In a way, this week is harder than next week. Next week, Holy Week, there will be plenty of liturgical anesthesia. There will be so much to do. Liturgies will abound and we will begin to fondle church-things, church clothes, church-words and church-ways. Getting it right will be the addiction of choice that week and we will all be able to deaden our pain by working hard to get the suffering right – to do it well and with high drama, ecclesial grace and emotional authenticity as best as we are able. Add to that the dramas unfolding around us and we need not spend much time with ourselves.
But this week; this one is harder. In this week we have the space in which to feel hard things without anesthesia – without dulling the pain with lists of things to do, schedules of events to attend, competing devices and desires which distract us from feeling what we feel. The madness around us in human forms is starkly in relief this week, including my own. And in a cathedral, it all the easier to live out a Downton Abbey drama in the same illusion of inherited and perpetuated glory.
But to look at the man Jesus this week is what is so hard. How beautiful he must have been. I do not mean physically. I mean to look on him as love incarnate must have been hard because, to then look away seems like it would be impossible. How could one look into those eyes and even live, let alone walk or move? And yet they did. And we do even as we look into Jesus’ eyes now as we look at each other.
When people asked me what it was like to live as a monk, I replied that it was simply a life without anesthesia. Now, years later, I can see that even that was not true, because many monks simply made suffering, liturgy and related neuroses into a form of habit-draped anesthesia.
The great falsity of our life is our access to information. The internet, the radio, the nightly news, the newspapers all tell us much of the horror that is happening in the world without telling the story of newlyweds on beaches or families around tables or friends by a fire – these stories will not sell advertising and so are not balancing out the “news” with hope.
Looking inward is hard too. There can be a temptation to become addicted to one’s suffering. It wraps around us like a shawl or sits on our chest like a name tag and so we stay in that prison in solitary confinement.
What would it be like if this week were a week in which we find opportunities for silence. Not navel-gazing in which we play the piano keys of our woes nor world-gazing in which we fondle external information, but rather look deep into our own souls and see both the ugly and the beautiful, wandering around those inner neighborhoods with a new curiosity before the week of blood and thorns.
In a little over a week there will be an explosion. Christ will burst his three-day prison and though most of us will be too exhausted to be able to feel much of anything, it will happen none the less. Perhaps to be ready for Easter, we need not simply to walk the way of the Cross. Perhaps to be ready for Easter, we need to walk the way of our own inner silence – looking around, noticing our own beauty, our own kindness, our own goodness. What if the fragrance of Easter in not just a mass of lilies on a high altar? What if the fragrance of Easter is our own inner lives seen in the light of Christ? And what if that realization is part of the good news or even part of the explosion?