Archive for category Spirituality and Religion
Mary Magdalen as a Sex Positive Therapist: What Catholic Women Can Learn from the Most Misunderstood Figure in the New Testament
TweetOne of the mystifying aspects of my studying the US mainstream feminist movement has been the “sex positive” feminists. In my cursory reading of it (I nearly exclusively read authors on women of color feminism and poetry), my general understanding of it comes from the 1980s Sex Pos movement which came as a – somewhat – reactive response to the anti-pornography feminism that sprung out in the 70s, which placed pornography at the center of the women’s movement. It claimed, among many other facets of women’s rights, that true freedom was directly related to sexual freedom and choice.
In more modern and nuanced definitions, I’ve read more blogs and articles that sex-positivity is more of an umbrella to hold theories, prompts, and loose philosophies around ideas of desire, consent, gender, and sexual choices.
Even with the updated work on sex positivity, I was always confused by the phrase “Sex Positive.” It never really occurred to me to identify as a sex positive feminist because the title itself seemed to suggest that most people think of sex as negative. I never thought of sex as “bad.” Sure, I grew up in a more conservative Catholic Filipino culture, but as a Filipino American, I came to understand sexuality through books, friends, and sneaking a peak during the “shut your eyes!” moments in the movies like Top Gun, Ghost, and Dirty Dancing. (RIP gorgeous phenom Patrick Swayze.)
Catholics and sexuality. Er, um. A-hem. That’s not exactly our forte. Despite the rigid lines around Catholic sexuality, I grew my own sense of what it is, was, and what I wanted it to look like for myself. So, identifying as “SEX POSITIVE!” seemed odd, to say the least. Like, why don’t I go around saying I’m a FILIPINO POSITIVE feminist? Eh, that seems a bit awkward. And redundant.
Lately, though, the more I read and listen to Catholic news surrounding sexuality, I can certainly see why the term SEX POSITIVE is necessary. There is a tremendous amount of guilt, shame, and silence when it comes to sex, sexual development, and gender for Catholic women. (Understatement of the year…)
Just last night, I taught a class on Mary Magdalen, a controversial and rather mysterious figure in the New Testament. It was astounding to see how people were impacted by her. It appeared, though, that everyone’s impression of Mary depended on how she was presented either in Catholic schools or by parents. Last night, one woman, full of emotion, professed her undying love for Mary Magdalen. Another identified her as, “the whore* of the bible.” People were all over the place and it’s no wonder. But, the one thing that they all had in common was that their reactions were strong. No one had a lukewarm impression.
Even in history, her identity is somewhat obscure. Her identity was conflated with so many other biblical women figures whose sins were deemed of the sexual nature. She was an adulteress about to stoned. She was the woman with the alabaster jar. She was Mary of Bethany who renounced sin and turned her life to Christ. She was the woman who cleaned Jesus feet with her tears and wiped them dry with her hair. But, in two gospels, she is simply referred to as one Jesus cured of severe illness; one who Jesus drove seven demons out. And “demons” at that time, were a way for folks to explain the presence of sin and suffering in the world. It’s not how we think of it when we think “demon.” (Read: head spinning from the Exorcist)
Mary Magdalene quite possibly was a regular, common person in the time of Christ who was healed of her illness and went forward in her life to eventually become the only witness to all of the most significant events in the last days of Jesus’ life. She was there at the crucifixion (John places her at the foot of the cross). She was there at the burial, and then she was the first witness. Pretty important stuff.
Since her historical identity is so supremely tied to the renunciation of sexuality and fornication, it seems odd to use her to expound Catholic feminism, but I think she’s the perfect muse.
Some theologians speculate (given the fragmented stories from the Gospels of Thomas, Phillip, and Mary), Mary possessed inner vision. She possessed sophia, the enlightened Wisdom, which the Apostles sought. It was with this inner vision that she led the women followers of Christ, supported Jesus in his ministry, and, consequently, became the first person to see the most famous miracle in human history: the resurrection of the Human body.
I surmise, two thousand and twelve years later, that it’s mainstream feminism’s lack of inner vision that inhibits it from truly leading a movement that sustains itself on principles of growth, altruism, and liberation. Much sex positive feminism equates liberation with liberation of the body and while I agree to some extent that one must have the rights and freedoms of body to feel and express empowerment, it is not just the liberation of the body and sexual relationship that equates to liberation for all. Perhaps sex positive feminists posit the body as the foundation for which all other human rights lie because without that basic acknowledgement, no other progress can be made. I think the body is a critical point to begin, but it’s limiting to centralize the body and sex (as defined by heteronormative mainstream feminists) for a movement claiming liberation for all persons. I do think, though, that the sex positive movement can teach a think or two to Catholic women and I think Mary Magdalen is the crux for that argument. A nuanced version of Mary Magdalen – as a woman who may or may not have been a sexual prowess – can lead some Catholic women to a more sex positive state of being.
So many Catholics get bogged down with wondering who and what Mary was that they forget she became one of the most prominent, if not the most prominent, follower of Jesus Christ. And her ability to be visionary, her ability to act with radical love in a time of great chaos and persecution is the most incredible feminist lesson I can take from her life. If Mary Magdalen as the visionary leader of great Wisdom were to lead Catholic women in sex positive living, I believe she would begin with helping women trace the roots of female shame.
It was Pope St. Gregory the Great who officially announced Mary Magdalen as umbrella for sexually related female sins and labeled her as a prostitute. She became the poster child of regained spiritual and bodily virginity. In a time where celibacy and abstaining were pressed upon Catholics, creating a female figure who professed a sex-free life was beneficial. Mary Magdalen was the bearer of the scarlet letter long before Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about hypocrisy and societal humiliation. The problem for Catholic women is that while Hester Prynne was fictitious, Mary Magdalen – and her pseudo identity as a purified Eve – was real. Very real. And Catholic girls were taught to hate the “whore of the bible.” Thus, for many Catholic girls, guilt was born just as they hit puberty and boobs and hair started to grow. The relationship between sexual acts and Mary Magdalen is still very real. Her name has been proliferated through everything from non profits helping “save” girls from prostitution and brothel houses.
The good news is that the church officially stated that Mary Magdalen was indeed ONE person in the great year of 1969. Yes. You read that correctly. That tiny detail – Mary Magdalen was only one person and probably not a prostitute – was clarified just forty three years ago. While the Catholic Church can take a over a century to clear up a case of sexual mis-teaching, Catholics don’t have that kind of luxury to spend their lives in judgement and unnecessary guilt, trapped in false images and notions of sexuality promiscuity.
So what are we to learn from Mary Magdalen about being a sex positive Catholic feminist?
It would behoove us to start with courage. It would behoove us to stop seeing gender as a binary dividing line of battle. If she had the means, I would hypothesize that Mary wouldn’t have wanted to be separated into women and men traveling groups in the Jesus movement. I think she would have liked to see community coming together, not traveling with lines of power and separatism. I think she would want us to recognize our brothers and sisters who do not identify as brothers and sisters, those who identify as gender non conforming, or as trans, asexual, or simply unknown. Not everything is about boxes of identity, as her own complex history shows us. I believe we could also couple our courage with honesty. Honesty about who we are, who we want to be with, and when we’ve had enough. I believe that Catholics have spent so much of their lives hoping they’re on the “right” side of faith, they fail to truly know what they themselves want out of life, out of relationship, out of sex, and of God.
Desire is so heavily sided to mean “sex” that we forget that simple pleasures – sensuality – is a brightly starred cousin of sexuality. We forget that pleasure can be expressed in countless ways of touch, speaking, and exploration. When did it become a sin to be overwhelmed with desire for another person? What we DO with that desire is another conversation, but the allowance of desire in our lives deepens not taints our humanity.
Mostly, though, I believe Mary Magdalen would be worried less about what the mostly white men with robes on think about contraception, and more about what we truly believe in our hearts about our bodies, our sexual expressions, our ability to accept and be desired and desirable. I believe that Mary would have us reflect more about sexuality as spirituality, a gift that we alone can cultivate and question in the holiest ground we know: our conscience. And when we choose to share it, we do so with those who walk respectfully, maturely, and passionately on our ground.
*I take personal issue with the word “whore” and use it only in quotes to accurately reflect the rhetoric used. ”Whore” is often used to shame women and female identified sexuality. There is no equivalent for non-female, non-woman identified persons (e.g. “male-whore”) and “whore’ is typically used in pop culture to pejoratively refer to women who have a lot of sex. It also feeds the killer double standard facing most US female and girl/woman identified teens who are given options to either abstain (pro-abstinence) or dare to express themselves sexually and risk being labeled as such.
TweetComing up in this Sunday’s first reading…A few reflective thoughts…
I am the LORD and there is no other,there is no God besides me.
It is I who arm you, though you know me not,
so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun
people may know that there is none besides me.
I am the LORD, there is no other
Most active Catholics can tell you that the first of the ten commandment: I am the Lord, your God. You shall have no other gods besides me. But the breakdown of that commandment can be much more rich and life-giving with a bit of reflection.
With our human minds, we could reason that God commands us to worship Him alone because, in worshipping other things or false gods, we commit idolatry and fail to give praise to the true Creator of all living things. But, remember a critical point: God doesn’t need us or our praise to exist. It’s the other way around: we need Him. Why would God give such a commandment?
Perhaps this “commandment” is less about God wanting to be the center of our lives for the sake of being in the center and more about God wanting to save us time and energy on what is not everlasting. What you chase in this life reveals what you hold most dear. Even with good intentions – for example, seeking a higher paying job to provide for your family – our goals can quickly transform into practices all too similar to worshipping the golden calf.
It is all to convenient to relinquish our moments, days, and lives to what we FEEL is most important instead of what we know is the most important. What is on your mind that moves God from center to margin? God doesn’t want you to ignore what is in your heart, or what’s troubling your mind. God wants us to bring it forward – embracing whatever it is – and give it to Him. Take the next step in your faith and when something strikes a match against your heart, instead of feeding the flame with attention, worry, and anxiety, extinguish it with acceptance and faith that God has put the tools in your life to manage or resolve the distraction. And then, knowing you have done all that you possibly can, be at peace.
TweetIn reflecting about the anniversary of 9/11, it seems that the deeper the tragedy, the more media has to say. We are saturated with pictures, images, and voices, each network competing with documentaries, interviews, reruns of original news coverage, and sports teams opening their games with moving ceremonies to fill our minds and hearts with surface level reflection. But, why is it during times like these – when we need heartfelt transformation – we only have moments of silence? It seems like we need at least hours of silence to genuinely reflect on how we as individuals, as a society, and as a world were divided and united on that day.
“Where were you that day?” is a question that seems to ring over and over again when people talk about 9/11. It’s natural. We often mark tragedy and triumph by the moments preceeding the event that changed us. Sadly, though, we can become so consumed by the event itself and not stop to ask ourselves, “Where was I with God that day?”
Where were you standing with God that day? Where are you standing with God today in comparison to ten years ago?
Has your relationship with God changed? Have you let it change? Was 9/11 a day that simply scarred your heart, or did you open up you faith, as painful as it may be, and bring your burden – including your anger, disbelief, rage, confusion – to God?
Take more than a moment of silence to reflect on how 9/11 changed your relationship with God and your neighbor.
Let yourself sit in the challenge of identifying who is a neighbor and who is an enemy, and how Jesus teaches us to forgive both.
TweetIn graduate school, I took a class called, “The Spirituality of the Body.”
It was an intense course, and took on the questions of life. The kinds of questions that are so deep, so mysterious that most people gloss over them in regular conversation. Or, in the discomfort with the unknown, find a short-fit answer and tuck it into their packets, satisfied to have to no longer struggle over the unanswerable questions of body and life. It seemed fitting that an entire academic course could be devoted to tackling such formidable questions.
There was a particular class that stands out in my mind that addressed the issue of mental disability. Specifically, we looked at mental retardation, individuals whose brain growth was either stunted or limited in its capacity. The class was confronted with a question: In the context of Catholic faith, how do you explain why some people are born with mental retardation?
It started a discussion that spanned nearly two weeks of class.
We tackled the answers that were passed down from other generations:
There was a sin somewhere in the family line and this is a direct result of that act of disobedience.
There are only certain types of people and families that can take care of someone with special needs and that is why that certain family was hand-picked by God to take care of “God’s special children.”
People with mental retardation serve as a reminder to those who are “normal,” that we are blessed and graced by God, and we should be grateful for those blessings.
People with mental retardation have special struggles in this life because they chose this path before they were born.
Each one was carefully considered at the heart of its meaning and intention and each one was eventually struck down.
It was then that the professor decided to let us know her thoughts. And even though she had finished her graduate work and dissertation at Harvard and taught some of the most distinguished theology on the planet, she offered a very simple reasoning, “Perhaps this is the regulation of life. We are not normal. They are not special. Nor are any people with special circumstances that require extra care for basic function. Perhaps this is the natural course of life. Whatever or whomever life comes from, this is the churning of it. It’s a part of life. There’s nothing to figure out. There is no why. This is – we all are – what life produces.”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot: the natural course of life and how much value and preservation we put into assuring “normal” people in our births and pregnancies and realities. Over the weekend, a close friend V* shared a recent miscarriage from a few months ago. Even though it’d been a few months, even though she had a healthy son, even though she was pregnant again, her and her partner’s eyes filled as they told us the pain and question of what that miscarriage brought them. The heartbeat of new life and possibility simply stopped beating, with no explanation.
“There’s nothing to say,” V* told me. “There’s no consolation, no words, nothing. There’s nothing you can do or say. All I know is that life is so incredibly fragile and the line that separates life from death is very, very thin.”
She went on to tell me what doctors told her about miscarriage: it happens all the time. It’s a natural course of the body. It’s what the body does. It can produce life and sometimes only sustain it for a short period of time. It’s a mystery yes, but is it uncommon, no. The words “natural” “this is what happens” “normal functioning” were used. And while that did not comfort my friends much, it did ring bells of familiarity in my head.
It reminded me of, “The Spirituality of the Body,” and how some of the basic questions of life have no answers and our acceptance or refusal to accept the normality of pain, suffering, death, passing, illness, is entirely up to us when determining our realities. The more we accept, the more peace we find. The more we insist on artificial and superficial definitions of normal, functioning, healthy, productive, worthiness – the more disruption we’ll find in our spiritual lives.
The more we prize able-bodied, traditionally educated minds on two walking, shapely legs, the more we lose in our ability to see life – in its perfection – at every stage and age and state. Life.
I see my son differently because of this reasoning. I don’t see children as small things waiting to grow up. I see them perfectly whole and acceptable as they are. Every inch precious and fitting in the time they are born and in whatever step they are developmentally. When they cry, it’s from a place as real as my need to breathe and feel love. When they laugh, it’s every bit as joyful as when I slap my couch with loud squeals and giggles.
Children are not adult in waiting. They are complete as is, gifts today as they were yesterday and the day before that.
My cousin who is diagnosed with profound mental retardation is not part of a man. Or a sad story. He’s a 28 year old man.
I once had a mentor who said, “Life is sweet as it is short. Life is fine as it is fleeting.”
Like one sip of port wine. Like a faceful of an August breeze.
The longer you wait to accept life as is – as fair and unfair, however long or brief that time is, in whatever condition it is birthed – the more time you spend in the land of wishes and worry, and less in the world of learning and compassion.
TweetI was asked to give a reflection during the Good Friday service this year. I just presented it a few hours ago.
A family that prays together, stays together.
These were the words of my mother when I was growing up when she would call me, my sister, and my brothers to the living room for evening prayer. My oldest brother would always manage to grab the ringing phone and my other two siblings and I would take turns talking about how much homework we still had to do – we’d say anything to avoid evening prayer. But my mother would say again, reminding us, “A family that prays together, stays together.”
I thought about that phrase a lot growing up – what would it mean if our family didn’t pray together? Would it mean that some kind of force would tear us apart? Did praying together put some kind of a bubble over me and my family, protecting us against illness, misfortune, and tragedy?
“A family that prays together, stays together.”
One of the first real tests of this came some years later when I was in high school. I was seventeen years old and beginning my senior year in high school. My college applications were piled high on my desk, my car had a full tank of gas ready for the weekend. It was September of 1996 and I remember thinking and feeling that life couldn’t get any better than this.
It was a Thursday like every other Thursday I’d known. I had just come home from my friend’s house and it was late when the phone rang. It was my friend Christy who, without saying hello, asked me if I heard what had happened.
No, I told her, I hadn’t heard anything.
She told me in a shaking voice, “I don’t know how to say this, but Celeste was in a car accident earlier tonight and she didn’t make it.”
I was completely disoriented and silent so Christy repeated, “Lisa, Celeste died tonight.”
Celeste was a year younger than I was and one of those girls in school who simply radiated. She was beautiful, athletic, kind; she was the kind of girl you almost envied except she always made you feel like a million dollars when she smiled at you. Celeste was one of those people I could count on one hand who was deeply loved by everyone around her, including me.
A few days later, I was leaving the funeral home with my mom and my sister. While my friends clung to one another in their grief, I clung to my family. I didn’t have to look up to feel the size of the crowd. There were people everywhere – hundreds of people, pressing forward, trying to enter the single door to the funeral home to pay their respects. Everyone was consumed and concerned by their own grief. Everyone that is, except one person. With my mother on my left side and my sister on my right, both were practically bolstering me up as we walked out of the funeral home. I was so distraught and my eyes never left the ground when suddenly I felt someone’s hand reach through the massive crowd and grab hold my right arm.
To this day, I do not know who that person was. It could have been a friend, a stranger, someone who knew me, or just someone who could see the disbelief on my face and wanted to reach out to me.
It’s been 15 years and I can still feel that person’s hand on my arm. It was steady, knowing and warm, all the things that I could not feel for myself. Everyone around me, myself included, was drowning in their own pool of sorrow and loss, except for this one person who reached out for me, through the sea of limbs, and tears, and trauma, and touched me. It wasn’t in a passing, fleeting manner either. It was in a way that conveyed strength, solidarity, and understanding. Without saying one word, without seeing this person’s face, this hold on my arm conveyed a message, “I see you. And I am with you.”
We all know Jesus’ story of Good Friday. It is a story of unimaginable suffering, abandonment, and consuming agony. In the last hours of life, he is hanging on the cross, alone and in the most excruciating physical and psychological torment. And what is on Jesus’ mind? What are his last thoughts? Still, even as he is crucified, He moves beyond his own suffering and sees the need in others. He says to his mother: Behold your son. And to John: Behold your mother. He says LOOK – look at one another. See one another and care for each other.
Why do we come together on Good Friday?
Because whether you see it or not, right now someone in your life is in pain. And right now that someone is trying to hide how much they are hurting. Someone in your life is in a darkness much darker than yours. And someone, right now, is in your life walking with their eyes on the ground, not sure if anyone can see their pain. And today is the day to hear Jesus’ call to resist being swallowed by our own suffering, and to find that person whose eyes are downcast and tell them: I see you and I am with you.
Because there is no better day than today to reach out to someone in your life who is in their own private battle of job loss, depression, family disputes, illness, or bereavement. Just last week I accompanied a group of medical professionals from our parish to visit the medical clinic in Chiltiupan, El Salvador – our sister parish of Santo Domingo. I watched them share their gifts and specializations as they taught health promoters and demonstrated different techniques on how to suture. Despite the poverty that surrounded the clinic, the exchange of ideas and learning lit up each person in the room. These physicians, nurse and pharmacist, with their actions affirmed each person I see you and I am with you.
There is no better time than right now to live beyond yourself. It doesn’t have to be in El Salvador. It can be right here in our St. Dominic parish. We come together to not just be there for one another but to derive strength and comfort as a family, as a community that needs to go out into the world and calm one small piece of a storm in someone else’s life. What good are you creating on Good Friday if you shroud yourself in more of your own darkness, in more self-worry, in more self-doubt?
We come together today on Good Friday not just for ourselves but for one another. I believe you are we are here today, not just to be with Jesus, but to be with one another, to be loving, and like the disciples to gather in grief, uncertainty, and togetherness.
It was in the togetherness of Celeste’s funeral that someone, nameless, faceless and unknown reached out and, with the hand of Christ, touched an extremely vulnerable part of me. Their handprint is forever and anonymously burned in my memory.
Look around you, this is your family. And families that pray together, do stay together. Whoever that person was, whoever heard Jesus’ call to move beyond their own pain and to see mine didn’t just comfort me, this person, indeed, has stayed with me.
Jesus calls us to do the same because, as my mother told me,
Families that pray together, stay together.
Who will you reach out to?
Do you like Fish Fry Fridays?
When you came here to save the world, did you ever imagine that – in addition to breaking bread at eucharist together – we’d slap some fish with oil and fry it up in your name?
What do you think of fish sticks, as opposed to fish fillets?
If you fed a crowd of 5,000 without counting women and children with a five loaves of bread and two fish, does that mean we should be feeding cities with our Costo amounts of fried fish, baked potatoes, and french fries with cole slaw? We are greasing up our cafeterias and kitchens every Friday during Lent to be in community and not eat meat together. We eat our fill of the most unhealthy food there is on earth. Again, we do this IN YOUR NAME!
There are so many things done in your name, or, at least, in the name of values found in Christianity. I wonder what you would think of Dr. Tiller’s murder as he was shot on the steps of his church as he handed out the bulletin? I wonder what you’d think about this man who performed late term abortions -
supposedly out of care for the mother’s life
because the mothers were scared out of their minds
because there was no other place to turn
and in turn,
this man, Tiller, was taken out of this life and into the next
by a bullet
in your house? On the steps of your father’s house?
If you drove out vendors with whips and anger out of the temple
because you hated your father’s house turned marketplace –
what do you think of your father’s house turned into a
a firing range
a raging inferno
Oh, Jesus, c’mon and tell me what you think. There’s so much wrong in the world done in your name, why won’t you please clarify and correct your name and restore it to some thing of meaning, of peace? In the Philippines women are dying because of botched abortions. The Philippines - the country where divorce is illegal, the crops are dried, the national import is human bodies, abortion is illegal, and there is no seemingly distinct line between the church and the state, women are left with the rhythm method, no education, and botched abortions. What say you on all of this? And that’s no demand, it’s a plea. Respond to this madness!
So much is done in your name, I am left wondering if you have plugged your ears.
TweetA year or two ago, a visiting priest came to our parish and when he stood at the pulpit to deliver his homily, he looked to the crowd and said, “Be merciful. Be merciful. Be merciful.”
And walked back to his seat.
The congregation was stunned, and not because of its profundity. As people of faith, we often expect our religious leaders to exand! elaborate! explain!, forgetting that, from time to time, repeating the same thing can have its own deep impact.
That, or that priest feels like I do right now: I just don’t know what else to say.
Be merciful, folks. However that affects you today in your relationships to others, to the earth, to the people of Japan, or even to yourself.
TweetToday, I will be fulfilling a life long dream: to deliver a reflection during a church service. Because Good Friday service is “technically” not a mass, lay parishioners are allowed to give a “homily.”
When I was growing up, I always knew better than to ask my mom if I was allowed to do anything during Holy Week. On our refrigerator, she would post the church bulletin and with a highlighter, go through and underline every single mass, reconciliation time, and service offered. I was the youngest of four and all of us were expected to attend, no matter what was going on. No exceptions.
It got really difficult when I was in high school. And since it was Easter break, people would have all kinds of get-togethers and parties. And since we were on vacation, you knew everyone was going to be there. Everyone, that is, but me. One time, though, I did get the nerve to ask my mom if I could go to a party. She just raised her eyebrows at me and say, “Lisa, are you going to a party on the day of our Lord’s death?”
So, you can imagine, I did not go.
I didn’t want to be a party-goer during Good Friday, so I just thought to myself, “This is just a sacrifice I’ll make by staying home.” All the while, though, I was wishing I was with my friends. Remember, as a teenager, staying home on a Friday night of vacation was a really, big deal.
My mom was right. Today is a day, among many things, about grief. It is a day typically marked with solemnity, a sobering awareness that’s almost palpable. Good Friday is when we relive the most intense story in the gospel – the Passion. It is a time that we, typically and appropriately, regard with mourning and reflective hearts. It is, after all, the day that Jesus dies.
How do we move into these hours? Is it with heavy hearts? Spiritually, that makes sense. But is there more to Good Friday than just the quiet grief and observation of Jesus’ death? Good Friday is more than just staying home and self-sacrifice. It is more than just the quiet 3 o’clock hour.
Personally, I know that I am able to move through this darkness because I know the light of the resurrection is but stone roll away. I have heard the sounds of Easter before, I have seen Easter lilies bloom. I have the strength to move through the darkness of Good Friday because I know and believe that today will pass. Friday passes into Holy Saturday and Holy Saturday gives way to a Sunday miracle.
But, is that what I want my Good Friday to be about? Waiting for Sunday? What is your Good Friday about? Perhaps Good Friday is the opportunity to find and witness someone else’s passion. Who in your world, who in your life, who in your heart do you know is dying? Who are those people in your life whose tomorrow, next week, and all the days of this year will be Good Friday?
Today we gather and remember the suffering of Christ. It’s easy to be overcome by the physicality of Jesus’ suffering: the scourging, the crown of thorns, three falls of Christ. But what haunts me the most about the Passion is that Jesus, who walked in the knowledge, faith, and trust that he was God’s son, believed that he was abandoned by God. Jesus! I cannot think of a more crushing anguish or more profound loneliness than to believe you have been forgotten, even forsaken, by God. The very God who created your existence.
Somewhere, someone today is going through precisely that; that division from God, believing that they are forgotten. Beyond these walls, or maybe within these walls there are those who are living the Good Friday that Jesus experienced. I don’t know any one in my life who endured the brutal violence Jesus did, but I do know people who are going through the psychological and spiritual trauma Jesus did. In my world, I see my friend Katherine who is ostracized from her family because she is a lesbian and is no longer invited to her family’s Easter celebrations. I see a place called Payatas, a community I visited in the Philippines that lives at the base of dumpster where the people sift through the garbage with their bare hands for food that can be recooked for their families. I see my friend Emily who has been trying but has not been able to conceive a child for many years. I think of my mother who is walking with her mother in the last stages of life.
Who in your life is in the darkness? And who are we to be afraid to bring light to them? If Good Friday is anything, it is a day to put aside any fear we may have, and let the light of God move the stone from someone’s tomb.
How do we do that? For myself, I write letters. I send handwritten letters on ordinary days. I try not to wait for holidays or birthdays or anniversaries to remind someone they are not forgotten. This may seem very small or just a crack at their seemingly insurmountable suffering, but I am often amazed at how much light comes through one small crack. But what is even more astounding to witness is how much darkness is dispelled by that crack.
To truly follow Christ is not just observing his death, but remembering why he died. Jesus was killed because he brought light to those in darkness. So, perhaps today is more than just brokenness and sacrifice. Perhaps it is a day not to enter, not be enveloped, not become one with the darkness, but to be the light, however small.
I would like to leave you with one question and I hope you can come back to it often as you move through your Good Friday: What will you do to dispel the darkness?
TweetA dream I’ve always had is to preach from a pulpit. Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to stand in front of a congregation and lead others in a reflection of God, scripture, and its relevance to our lives today.
And, who would’ve thought that I’d be able to actually do that in the Catholic church. Amidst all the controversy and criticism, I’ve found a parish that I have built my community, a place where I am building my faith in people as well as in God.
This week is Holy Week, the holiest days of the Catholic calendar. And on Friday, Good Friday, I will be delivering a reflection after the gospel is read – usually when the priest reads his homily – and offering my thoughts on what Good Friday means to me.
Since this is something I’ve wanted to do since I was six years old – before I learned women could not be priests or deacons, before I knew I’d have to practice a different faith to if I wanted to preach from a pulpit – you’d think that I’d feel fireworks go off in my organs.
But there were no fireworks.
As I sat down to write my reflection last night, it felt like it did any other time I saw down to write my thoughts: natural. There was nothing spectacular about the moment my fingers hit the keyboard, no electric current coursed through my hands. I didn’t feel like a prophet, savior, or even a disciple.
I felt the same as I normally do: a writer recognizing a difficult subject to address.
It felt natural to contemplate the meaning of Good Friday as a Catholic, as a woman, as a mother, as a 31 year old free spirit who simply wants to share what I have inside with my community.
It felt natural; as if this is what I have been supposed to be doing all along.
TweetDo you consider yourself a spiritual person?
I always have. Since I was a little girl. Well before I really understood “religion,” I just had a feeling there was something unexplainable, something covering the world that was neither manipulative or parental. It was just a belief that there was something that extended before what I knew as the “beginning,” and something that never knew an end.
It’s interesting that people “work” on their spirituality. Like how they work out or something at a gym, or get their heart pumping for training, or sweat to burn calories. Spirituality is a relationship between self and the Unknown, something that demands time, thought, consideration. It requires exercise, yes, but not the kind that we associate with “work” or “working out.” So often, in any self/relationship improvement, we consort to books and advice and media to tell how how to do it, how to survive it, “how to” everything. The “how to” literature section has exponentially grown in the past few decades. Rarely do we truly trust our own intuitive selves, the tools already inside of us. We seek EXTERNAL for what we know is internal.
So why is the relationship with spirituality difficult to sustain? Because its ambiguous and directionless nature taps into our quivering questions that leave us anxious? Or is it because it asks us to be brave soldiers and live deeper lives? If spirituality is an engaging relationship between our very own Selves and this constantly accessible, ubiquitous and nameless THING, why is it so hard to engage, to believe?
I looked out the window and saw a violet bird. A violet bird. I’ve never seen a violet bird, but there it sad, about 4 feet from my window and it brought me a feeling of unexpected realization that I am not alone. My partner is gone for the day. My phone is quiet. No emails or messages to return. And discounting the wondrous being growing inside me who cannot yet verbalize his presence, I felt like I was going to be very alone today, trapped into a day of little to no interaction and conversation.
And then the violet bird appeared. This flash of beauty that, with one glance, reminded me that there are living things, breathing and carrying on, all around me. The world is taking one giant breath with me today and I am far from alone. I remember as a little girl how I used to exist in that knowledge. As I’ve lived more years, acquired more physical and tangible relationships with others, somehow that knowledge dissipated.
Spirituality came to be a connection to others instead of self to Unknown, self to Trust. It morphed into how stimulating a thought was, how connected I felt to another, how accepted I was to a community. These are all important, beautiful things, but…
I forgot how simple glances at the world around us, alone, in the depth of our own consciousness gives way, gives space to something other than ourselves, even our choice of company.
How often do we make room for that to happen? How open do you think you really are to gift of fleeting peace and contentment without trying to make it last?