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Thoughts and Happenings

A Meditation on Calvary

Posted by Natalie Ham on

Luke 23:46. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last.

I don’t like asking for help. I was born and raised in Texas, where the land is tough, and the people are tougher. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Just pick up your bootstraps and keep on walkin’.” Well, that’s my family motto. And as the oldest of four girls, who gained adult responsibilities early in my childhood, that saying sunk deep into my bones. So, you could even say I hate asking for help.

Now this has created endurance in me and a good work ethic. Good things. But I am only human and I have limitations, and that means there are times when I do need help. There are times when I’m in pain and I’m suffering. My instinct in these moments is to suppress, to numb the pain. I do this in multiple ways. Netflix, sleeping, Candy Crush, busyness. I ignore the pain as long as I can and hope it goes away. I don’t want to ask for help. In fact, I don’t know how to.

I know I’m not alone in this. In an interview with Krista Tippett on her podcast, “On Being,” Brené Brown said she believes that our society no longer knows how to suffer. We have lost the capacity to feel our own pain. We experience discomfort, pain, suffering, and our instinct is to escape it—in any way we can. We bury it deep by binge-watching, keeping overly full schedules, eating too much, sleeping too much...

But the pain doesn’t disappear like we want it to. Instead, it sickens our bodies, our hearts, our minds, and we lash out at others. We hurt others out of our own hurt. We see symptoms of this all over the place. Bullying. Name-calling. Violence. Politicians who spend more time lashing out at one another than making helpful policies for our country.

We need help. Individually and collectively. What do we do about this? How do we heal?

I’m not going to pretend like I know the answers. I don’t. But I know where to look for answers. The Cross.

St. Ignatius of Loyola created what is known as the “spiritual exercises,” an extensive, in-depth, contemplative, prayerful dive into Scripture. A few years ago, with the guidance of a spiritual director, I went through these exercises. It took a whole year. 

At one point in the exercises, St. Ignatius invites the participant to sit at the foot of the Cross. The prayer for this part of the exercises is, “I ask for what I desire. Here it is what is proper for the Passion: sorrow with Christ in sorrow; a broken spirit with Christ so broken; tears; and interior suffering because of the great suffering which Christ endured for me.” The invitation is not just to watch Christ be crucified, but to embrace Christ’s suffering into our own hearts.

Try with me. Close your eyes or look at the cross before you. Put yourself at the scene. Feel the dirt underneath your feet. Feel the wind on your skin. Look up. His body - humiliated, broken, torn, pierced, in agony. You smell blood. Sweat. Metal. Blood dripping. Sweat pouring. He’s suffocating. 

What do you say? What do you say in the face of such immense suffering?

What do you say to someone who has lost a loved one? What do you say to the parents of a child that has been diagnosed with a terrible disease? What do you say to the child who has been ripped from his mother’s arms after seeking refuge in a foreign country? What do you say to students who watched their friends die in another school shooting? What do you say to the woman who just survived assault? What do you say to a person diagnosed with a terminal illness? 

What do you say in the face of such immense suffering?

It took me several weeks to gain the courage to sit at the foot of the Cross. I struggled with this. With the Spirit’s help, I did finally open myself to His suffering. His pain.

As I read the Scripture, I watched in my mind’s eye as they pierced Him to the cross. I heard Him speak to the criminal. I heard the mourning, the weeping, the mocking. I saw the darkness come, felt the curtain in the Temple rip, felt the earth shake. When He cried out and breathed His last, I watched Him die. The trembling of His immense pain stopped and His head drooped. The heaviness weighed down on me. I became numb.

Over the next few days, in the quietness of my soul, I felt the invitation to Be. To Be with Jesus. To trust Him. Both in His pain, and in mine. Sitting at the foot of the Cross and embracing Jesus’s suffering into my heart helped me face my own pain. And instead of finding destruction, or annihilation, or shame, I found love. I felt healing. I found communion with the One who loves me. 

Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We cannot support others in their pain if we cannot love ourselves in our own pain.

Our invitation is to be compassionate, loving, and caring to our own hearts, minds, souls, and bodies in our suffering. A cup of tea, allowing ourselves to weep, exercise, eating healthily – listening to ourselves to know what we need. Allowing others into our vulnerability. Allowing others to see our weakness. To not only ask for help, but to allow ourselves to receive help. To let our community carry us when we simply can’t walk by ourselves any more.

Then, out of this love for ourselves, we can love others. We will develop the capacity to be with another person in their suffering. To weep with those who weep, to mourn with those who mourn, to help those who need help, and to smile with those who smile.

And, as we help each other carry our crosses throughout this life, we will give each other the strength to look up. And we’ll see the light that shines in the darkness. The light the darkness knows not.

 — Meditation given during the 12:00 pm Good Friday Service, by Natalie Ham

 

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