In the Christian tradition, this is Holy Week. It is one of the most sacred times in the liturgical year. In the span of one week, we will grieve, we will fast, we will wait, we will rejoice. We know what is coming, and yet, this week will break our hearts and restore our hope in the same breath. This week, we will remember.
In my experience, you get out what you put into Holy Week. There have been many years in which I haven’t prayed very much at all or gone to any of the services. And there have been other years in which the rituals have occupied all my time, all the space within my heart. Transformation requires, above all, your willingness, your openness, your softness.
To me, it is like this: you can go your whole life without acknowledging the vastness of human suffering, or you can open yourself to it. You can go your whole life ignoring the profound mystery of human life, or you can choose to pay attention (wonder requires our attention, after all).
I struggled in divinity school with many unanswerable existential questions. I contemplated my own mortality seriously for the very first time. I longed for the religious conviction I witnessed in my peers. And I was pissed.
I said to Jack, my words dripping with exasperation, “Why is God so silent. God isn’t anywhere to be found in this awful world. It is falling apart.” And Jack, who used to be an atheist but now embraces spirituality, replied, “We have to make space for God in our lives.”
In truth, my faith is a fluid thing. It is sadness, exhaustion, hope, love, lament, connection, as much as it is trust. It dims and returns. It is bright and absent within every day. I remember, and I forget. I believe, and I doubt. I wander, and I return.
To my brother, the actual comedian in our family, I once said something about staring into the abyss. And he replied, “Sarah, the abyss?? That’s dark!” We both laughed. Humor helps take the edge of existential crises, for sure.
Whether or not we acknowledge it, the very fact of mortality, suffering, loss surround us. This world is vast and cruel. We confront the “abyss” in Holy Week. We lose the light. We strip the altar. And it is painful precisely because we do not know. Is it true? We wonder. We speculate. We feel the full weight of the emptiness – the possibility that life is only biology and that this is all there is. All of that – the descent – must happen first, before Easter Sunday.
This week, in the waiting and grieving, we will all be alone in our own homes, away from most of the people who carry us through our individual pain and who help us make sense of the impossible world we find ourselves in. We will be staring at screens, instead of washing strangers’ feet. We will be lighting candles alone. Our collective voice will appear thinner, more wiry, more like a meek call for help.
In the midst of a global pandemic, pervasive economic uncertainty, a looming presidential election, we are facing the fact of human finitude, loneliness, uncertainty, and injustice all at the same time and by ourselves.
This is my advice to you, this week, whether it is holy to you or not. Make space for the God of your understanding. Carve out the time for something new to come forth. New understanding, new love, new hope, new trust, new healing, new peace, new sustenance.
This is the anchor for my remembering this week: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Now it springs up. Now it begins.