Monthly Archives: April 2014

Sunday: Waving from the Shore

If Friday was the day where we couldn’t find enough words to speak of the tragedy, and Saturday was where we tried to understand how we are supposed to make a life that reflects the promise of Christ’s return despite his apparent absence, then this Easter Sunday is where there are simply too many words say, and not enough people in existence to say them. Writers often admit that it’s easier to speak about pain than joy, and I’m no exception to this problem. But as I sit here trying to put together a reflection that is worthy of the reality—that a dead man, a man who claimed to be a savior, was made alive again—I’m realizing that it’s hard to write about the joy of resurrection, not because the experiences of it are few and far between, but because they defy the limitations of these little black markings on a page. Our voices are all too capable of wailing, but praise is a much harder thing for us to manage. Even still, the limits of our voices are one thing among many that Christ’s rising makes beautiful, so why not do our best to use them, even when they fail?

Among those many fickle words, there’s one that I’ve intentionally reserved for this day in particular, and not because it wasn’t relevant. Just as resurrection is not a particularly easy concept for us to understand, forgiveness, though we also throw it around a lot, is nearly as difficult to grasp. We’re told it’s the point of this entire story, that all the suffering we saw on Friday, and sifted through on Saturday, was inflicted so that we could be forgiven in Christ’s resurrection. Maybe the reason I’m not a theologian is because I can’t quite trace that thread of logic without a story to help me understand. I can’t turn that into to joy until it’s made real in my small mind, or maybe in my life. We had to enter into pain in order to understand the suffering of Friday, so today, maybe the only way to we can reflect the glory of the resurrection is to enter into someone else’s joy.

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by Ben Anderson

Consider Peter. Peter, who was casting a net into the Sea of Galilee when Jesus first called his name. Peter, who gave his life to follow him, who briefly walked on water before sinking in his fear, who called him the Christ. Peter, who refused to let him wash his feet, who sliced a man’s ear clean off when they came for him. Peter, who said he’d never known him. Peter, who said he was never with him. Peter, who let them march him to his death. Peter, who watched him die, then headed out to Sea again.

I’m going fishing, he said. There isn’t a lot of explanation about how Peter might have felt in those days following Christ’s death, but as he pushed his boat back out to Sea, I doubt that he still considered himself a fisher of men, as Jesus had once called him. I picture Peter out there on the Sea of Tiberius, hauling in net after empty net in silence, cursing his own reflection as he leaned over the hull. How many times have I pushed my own boat out to sea, to somewhere where no one would find me, casting my net for nothing but more shame?

He must not have made it too far out, because he could still hear voices from the shore. No, cast it on the other side! He could barely hear his voice, let alone make out what the man looked like from that far away. So they shrugged and let their nets down on the other side, Peter grumbling under his breath all along. He held the net so loosely in his one hand that when he felt the ropes go taught, he nearly tossed himself into the water as he reached to secure it with his other hand. It must have struck him as odd in the slightest way, but I can understand why he might have been too consumed by his own pain to put it all together right away. As he pulled the load, hand over hand from the water, trying not to make comparisons lest he sink deeper into his shame, he heard John shout It is the Lord! He spun, squinted towards the man now waving from the shore, then dove head first into water, suddenly alive again.

When he made it back to shore,                                                                                                                               they broke bread like old times.                                                                                                                           Jesus asked him three times over,                                                                                                                            Peter, do you love me?

As usual, Peter didn’t hesitate.                                                                                                                                  But why would he have?                                                                                                                                                  He was looking into resurrection’s eyes.                                                                                                             Of course I do, he said,                                                                                                                                                   still soaked from head to toe                                                                                                                                    from his dive back into sea.

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Image by Ben Anderson

Saturday: The Gray Between Death and Life

I.

So where do we go with all this hurt? Yesterday we saw him hanging from those slabs of cedar, and we sung our own sad hymns as all the blood drained out. We try our best to understand how the darkness of his death somehow blots out the bleakness of our own lives, to believe the promises that he made. We know the promises well, and when we look at his words preceding the moment of his death, there’s no denying that he knew them, too. A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me, he said to them. What? They probably couldn’t see beyond their own grief, but from my distant perspective, it almost seems like he was taking it all in stride.

He seemed to lean into his own death, in the way that a seasoned coal miner might crack his knuckles, then take a few deep breaths before sinking into the black pit of the earth’s crust. Sure, in the garden, he was so terrified that he sweated like he was bleeding, and of course we know that he, too, cried out why? when the pain was too much to bare. But even if he asked why he had to die, he never questioned if he would rise again. That was always a sure-shot, as far as he could tell. But even though he never doubted, that doesn’t mean it would have been easy for them, or for us, to believe he’d come again. Although we may throw the word around quite a bit, resurrection is not an easy thing for people like us to grasp. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that it is.

Life after death, life after death, he told them over and over. But then they took him down from the cross in their arms, like a priest might lift a nearly weightless young man from his hospital bed, humming along the way, and wrapped him in a linen tunic. And while it may not have been the bloody shock of death that yesterday was, he was still cold in their arms as they rolled away the stone. There was no life in him. If all we had to offer amidst yesterday’s brutality was a wordless melody and a simple why?, I can’t imagine that as they laid him in the tomb, they had anything to say except, what now?

 And isn’t this the question we find ourselves asking on so many of these gray mornings, on these days where we stand somewhere in between grief and joy? Theologically speaking, 2,000 years after that eternal weekend, there is no day when Christ is not with us. But as we reflect on the historical day in between Christ’s death and resurrection—and I know I can only speak for myself—it shouldn’t be hard to imagine a literal absence of his presence. It’s as predictable as the rain April. We know the same promises that the disciples did, and we, too, left everything to follow him. So in that respect we aren’t much different from them; we’ve all been suddenly forced to cobble together a life after he’s gone, and in that process, we make choices that reflect either the blatancy of his absence or the mystery of his presence. It’s the nature of our journey. Do I still keep living as if he’s coming back? Do I still act as if he’s with me, even though he’s stuck in that tomb? As usual, my mind wanders to other writers who confront the question of hope in the midst of uncertainty and tragedy. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road comes to mind. A father and son wander through a post-apocalyptic American landscape, clinging to life and each other, and are forced to reaffirm the purpose of their existence:

 You have to carry the fire, his father says.                                                                                                                I don’t know how to, the boy replies.                                                                                                                    Yes you do.                                                                                                                                                                                Is it real? The fire? the boy asks again.                                                                                                                      Yes it is.                                                                                                                                                                            Where is it? I don’t know where it is.                                                                                                                          Yes you do. It’s inside you. I can see it, says the father to the boy.

Perhaps I’m mixing metaphors. But it all speaks of the same question that plagues us on this day between death and life: Son of man, can these bones live?

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Image by Ben Anderson

II.

Consider this short clip from Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder. Javier Bardem plays an aging Catholic priest in Oklahoma named Father Quintana. As loneliness and suffering seem to collapse around him, the voice of God grows fainter with every passing day. This six-minute clip is, to me, a vivid picture of the choices we have—to either affirm or deny— as we live  in the ambiguity of Christ’s apparent absence.

III.

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Image by Ben Anderson

Thanks for joining us again. Don’t forget to check us out tomorrow for the final installment of this short series of reflections on the events of Holy Week. Have a great day. 

 

Silent Pietá’s: A Reflection on this Supposedly Good Friday

Good morning, everyone. Earlier this week, my brother Ben reached out to me with an idea for a short collaborative project to reflect on the Passion Narrative, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, and I’m pleased to share what we’ve cobbled together here on Binding North. We haven’t really worked together on anything creative since the Slam Dunk highlight videos/suburban action flicks we made circa 2005, which I’m now realizing is crazy. The basic format is this: I write a short reflection for each day (Fri, Sat, Sun) and Ben, who is a gifted visual artist, puts together a series of images in response to what I’ve written, and to his own response to the narrative in the Gospels. It’s nothing too elaborate, but we feel it was an enriching process, and it’s something we would like to share with everyone, with the hope of inspiring some deeper reflection. If it fits, we’ll also include some outside sources for you all to take a look at after, or while you’re reading. We’re taking it day by day, so what follows tomorrow could be very different from what you see today. Whatever we come up with, though, we hope you enjoy reading and looking.

Silent Pietá’s

I.            

It’s hard to speak when there are no words to say—just sighs, shudders, and shrugs, forlorn glances into the middle-distance, where there is space for your eyes to escape what they’ve just seen. I didn’t really see it, of course, but I’ve spent enough time pretending to understand what it all meant that day, this day they say, so many Fridays ago, to have at least a faint idea of what it looked like. Truth is, I don’t and probably never will. Try to tell a mother that one day she’ll understand why she had to bury her son, she’ll slap your mouth cold shut.

 No one can ever put words to a brutal, bloody tragedy, so why would this be any different? A four-year old kid knocked clear by a speeding drunk’s bumper, a young mother gunned down in the cross-fire of two gangs, an innocent man whipped, spat on, hung by his hands and feet on a couple slabs of wood. This is the reality and it speaks for itself. In the time leading up to, during, and immediately following these moments, it’s worthless to speak, because the tragedy itself is louder, clearer, more telling of the pain and seeming senselessness of our existence than any careful articulation could ever be. What happened on that day? Someone that we love—a son, teacher, and friend—died for no good reason. We can only call this day Good because we know what was to come.

 But what if we didn’t know? What if on that day, when Judas kissed him one last time and Peter said he’d never known him, when Pilate in all his Roman nonchalance lifted a lazy finger and sighed, “Crucify Him, then,” when Simon of Cyrene labored under the cross because Jesus could no longer lift it, and Mary saw them drive the nails into his hands, what if all they knew was that he would be dead by sundown? If there were some promise of his rising, it would have been impossible to imagine with him hanging there, his lungs stretched shut by the earth’s pull on his naked frame. That is all they saw and there was nothing they could say, except for a stricken few, who knew by how he seemed to still be in love with them and with the world he was slipping from, that he was who he’d claimed to be. But the rest of them had no words to come in place of tears. Maybe we can only begin to understand the meaning of his death if we hold it near the deaths in our own lives, the worst of which have the same sting of absurdity, evoke the same sense of disbelief that leaves us voiceless, except to utter, why?

 

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 Image by Ben Anderson

II.

 The late Irish poet Seamus Heaney has a poem about The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s and 80’s, a time when innocent men, women, and children were killed in the name of religion, flag and tribe. It’s called “Whatever You Say Say Nothing,” and the title alone seems a fitting admonition for this day. In the poem, he addresses the hollow words of journalists who attempt to make sense of the violence, to pick sides, or explain away the pain in exchange for a scoop. I would never direct such a scathing critique at anyone trying to put words to the meaning of Good Friday, but Heaney’s reverence for the dead and the suffering, which indeed includes himself, seems to me, quite noble. To step outside of the suffering in death, for both the victim and the viewer, is to put oneself at an arm’s length of its hideous strength. On this day, instead of attempting to grasp the moment’s cosmological and theological implications by stepping away from the story—with all its ugliness and suffering and brutality—I suggest we do our best to step closer and enter into that pain. And by what means? Well, whatever is necessary to shake us from whatever stupor or numbness that makes it ordinary. If there’s any good in death, it’s that its pain can steal us from our gray, fuzzy existence, and show us life in blood-red Technicolor, and maybe make us grateful for it.

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by Ben Anderson

III.

Consider another poem from a lesser-known, though similarly brilliant Catholic poet named Paul Mariani. It’s called “Pietá,” and it comes from his collection entitled Deaths and Transfigurations:

 Pietá

 New Year’s Eve, a party at my brother’s.                                                                                                          Hats, favors, the whole shebang, as we waited                                                                                                for one world to die into another.

 And still it took three martinis before                                                                                                                     she could bring herself to say it. How                                                                                                                     the body of her grown son lay alone there

 in the ward, just skin & bone, the nurses                                                                                                     masked & huddled in the doorway, afraid                                                                                                             to cross over into a world no one seemed

 to understand. This was a dozen years ago,                                                                                                           you have to understand, before the thing                                                                                                                   her boy had had become a household word.

 Consider Martha. Consider Lazarus four days gone.                                                                                             If only you’d been here, she says, if only                                                                                                            you’d been here. And no one now to comfort her,

 no one except this priest, she says, an old                                                                                                     friend who’d stood beside them through the dark                                                                                       night of it all, a bull-like man, skin black

 as the black he wore, the only one who seemed                                                                                           willing to walk across death’s threshold into                                                                                                            that room. And now, she says, when the death

 was over, to see him lift her son, light as a baby                                                                                              with the changes that death had wrought, and cradle him                                                                        like that, then sing him on his way, a cross

 between a lullaby & blues, mmm hmmm, while                                                                                             the nurses, still not understanding what they saw,                                                                                                stayed outside and watched them from the door.

 …

The scene, so far from the place they called Golgotha, 2,000 years removed, and yet somehow, so close. Call it allegory if you want, but call it elegy first. As bleak as it is, this poem about a young man slain by what (I’m assuming) would soon come to be known as the AIDS epidemic, is as close as we can come to putting words to the grief of those who’d known Jesus. The mother, twelve years after the death of her son, can barely bring herself to speak of the day. It’s dark, it’s awful, it is downright ugly. The poem itself is a retelling of a story told about the young man’s death, a frame within a frame. Listeners try to imagine the scene in the darkened hospital room, what those nurses standing by might have seen or felt. The passed along grief in the poem is the nature of this very day: listening, looking back, trying to piece together what it might have felt like to see it as they saw it from the ground, looking up at Jesus as he died. And as we peer through clouded windows and listen closely to skipping records, we’re certain only of that moment’s darkness.

 But before I get too carried away, before I stamp out any flicker of hope that might linger in the darkness of a day like this, notice again that final stanza. The music in that unnamed priest’s voice; maybe this is all we can do on this supposedly Good Friday. No grand conclusions, no victory laps or rousing convocations of that moment’s implications. Not yet. Just the gentle, wordless hum—a cross between a lullaby & blues, mmm hmmm—this might be good enough.

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by Ben Anderson

Thanks for joining us. If you’re interested in following along, stay tuned for something different tomorrow. Then, check in again on Easter Sunday for the final installment of this short series of reflections. Have a great day.