Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Holy Week Holiness

Christian are immersed in a week we call holy, Holy Week in fact. It is our most important week of the church year. Why? Historically, as near as we can figure, this week before Easter is the time, near Jewish Passover (yesterday,) when Jesus entered Jerusalem to confront the powers with the gospel of new life and love. The biblical story details the process which ends tragically with the execution by the state (Rome) of an innocent man. Speaking truth to power is risky.

The Passion story is a powerful one. It may or may not have happened exactly as it is told but something happened, something important to be still telling the story. And there is evidence in extra-biblical sources of the man from Galilee who stirred up the poor and the restless and was crucified.

We call the whole week holy, not just Easter day. Why again? Because all our days, all our ups and down, all our births and deaths, all our joys and sorrow are in God, the God in whom we live, move and have being. All days and weeks are holy, infused with divine grace and easter new life whether we notice and celebrate it or not.

Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, says the Christian community is meant to be a “mutual hope society.” Hope in the Holy keeps us going.

Holy is a funny word, a word reserved for things religious, monks and nuns, clergy, holy places like sanctuaries, temples consecrated by God for divine purposes. But the word is derived from Dutch/German roots, heilig meaning whole. A little more generic, democratized.

Everyone has natural potential to be whole. To feel whole to me means that what I think, say, feel and do are one. They flow; they’re congruent with each other. For example: I think you are a fool and I say to you, you’re such a fine person, then feel disgust for you ( and myself) and follow that by doing something extra nice for you that you haven’t requested and I don’t have time for............

You get the picture. By the end of the day, who is the fool? I’m twisted up like a corkscrew and mad as a hatter, probably blaming you, the innocent recipient of my lack of integration, wholeness. The Holy in me is dimmed by such patterns of unholiness, and only the Holy breaks through them. Follow the expeerience.

In his book The Idea of the Holy Rudolph Otto defines the Holy as mysterium tremendum et fascinans (a huge near-terrifying and also fascinating mystery.) One of my seminary professors gave an example: “It’s like you’re on your way upstairs with an armload full of clean laundry and suddenly with no warning there’s a teenager draped across the third step as if from nowhere with a crucial question you must answer now! You nearly drop all the laundry and are tempted to run screaming into the night, dreading the encounter, and at the same time you’re fascinated at how this youthful presence, this body of energy suddenly appeared unable to be ignored.” Fits for me. I was a teen once and had some myself.

I had an experience of the Holy like that when I was trying to write a seminary paper about the Holy and felt stumped. An experience darted into my mind, one long buried and forgotten, an experience of having been sexually molested by an old man stranger in a New York City movie theater when I was eight. The old man had a long white beard and looked just as I thought God looked. The experience left me scared of the God I had loved so I’d stored it all away.

I grew up. I went to seminary, headed for priesthood and still was incomplete with God and myself. Up popped the old man memory thirty years later frightening me and drawing me to follow it.

So I wrote about what had happened and felt whole, holy. My missing piece was now on paper, no longer requiring any of my life energy just to keep the secret. What happened as I mulled over the paper was the Holy in action.

Holy Week is a time when many Christians want more than ever to skip over the reenactments of Jesus’ last three days, especially condemnation, scourging, torture and nails AND the commandment to love one another anyway. It’s just too much!

To meditate on crucifixion is terrifying. What if we could hear Jesus scream? What if all our own losses make us cry? Eeeuw and ow!

To meditate on God’s resurrecting Love can be equally terrifying.
Many interested but dutiful or distant followers appear in church on Easter Sunday only to disappear again till next year. What if it’s not true? Is it for me too? Hocus-pocus! To be loved totally is to surrender all pretense. True for non-believers as well as putative believers. It is unbelievable.

But to skip over any part, life, death or resurrection, is like my leaving the old man buried for so long.

The Holy compels us to face truth and to enter— fears, hopes and all— into Mystery.