We set up prayer centers in our home for Holy Saturday. I created this at the nature prayer center. Double click to see the image larger.
Faith’s adventure can lead us into the deepest caverns of despair—into holes so deep and black we cannot even sense Jesus’ presence, into places so lost and dark we can find no way out. And that is when we stand quite still and say, “Here am I,” knowing that Jesus’ promise, “I am with you always” is not swayed by our perceptions. Then we begin to see a step on the path ahead—just one step, then another. And when we, at last, step once again, blinking into full sunlight, we are blinded by the sheer joy of it all. Never before were trees this green with spring sparkle! Never did the wind so fill our lungs with life! Never were we so eager to walk out into the vibrancy of it all! Easter has found us!
In the Night I felt I’d come to a standstill, but, in truth, God was moving me with more surety than my feeble steps could ever muster. God’s tunnel, God’s sidewalk, cannot fail. If we but hang on, God will take us through the Night straight into God’s heart. All we need do is climb aboard, plant our feet, and wait out the ride.
When God Walks Away excerpt
PRAYERS OF SUFFERING
Jesus, it is our deepest honor to suffer alongside You: with children who ache for tenderness, with teens whose only companion is loneliness, with workers who endure mind-numbing jobs to provide for their families, with parents who stand baffled before their children’s graves. Whatever it takes, strengthen us that we may accompany Your suffering with our own. Amen.
I can’t stop crying, Jesus. Weep with me. Amen
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Darkness invades the afternoon sky. In a final act of reckless faith, Jesus entrusts His spirit to an absent Father. He gives up everything. Every thing.
Now we stand, hushed and open, in the mouth of a cave. Listen. Is someone whispering our name?
When God Walks Away excerpt
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases….—Isaiah 53:4
Amid the dead, dry jeers of the crowd and the hollow clank of Roman armor, we arrive.
Not this hill, Lord. Not this scene.
If I must look, I want to gaze up at Him from below as one of the crowd. Given the choice, I will join those shout “Crucify him!” only let me distance myself from His suffering. But God lifts me up until I hang eye to eye with Him—myself a thief suspended on a neighboring cross.
My Lord’s chest shudders with the agony of breath; a sluggish breeze stirs a tangle of hair not yet matted to His brow. Fresh rivulets of red pour from new wounds in His wrists. I smell the stench of cheap wine and the salt odor of dying sweat.
O God, I cannot bear it—how can I endure the sight of Your suffering?
“Do you love me?” Jesus’ eyes implore.
“Jesus, you know I love You.”
Is this, then, the price of love? I know instantly that it is.
When God Walks Away excerpt
The night of Christ’s betrayal begins with an upper-room feast. Accompanied by the hollow clunk of pottery dishes stacked hurriedly for washing, and surrounded by the pungent odors of roasting lamb, bitter herbs, and baking bread, a covey of men look to their leader. One follower wonders when Jesus will make His move: Passover is a perfect occasion for rallying the crowds against Rome. Another one fantasizes about His position in the new regime. A third congratulates himself for being the first to recognize their rabbi as the Messiah. One man fingers the silver coins in His hip purse.
Jesus motions them to silence, then looks each one dead in the eye and says, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer.”
And so we return to the night of Christ’s betrayal. Sitting at table with the twelve, serving them His body and blood, Jesus knew their hearts. He knew Peter, all bluster and bragging, would deny him before Friday’s dawn. He knew Judas had already spun a web of intrigue that would trap and kill them both. Yet He said, “I have eagerly desired to celebrate this meal with you.” Jesus wanted these men with Him. Did they understand what was in His mind? No. But they could, even with their limitations, accompany Him. As a human, Jesus needed human touch. He asked them to wait in the garden, to keep vigil through the night. Not to leave Him alone.
I, too, knew the desolation of aloneness. While the Night’s agonies were upon me, I spoke to few people; its intimacy and mystery drove me to silence. But, in addition to my husband, David, I did share with two women, both skilled in spiritual direction. Responding to my expressions of loneliness and confusion, one of them said simply, “I’d say I was sorry if I didn’t know the result.” Her discerning response fortified my parched soul with a taste of hope.
When God Walks Away: A Dark Night Companion excerpt
Like John’s “Dark Night” poem and commentary, When God Walks Away is replete with metaphor. Why? To answer that question, we’ll need to acquaint ourselves with a couple of terms. Among the tomes in a good theological library, you will find listings for “apophatic” and “kataphatic” theology. Kataphatic theology affirms what God is (God is the Good Shepherd, God is love). In contrast, apophatic theology posits that God is far beyond human conception, and is, therefore, best approached as mystery. We can only say God is more truth than I am capable of understanding, God is more love than any concept of love I can create. Any image of God we have is limiting and, to some degree, distorting.
The balanced faith life requires both. For instance, Jesus used imagery (kataphatic theology) to help His followers begin to understand the ways and character of God. He employed parables and spoke in metaphor. More to the point, Jesus was God with us; God whom people could touch and hear. On the other hand, Jesus often spoke in what sounds like riddles.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [i]
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” [ii]
We spend our lives pondering the meaning of such remarks. As Job discovered, God is beyond our comprehension. God responded to that suffering man’s questions from a whirlwind: as near as we can come to an apophatic image.
Scripture dances with both kataphatic and apophatic thought and, in this book, so shall we. Image is vital to belief: we must understand something of God to know what we are believing in. That’s why we need kataphatic imagery. Yet God does not always play by our rules. When God does not fix things according to our plan, we suffer a crisis of faith and feel like giving up on God. But something tells us there’s more to God than we’ve pictured. Maybe someday this side of physical death, we’ll make sense of it all, but maybe we won’t. Still, we choose to trust. That’s apophatic theology.
Metaphor helps us glean from both apophatic and kataphatic theology, because, through metaphor, what we experience directs our imaginations toward what is beyond us. [iii] Because metaphor both “is” and “is not” that which it represents, metaphor at once draws aspects of God closer for our inspection (kataphatic theology) while at the same time recognizing the beyondness of God (apophatic theology). For example, when we say, “God is Mother,” we indicate that in some ways God relates to us in what we understand as “mothering.” We recognize, however, that certain aspects of human mothering do not define God—for instance God is not limited to a single gender. Therefore, metaphor respects the mystery of God in ways direct explication of God’s attributes cannot. It is one of the great gifts of Christian mysticism. [iv]
[i] Matthew 10:34 NRSV.
[ii] John 9:39 NRSV.
[iii] “ . . . soul truth is so powerful that we must allow ourselves to approach it, and it to approach us, indirectly . . . We achieve indirection by exploring that topic metaphorically, via a poem, a story, a piece of music, or a work of art that embodies it” (Palmer Wholeness 92-93).
[iv] A listing of terms used in this book may be found in Appendix E.