Let us go up to the house of the Lord...

Yesterday's long walk in the woods next to a RUSHING stream was sweet. Lucie was totally exhausted after about four miles and slept like a rock for most of the rest of the day. What a joy feeling the sun (finally) and hearing the flow of all that water. (Here's a selfie taken from the trail:  tell, WHERE did all those laugh lines and crinkles come from?)
Most of today will be equally chill with some serious time devoted to cleaning the land after our ferocious winter. Tomorrow, of course, is the start of our Christian Holy Week and Palm Sunday - and once that begins, it will be a total blur for the next 8 days with liturgies, writing and rehearsals. I love this time of year in the church calendar and sometimes fear it because of the emotional demands.

In the early days of ministry, about 8:30 pm on Palm Sunday I would discover myself tied up in knots and resentful. "There is so much to do at church" I would shriek to myself and whoever else was around. "Don't these people know how much I already do for them?" It wasn't pretty and by Maundy Thursday I was in knots with liturgical performance anxiety. You see, like many young clergy who are learning about pacing and prayer, I thought it all depended upon me to make Holy Week work.  And when something went wrong - as it always does - I flipped out. (Ask my daughters sometime about the close of Holy Week during our Cleveland days.)

How did I ever come to invert this sacrificial time of Jesus to be all about me? I know part of it was my own wounds - some of us need lots of therapy before we understand the right reasons for staying in ministry - but some of it was about an institution (and the individuals in that institution) who are hungry for awe and transcendent experiences. They project their deepest yearnings and needs onto both their clergy and their holidays. And, because we are just like them - human - it is inevitable that everyone will leave dissatisfied. Small wonder some churches let themselves be pulled down to the lowest common denominator as they put on religious performances for their people.  

Well, here's a news flash:  not only is Holy Week not about me (or you) it is about Jesus and what he shows us of God's love. Fr. Richard Rohr recently wrote this about the way Christ invites us to take our deepest pains and wounds into God's love so that the Lord can transform them.  For as our wounds are transformed - and healed - we, too are changed from the inside out; we become people who no longer need to pass on their hurts to others. Rather, we become instruments of God's peace.
Only people who have suffered in some way can save one another—exactly as the Twelve-Step Program also discovered. Deep communion and dear compassion is formed much more by shared pain than by shared pleasure. I do not know why that is true.

“Peter, you must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can turn and help the brothers” (Luke 22:31-32), Jesus says to Peter. Was this his real ordination to ministry? No other is ever mentioned. I do believe this is the ordination that really matters and that transforms the world. Properly ordained priests might help bread and wine to know what they truly are, but truly ordained priests are the “recovered” ones who can then “help” people to know who they are too. We have been more preoccupied with changing bread than with changing people, it seems to me.

In general, you can lead people on the spiritual journey as far as you yourself have gone. You can’t talk about it or model the path beyond that. That’s why the best thing you can keep doing for people is to stay on the journey yourself. Transformed people transform people. And when you can be healed yourself and not just talk about healing, you are, as Henri Nouwen so well said, a “wounded healer.” Which is the only kind of healer!

Holy Week became one of the places where I felt myself being ground down like wheat.  For years I hated this grinding - and did my best to avoid it and run away from it, too. But eventually my "doing a runner" was far more exhausting than I could endure, so I had to enter it. And here's the thing: that the Cross is always moving unto the resurrection. Our pain and fear, our guilt and shame, our confusion and suffering have a point when they are placed into the sacred embrace of God.  Rohr continues:

The genius of Jesus’ ministry is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound you, but in fact to bring you to God. So there are no dead ends. Everything can be transmuted and everything can be used. After all, on the cross, God took the worst thing, the killing of God, and made it into the best thing—the redemption of the world! If you gaze upon the mystery of the cross long enough, your dualistic mind breaks down, and you become slow to call things totally good or totally bad. You realize that God uses the bad for good, and that many people who call themselves good may in fact not be so good. At the cross you learn humility, patience, compassion, and all of the Christian virtues that really matter.

Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Luke 11:29, Matthew 12:39, 16:4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead you (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place where you can’t fix it, you can’t control it, and you can’t explain it or understand it. That’s where transformation most easily happens. That’s when you’re uniquely in the hands of God.
Suffering is the only thing strong enough to destabilize the imperial ego. It has to be led to the edge of its own resources, so it learns to call upon the Deeper Resource of who it truly is, which is the God Self, the True Self, the Christ Self, the Buddha Self—use the words you want. It is who we are in God and who God is in us. At this place you are indestructible!

I still find myself getting anxious as Holy Week begins to dawn - but at a deep level I know that NONE of this is about me - so I can practice letting it go. How did the ancient Psalmist put it: in Psalm 122:  I rejoiced when they said unto me let us go up to the house of the Lord...


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