by Megan McKenna, Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
“I pray you, go to the nearest church, and bring me the cross, and hold it up level with my eyes until I am dead. I would have the cross on which God hung be ever before my eyes while life lasts in me.” ~Joan of Arc
This is the week called “holy”, the time of Passover, of bearing fruit, of enduring and of “not rebelling and not turning back”. Instead we walk together and pray to God for “a well-trained tongue so that we might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” We paradoxically cry out the refrain of the responsorial psalm over and over again: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” and proclaim equally that “I will proclaim your name to our people, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you … I will give glory to God.”
This week we practice dying and rising, handing over our lives and loves and receiving wild hope and the spirit of God that will rescue us. Our attitude must be that of Christ who “did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave … and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting death, even death on a cross.” Practice is over. This is is. We stand and fall together into the arms of our God, with Jesus, handing over our spirits.
In The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying there is a practice called tanglen which is described as the practice of giving and receiving. It is a practice that sums up what we live out in ritual and in community this week, culminating in the cross and dying of Jesus. This practice is described simply as:
In the tanglen practice of giving and receiving, we take on, through compassion, all the various mental and physical sufferings of all beings; their fear, frustration, pain, anger, guilt, bitterness, doubt, and rage, and we give them, through love, all our happiness and well-being, peace of mind, healing and fulfillment. (from Tricycle, Fall 1997)
Sometimes this practice is referred to as metta prayer in Buddhist practice. It is best called “compassion practice”. We sit quietly and gather our spirit before God. And then we gather another person, a group, a people, or the world, and bring them into the presence of God with us. Then we open our heart in compassion and take them in, taking their pain and suffering and close our heart over it, breathing in and swallowing it deep in our heart. Then we breathe out and send light, hope, strength and the power of God’s love to the ones who are suffering, purifying both them and ourselves. Breathe and gather, pray and release. During this week, come before the cross and sit or stand before this Love made flesh. Put on the attitude and mind of Christ, humbly accepting the pain, cross and death of the world and believe that God’s love purifies, heals, and redeems now. George MacDonald said, “Mercy cannot get in where mercy goes not out. The outing makes way for the incoming.” Holy Week is a marvelous time for mercy to come and go among us, through us and be at home with us.
This day we prepare the Passover of Christ. And this practice of mind and heart must be expressed in deed and relationship and service as well. Catherine of Siena told her friends: “The only thing we can offer to God of value is to give our love to people as unworthy of it as we of God’s love.” It is time to feed the poor, forgive, wash the feet of strangers and tend to the sick and the homeless and to those who find themselves condemned. It is time to steal heaven, and recognize our own sin, and the holiness of God, and side with God crucified among us still. And then, on Friday, we can pray with Jesus his last words, “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” and let another piece of our heart die. We have promised to “live forever in the freedom of the children of God”. With one another we empty ourselves out and fall into the arms of God, with Jesus. So may it be. Amen.
* This reflection is from Journey to Compassion, A Lenten Pilgrimage: Lenten Reflections 1998.