(Note: potentially disturbing image below.)
I don't yet have my head around Holy Week.
On Palm Sunday, during the Mass, there was a dramatization of the passion story - a Passion Play -- instead of a sermon. It was beautifully done, and very moving while it was happening.
Tuesday night I led the contemplation group, giving a talk on the various faiths' uses of, and resistance to, bowing, and prostration. (Our priests prostrate themselves on the altar on Good Friday, and at no other time during the year.) I talked about what those practices mean in a mystical sense, and that was followed by forty minutes of silent meditation. Then I joined the choir to sang Compline -- it was a service using Orthodox chant, ending with the Russian Kontakion for the Departed.
Last night, Wednesday, was Tenebrae: the church lit by one candelabrum, one candle extinguished after each psalm, after the Lamentations of Jeremiah, after yet another psalm, until we were all in darkness. Silence. Then a sudden noise, to represent the earth quaking at the death of Jesus. And finally a single candle in the darkness, by whose light we departed.
And tonight, the mass for Maundy Thursday. But still, I am not "in" Holy Week.
How many years have I been doing this -- attending most of the services, singing, listening to the story over and over, presented in different ways, in words, music, dance, drama? As an adult, at least twenty-five. Sometimes it happens: something breaks through the numbness and repetition and locks its fingers around my heart, and when the grip slowly releases, there's a new insight, connecting this story of suffering and acceptance to my own life or the world at large in a new way.
And sometimes it's like this year so far: an intellectual and artistic engagement that remains detached in spite of my desire for it to be otherwise.
Perhaps my Holy Week came earlier in the month, when I was in the cathedral and smaller shrines and churches of Mexico City, astounded by a much more visceral and literal expression of faith and of Christ's agony: in every one of those churches there is a lifesize, lifelike Christ, beautifully carved and painted, with open eyes that look at you, and wounds that drip with blood: He is Everyman, your son - father - lover - husband - who was killed, and who now gazes at you with sadness and compassion. In Latin America those connections are unfortunately easy to make; not so much here in the north, where we can argue with ourselves and with theology about the nature of this kind of suffering, sometimes for an entire lifetime, without much first-hand experience. And yet violence, imprisonment, oppression and killing because of politics, religion, outspokenness against authority, and all kinds of Otherness, go on in our world every single day. These statues shocked me with their realism. It would be much easier to look away -- but you can't.
Christ holding a stalk of corn, in the Catedral Metropolitana, Mexico City
During these three days that is what I feel not just called to contemplate, but to face. Holy Week and Easter are not so much about faith for me -- faith in the Resurrection, or literal faith in accounts of ancient events. Those are other matters that I think about a lot all year long. Nor is it, as for many Christians of a more evangelical bent, primarily a time of sorrow and catharsis about the death of one particular man. Holy Week, for me, is more about justice, and my own complicity in the systems of power and repression, of militarization, rampant capitalism and globalization. But even more than that it's about my forgetfulness the other 362 days of the year.
Usually a moment comes when I drop my defenses, and I'm there, fully there. It hasn't happened yet. Maybe tonight.