Church.

Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
May these quiet, strange days bring us peace and life as we walk toward Golgotha to stand watch with our crucified Lord.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Entering Holy Week

Ah, Holy Week. Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, a day commemorating Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. We also include the reading of the Passion, remembering that the triumphal entry leads to the crucifixion.

This is a beautiful yet dark time. From the literal darkness of the Tenebrae liturgy to the spiritual darkness between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as we watch with the reserved sacrament, we are drawn into the depths. The depths of abandonment, despair, and hell itself.

This is Arvo Part's arrangement of Psalm 130, "De Profundis," which is Latin for "from the depths."

The English translation of Psalm 130:

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who could stand?

For there is forgiveness with you;
therefore you shall be feared.

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, wait for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption,
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Lent of Taking Control?

Normally Lent is a time of giving up control to God and recognizing our limitations. It's a time of being still and taking stock of our sins. We repent, we fast, we take on disciplines.

It's also my favorite time of year. Odd, that a time of darkness is the time I feel closest to God. I've known God best in the darkness of depression than in the times of unspeakable joy. As we slowly make our journey to Golgotha and the Crucifixion of our Lord, we are entering into some incredibly dark time.

The word 'discipline' is not a word that seems friendly to many ears. It seems so dry and dead and ancient. This year I have focused on dietary discipline. Meat only once a day and never on Wednesdays and Fridays. Candy is out (except when I fail, which happens). The whole eating-for-God plan has worked well in unexpected ways.

For starters, I realized just how powerful food is. In our culture of abundance, most do not worry about from where the next meal will come. It's just there. Food is also powerful in our bodies. We break it down for energy, and it also makes our brains very happy.

As I've had to be very deliberate about my dietary choices for these past few weeks, I've noticed just how little I think about them. On feast days this Lent, I've suspended the discipline since, well, it is a feast! One morsel of chocolate leads to another and another. None of them really satisfied, but my brain would insist that one more piece, one more handful would be just dandy.

Mindful eating requires a lot of control and a lot of restraint, and it gets harder to restrain oneself once that first sweet has been eaten. Just one! I tell myself. But that one is unsatisfying without its brethren. They, too, must be eaten. Before long a container of delicious chocolate-covered marshmallow eggs is gone.

There's been some joy in discovering that I can say no to those impulses. When I remind myself of my discipline, it feels great that my mind does not revolve around that sweet I'm denying myself. When I fail, I have to dust myself off and try again. God doesn't get furious when I fail in my fasting; God wants me to take control of this part of my life so that it doesn't take control of me.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

To My Own Condemnation

As I sat in the cafeteria yesterday, eating some delicious beef teriyaki and reading Thomas Merton, a conversation I'd had with a good friend came to mind.

For most of my life I've been fat. Heavy. Chunky. Clinically, the term would be 'obese.'

My friend, on the other hand, is not even close to being fat. Never has been. Never will be.

Our desks are next to each other, and most of last year she'd give me her second cookie from lunch. Without thinking I would eat it.

That is, until two months ago when my doctor said that I'd reached the weight I swore I would never see again. I was heartbroken to see the digital readout.

For Lent, then, I'd sworn that I would cut out sweets, and even cut out meat on certain days. I would get myself back to a proper relationship with food. I would stop running to it for solace and strength.

In that conversation with my friend, I mentioned how I can get paranoid when I eat. When I eat in public, I start to think about what my food choices indicate to other people. Should it be the day that I indulge in something fattening, then other people are silently "tsk-tsk"-ing me for poor dietary choices and for being a 'Fat American.' Should it be that I'm eating anything other than a leafy salad, then I'm failing as a human being. Each bite I take is a bite to my own condemnation.

And each bite I take is yet more confirmation that I shall live and die unloved by any partner, for who would want to date this?

She looked at me strangely. She couldn't fathom how someone could think all those things while simply eating. She couldn't understand how much hatred and anger and shame and despair could be wrapped up in the simple act of eating.

Yet it's not just in the simple act of eating. It's in the simple act of being.

Walking around, catching a sideways glimpse of my reflection in the mirror, eyes focused not on my smile or my lovely beard but my gut. That damned gut. Every positive is quickly and effectively negated by that mass of fat I lug around in front of me.

To the gym! I should say. To healthy food and exercise! I should say. And so I try.

But that gut is obstinate and unyielding.

That gut has a greater power than I'd thought.

Where does it get such power?

From the opinion in pop culture that it is ugly and is a sign of worthlessness and sloth.

From the judgment that it renders me unfit for desire and sex, worthy only for what I can offer in mind and heart. It neuters me.

From the years it has sat there, giving me ample (pun intended) ammunition to judge myself.

It stands and sags as a sign of years of sin. Sins of sloth, sins of gluttony, sins of worthlessness.


Is it a cross to bear? I'd say so.

It's a sign of shame. It's been that way for years. It has changed me in many ways. My feelings of shame over my body have forged me into the person I am now. Daily I struggle with my body. My obsessions, my fears, my sadness. It mounts its assault on my self-esteem.

Is this what St Paul talks about? The thorn in his side that plagues him day and night? Something that breaks him day by day?

Can this lump of flesh bring me to rely more and more on God? The one God who loves me and cares for me and gives me wholeness? Yes, yes it can. Does it? Each day is a new day of new struggles.

Society and culture and other people cannot determine my worth. They can't. They try and frequently convince us that they determine our worth, but they can't. Their power is an illusion.

God, however, values us. Even the worst among us are held close to God's heart, if only we'd see it and feel it and open ourselves to it.

I may eat, and I may eat unworthily, and I may eat to my own condemnation. It is not God who condemns me, however, and so the verdict is, in the eyes of eternity, null. Nothing. Void.

I must feast on God, and in that eating there is no condemnation.