After several very quiet years, Sacred Grove Community Circle (SWC) is exploring celebrating the rites of the seasons more consistently through the use of ZOOM, beginning with a somewhat open circle on Samhain. We will invite a number of people via email and provide the instructions for joining, then be prepared to proceed with whatever number of people join us.
We are working on adapting the traditional Bhakti-Wiccan ritual format to this new environment. We have recently updated the websiteSacredGroveSWC.org for easier reference, and details on the ritual format are included there in the Book of Shadows. In particular, Finding Our Way to the Grove provides a quick introduction.
For Samhain this year, our Working will be a version of Rest for the Warrior, which I’m sure will be welcome to all of us in the stress of Covid-19 and (US) election politics. As the Veil is thinning, I hope the Beloved Dead will find their way to join with us. They will be welcome.
Chaplain: @Home in a Crisis — An Attitude of Hospitality for Crisis Chaplaincy by Sandy Harris SB / Rev. Khalila RedBird 7 December 2011 for Cherry Hill Seminary: Survey of Chaplaincy Fall 2011
When I first encountered the Goddess in the Sacred Grove, my High Priest of the time knelt before Her in praise and adoration. I threw myself into Her lap and said, “Hi, Mom! I’m home!”
How wonderful it would be if we could carry this sense of being at Home with us in our ministry and act from within its support – far better still, we could welcome others in need to make themselves at Home for a while, sheltered in our ministry of presence.
Home is where one starts from.
– T. S. Eliot
I am a Chaplain – by choice, by training, and by intermittently being called to serve in that capacity by organizations that are minimally inclined to pay for such services. Most of my ministry has been in the wake of crisis or trauma for the people I encounter – so far, in hospitals, and in the future, as part of crisis response teams for the county in which I live.
Stepping into a crisis or traumatic situation as a chaplain, I need to be “all prayed up”, as my colleagues say, when I arrive, and I need to release the clinging threads of concern back into the Cosmos when I leave. This protects my own well-being and allows me to function in the moment with all the spiritual support available to me. I project – assume – really think that a similar need and resolution is common to most of us involved in chaplaincy for any period of time.
Given the extreme diversity of our Pagan community, I am not sure that we share common language and particular ritual elements supporting these needs and I have found it cumbersome to caveat and tiptoe when trying to discuss these spiritual practices in an eclectic group. Therefore, I propose a model for our collective attitudes toward chaplaincy and interacting with the people we serve that relies on a heritage older and more deeply embedded in the human spirit than our various traditions (however ancient and venerable) and modern language.
I propose encouraging a mystical and magical mindset of chaplaincy in which the chapel is the chaplain’s own state of being grounded, centered, and in the Presence of Ultimate Reality, the All, the One, the Ground of Being, or however the chaplain personally conceives of That Which Is most important and most sacred – wherever the chaplain is at Home.
I suggest that, conscious of being at Home, we align ourselves with ancient customs and standards of Hospitality as we find them throughout human cultures and consider ourselves as Host in our Home,holding each person we serve as awelcome Guest in our Home, with the intent that our words, actions, and demeanor will convey to our Guests the comfort of safety and sufficiency that are the epitome of being at home.
At the same time, it is important to remember that others offer us hospitality and we incur the obligations of a Guest when, acknowledging our presence as chaplains, people in need admit us into their lives through sharing troubles, fears, and times of great significance, into places where a stranger might not be invited.
Heritage, Needs, and Skills
The code of hospitality is an ancient code common to just about every ancient culture and moral code. What it states basically is that anyone who comes to your home, invited or uninvited, should be treated with the utmost respect, provided food, comfort and basically be treated like family and once the guest’s immediate needs are met, the guest then had the right to ask for a favor to help him on his journey. Turning away someone’s request for shelter or mistreating a guest was a terrible, shameful act, worthy of severe punishment by the Gods. The flip side of that is that anyone who visits another’s home must treat their hosts with similar respect. Stealing from your hosts, damaging their home, causing injury to them or other guests are all severe violations of the code of hospitality, equally deserving of divine justice. Guests were expected to treat their hosts’ homes like their own and to be helpful when they could and to move on as soon as it was convenient for them to do so.
All of our skills and intentions are of little use unless and until we can enter into a mutually-acceptable relationship and communication with the person we are endeavoring to serve. Particularly in times of recent or imminent danger, our presence and interactions must be accepted as safe – or at least worth the risk of tentative trust – if we are to be of use. A chaplain whose demeanor or dress or actions are perceived as a threat may find it impossible to achieve any level of rapport with someone who is already aroused to fight or flee.
Home is where the heart is.
First attributed usage by Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE)
Drawing upon our common heritage of ancient codes of hospitality that we acquire with our earliest training and find reinforced in practice throughout our lives, we have a vocabulary for establishing tentative rapport even in the midst of crisis when rational thought and detailed memory are out of reach. Fortunately, most of us have had the experience of meeting strangers in our lives, initially in the safety of our earliest homes under the protection of a parent or benevolent elder.
We have lived through overcoming the urge to flee and reinforced the lessons of hospitality: a guest is to be welcomed, introduced respectfully to others present, offered a beverage, told where the bathroom is, and invited to sit down. Making a guest at home comes before questions, requests, and serious discussion.
Crisis: Our Common Needs
In the midst of disaster and chaos and fear, a tiny, quivering voice afraid of being heard says, “I want to go home.”
Sometimes the expression of fight-or-flight, when neither response to stress is feasible, is an unspoken “I want to go home!” Once the instant of surging neurotransmitters has passed, returning cognitive functions can assess the situation and weigh alternatives, but, for that frozen moment, we would rather be someplace else – someplace safe.
As chaplains, we can find ourselves in such frozen moments with such unspoken primal wishes. With practice at coming home to ourselves and carrying that home with us, we can be ready to find and carry that sense of being at home with us in crisis as the chapel we bring to the place of need.
@Home: Our Common Skills
Frustrated with my tendency to lose focus – and touches – in competition when my tactics weren’t working, my fencing coach asked me if, being a Witch, I knew how to ground and center. When I said I did, he told me to practice that until I could do it in the space of a deep breath – then do it! Do it between the halt! that ends one touch and the fence! that begins the next encounter. I did. It works. ctrl-alt-del does the same for my laptop.
In many of our traditions, as well as in the martial arts, we learn to return our bodies, minds, and spirits to a known and balanced point, independent of time and space, between excursions and experiences.
I suggest that we can hone that practice into a tool that is always with us so that, when moving between chaos and confusion, we can always return to that place I call @home. When we are @home, we are in control of our attention, balanced, stable, relaxed, breathing freely, aware of all that supports us, and full ourselves. Once @home, we can choose to open our awareness to our surroundings.
Home is a shelter from storms – all sorts of storms.
~William J. Bennett
At Home as Host and as Guest
When it came time to terminate medical intervention and let his final illness run its course, all Dad could tell me was, “I want to go home.” For a man who denied the embrace of any religion and would argue definitions if asked about spirituality, Home had a deeper personal importance and meaning than the place where I live when I’m not in the hospital (he had had no such place for months). When we placed him gently in a borrowed hospital bed in the middle of my living room, he was comforted and content: he was Home.
Making Ourselves @Home
Any number of Paganism 101 books provide instructions and meditations for grounding and centering, and many of us are quite accustomed to doing so. I have included a separate document for reference: a treatise on the subject that I presented to a Clinical Pastoral Education group in 2008.
Once comfortably grounded and centered, I suggest we open our attention to home, surrounding ourselves with all the sights, sounds, smells, and impressions of home at its best – whether our childhood home, our beloved home now, or an idealized home of our imagination. Taking time to visit and revisit home in unhurried meditation will bring it more quickly to mind in a crisis.
Even if the home of your childhood was of more danger than refuge to you, form this home of your best memories, until its existence is solid and you can pull it around you at will.
There is a magic in that little world, home; it is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits.
– Robert Southey (English Poet and Writer of prose. 1774-1843)
Find a mnemonic or trigger for yourself that will invoke your feeling of being grounded, centered, and at home (@home). You may think of the great ideas from cinema:
ET phone home
Click your heels together three times and say, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” (Ruby slippers are optional.)
Choose whatever signal will work best for you to start grounding, centering, and making yourself @home. Then practice. Do it every time something startles you. Do it in the dentist’s chair. Do it at traffic lights. Do it when you feel out of sorts. Practice. Your body will thank you.
Receiving a Guest in a Crisis
In a crisis, the first individuals likely to need our help are those who are in the primal state that, at once, prepares us to fight or flee and, concurrently, protects us from seeing or feeling more than we can accommodate at the moment. This state can follow immediately upon learning of a loved one’s death or peril – or hearing shots fired nearby – or when your telephone wakes you from a sound sleep at 3 a.m.
Neurophysiologically, the logical and higher functions of the brain have been bypassed in the interest of fueling the primitive portions of your brain and your body systems that are needed to fight or to run away. Often this state passes quickly and your higher functions return for use. Until that happens, nothing else does.
As chaplains in crisis situations, we are susceptible to this shock as much as anyone. If we can grasp that one small trigger for @home, we will take the first steps toward returning to useful function and protect ourselves from the cascades of hormones where they do more harm than good. Once @home, we are in control of our steps in venturing forth. Our concern is with the survivors of the crisis, leaving the matters of rescue and response to others. We have built a small bubble of safe space for ourselves, and we can expand its peace to shelter guests.
Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
– Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Man (1914)
The disasters of the past decade have spawned research into the human neurophysiological and psychological reaction to trauma, and effective methods are now being widely taught to first responders to help survivors through the immediate shock toward a return to independent functioning and eventual healing in the hope of forestalling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Training is available, in classrooms and on line, and a chaplain who is a first responder will seek the opportunity for training.
Assess the situation
In a crisis, others around you will be the state of physical and emotional shock that is our human response to the totally unacceptable: frozen in place with bodies primed to fight or flee, higher cognitive functions – any useful thinking – cut off and unavailable. As a chaplain, if you can, find a quiet location, apart from the crisis scene, with places to sit and the necessities of life at hand. Your role as host, bringing @home with you, is to welcome each person in need as a guest in your home and, through hospitality, help your guests until each can find a way to continue to the journey. Here and now, your home is safe space for you and your guests. Make it so.
The International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) bases its intervention with individuals on the SAFER-R model developed by George Everly1. The steps of this model have much in common with welcoming a stranger in distress as a guest into one’s home and providing hospitality until the guest is ready and able to leave. As a chaplain@home, remembering your role and duties as host can provide comfort and protection in a crisis as you and others address the immediate and specific needs of your guests.
S Stabilize A Acknowledge F Facilitate understanding E Encourage adaptive grieving and coping R Recovery – or R Referral
First of all, see to it that you and your guests are safe and will remain as safe as possible from bodily harm and exposure to physical or nonphysical threats.
Begin building rapport while helping your guests to achieve some level of grounding and centering of their own: make your guests @home.
Greet your guests as welcome strangers in your home, calling your guests in shock back toward higher cognitive functioning through your own confidence in the safe space, speaking slowly and calmly, offering opportunities and cues to automatic responses: making eye contact, acknowledging your greeting. Hear them where they are and welcome them to be, to be here, to be here now – essentially facilitating their tentative grounding and centering to the point where simple speech is possible.
Introduce yourself clearly and simply. Learn and use their names. Tell your guests what is most important: We are together. You are in a safe place. Remind them of their personal safety, of time, of place, of who else is present. Perhaps a more-stable guest will help introduce one who is not. Repeat yourself as necessary: in shock, much that is heard is filtered out or forgotten immediately.
Home is indeed a place where you are loved unconditionally. Home is where you feel safe and protected. Home is where your heart is most happy.
Make your guests at home: Offer seating and water, if possible. Reduce distractions. Ask simple questions that can be answered simply. Monitor their physical well-being: injuries, hyperventilating, hunger, fatigue, thirst, medical conditions and seek help if necessary. Point out the nearest restrooms. Gently divert any conversation to the here-and-now within your home. Ask no other questions but listen to what is said.
Give your guests a chance to tell their stories and to test your listening and acceptance.
Open simple social conversation with and about the people present at the moment, accepting that this will focus quickly on the crisis or trauma. Your intent is build safety and rapport while people are beginning to face their immediate memories and regain their ability to speak calmly and rationally. Use your best active listening skills and maintain your own awareness of your Sources of support. Tell them what you do know: This happened. There is much we do not know yet. You/we are safe here. Help is coming. We are doing what needs to be done here and now.
Allow the conversation to grow deeper, contributing your own information and reflections. Encourage interaction among guests.
Answer questions simply and clearly confirming what just happened and what is happening at the moment, without speculation and without volunteering or encouraging additional detail. Keep focus on the here-and-now, redirecting when conversation strays to the past or future – or to why, how, and what-if. Listen to the question and the fears behind the question; in answering, reframe them as simple truth – without judgment. Welcome periods of silence. Tell them what you do know: What you are feeling (experiencing) is normal.This hurts. What you are saying is normal (helpful) (reasonable). This is a safe place. Everyone grieves (reacts) differently.
Gently release the reins of the conversation and return to listening. Reflect on what you have heard so far. Expand on a topic with helpful information if appropriate. Enjoy watching your guests take up the reins of the conversation and, with them, control of their lives.
Home is the one place in all this world where hearts are sure of each other. It is the place of confidence. It is the place where we tear off that mask of guarded and suspicious coldness which the world forces us to wear in self-defense, and where we pour out the unreserved communications of full and confiding hearts. It is the spot where expressions of tenderness gush out without any sensation of awkwardness and without any dread of ridicule.
~Frederick W. Robertson
Eventually, people, one by one, may come to the point of sharing memories with each other, finding bits of humor, telling stories, and purposeful planning. This is the time to sit back, centered and mindful, affirming the healing parts and gently questioning the speculations or intentions that might hamper healing. This is also a time to offer suggestions and information on further help that is available.
Resume life or Refer for continued care if needed
See your guests to the door with your blessings, as well refreshed as was within your power. If someone needs more help, do all you can to put them in the hands of that help.
When help becomes available, or when other matters intrude, your guests will leave on their own. When all have gone and at least before leaving the scene of the crisis, sit quietly with yourself @home and let any misgivings you have rise up for attention. You will never know all the details of why the crisis happened or how everyone else responded in its wake – leave the questions in sacred space or ground them – they are no longer yours to carry. For concerns you cannot ground or leave behind, find someone on scene to follow up. Someone in pain may need follow-up care: share your misgivings with a professional on scene. If you need help yourself, ask for it.
The winding path
This intervention process is iterative – you may find your guests slipping back into shock, and needing your help to stabilize and move forward again, even multiple times.
May Peace be with you, all Love surround you, and the good Light within you guide you all the way Home.
It was disconcerting at first, as I paid a chaplain’s call on an elderly woman in her hospital room, to be greeted from the bed, offered a chair, and asked if I would like a drink of water or something – from whatever beverages were at hand. I accepted the chair and declined the beverage, feeling somewhat unbalanced, as if roles had been reversed. They had. I was being received as a guest in her home. Through all the intrusions on personal space and autonomy, the lady held firm to her training as a hostess and staked out her room as home.
As we become sensitive to our roles as hosts in crisis chaplaincy, we may begin to notice the ways in which we are being received as guests in the lives of those to whom we offer hospitality. They offer us a place, however temporary, in their lives at times when their homes are in disarray and the family’s dirty linen is hung in the living room. They welcome us based on little more than our identification as chaplains, exposing vulnerabilities we are trusted to protect.
This is an area for more reflection and mindfulness as we encounter others in crisis on our journeys.
Hindsight and Foresight
There is nothing like a crisis to point out the information we wish we had had and the training we with we had taken.
Brymer, Melissa, Chris Layne, Robert Pynoos, Josef Ruzek, Alan Steinberg, Eric Vernberg, and Patricia Watson. “Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide”. National Child Traumatic Stress Network and National Center for PTSD, 2005. http://www.vdh.state.va.us/oep/pdf/PFA9-6-05Final.pdf.
Everly, Jr., George S., Rob Dewey, Glenn Calkins, Thomas Webb, George Grimm, and Ed Stauffer. Pastoral Crisis Intervention Course Workbook. Elicott City, MD: International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc., 2002. www.icisf.org.
Hanson, Rick. Buddha’s brain : the practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom. Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2009.
Hatcher, Edgar. “Complicated Grief: Navigating Traumatic Grief and Crime Scene Realities”, November 15, 2011.
———. “Death Notification: Navigating Traumatic Grief and Crime Scene Realities”, November 14, 2011.
Lawrence, Brother. The practice of the presence of God [by] Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection translated by Donald Attwater introduction by Dorothy Day. Translated by Donald Attwater. Springfield, IL: Templegate, 1974.
1George S. Everly, Jr.,, Rob Dewey, Glenn Calkins, Thomas Webb, George Grimm, and Ed Stauffer. Pastoral Crisis Intervention Course Workbook. Elicott City, MD: International Critical Incident Stress Foundation, Inc., 2002. www.icisf.org.
I understand ritual as a process that mediates a transformation or change of state in each individual involved. In the spiritual domain, the ritual process occurs in a place and time set apart from our day-to-day reality. If only for a moment, a chosen set of assumptions and understandings interacts with our personal worldview on many levels, from critical consciousness to its deepest foundations. The liturgy of a ritual is designed to effect changes that remain when we return to day-to-day reality.
In the Sacred Grove, I look to ritual to provide me a focused, guided way to enter the presence of the Lord and Lady — into the mystical and numinous experience of interaction with the Divine. The Grove and the trance journey by which we reach it have become a sheltering framework within which I can explore the infinite spiritual realm, with anchor points I can reach and grasp without looking for them. I am grateful to Wilddragon, the author of the Bhakti-Wiccan tradition, for encouraging me to extend it.
When the ritual reality of the Sacred Grove became a spiritual home for me, after many trance journeys to the Grove, it became clear to me that there were more layers as yet unexplored than the imagery suggested. The initial spark for expansion, if I recall correctly, was a journey another Priestess and I led with a newly-acquainted couple.
The preparatory elements affirm the presence of a LivingTree in the South, a great Sword in the East, a Cup in the West, and one or more Standing Stones in the North. The Sacred Grove itself is the home of the Lord and Lady, Whose presence is our ultimate goal.
We left the Living Tree in our pathworking and arrived at the Sword, only to find that the woman with us was in great discomfort. We returned to ordinary reality to work our way through the dilemma with her.
Two things emerged: the Sword had some painful associations for her that were not going to yield at the level at which we all were able to work together, and we developed a term for the situation where everyone else on a trance journey can see the Sword (or whatever) and you want to but can’t. It’s called trance envy.
What is the Sword — any sword — but a tool that extends our reach, extends the capabilities of our hands, in particular one that separates one thing from another? It is a tool of discernment. The woman could approach the concept of the Sword by visualizing the Xacto knife she used in her daily work. While that did not trigger the discomfort, it did leave her with trance envy.
On my own first encounter with the Sword, about 20 years ago, I really wanted to see a cool Excalibur-type sword of great import and meaning — and so forth. The vision wavered at first — and settled firmly into the battered sabre from my fencing bag, with which I practiced two to three nights a week and competed on weekends. Hardly romantic.
But the Sword did have a message for me, and the quest kept me busy for the next several years.
In the Bhakt-Wiccan Tradition of the Fellowship of the Sacred Grove, as in the Greencraft Tradition of Sacred Well Congregation, the Lord and Lady are familiar and beloved faces of the Divine, of Ultimate Reality. They are God and Goddess of our spirituality and religion.
But the Sacred Grove welcomes all who would join us respectfully approaching that which we all hold to be real and personal and important, despite the limitations of human language. And so we offer perspectives by which you might look through our traditional language and see the Ultimate Reality you understand. Certainly there are more and other perspectives; here are seeds for thought.
In the Abrahamic traditions, One God is central and is called by many names. The Lord may be familiar and comes associated with a male gender. The Lady had a long and often forbidden history. Would you be comfortable seeing “Lord & Lady” as another of the many names of God?
For my part, having grown to adulthood in the Christian Tradition before encountering the Goddess, I had difficulty as a chaplain speaking the language of the Trinity with Christians until i made peace in my own understanding that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could be Infinite, Incarnate, and Indwelling aspects of the Divine.
Hard polytheists might see the Lord as a category inclusive of the gods of their understanding and the Lady as a category inclusive of the goddesses, or you may see them as particular deities of your devotion. Soft polytheists may see them as encompassing all gods and goddesses between them.
Isis, Osiris, Woden and Freya; Lord and Lady, Brigid and Lugh
Atheists, agnostics, and others who are not accustomed to personifying the overarching concepts of Ultimate Reality, be reassured that we are not invoking or speaking for an omnipotent sky daddy, nor are we promulgating any absolute authority. We seek to learn through individual personal experience, and we recognized that each of us will experience our journey together differently. We value the richness that comes of our interaction, both with our human companions and with the unSeen that accompany them. Can you allow yourself, when we are between the worlds together, to understand our Lord & Lady to represent all the myriad connections, patterns, unseen entities, and richness that make up and hold All That Is together?
Out of that marvelous complexity, can you let what is real, personal, and important for you speak for itself?
Appropriate to beginning with all Participants seated in the circle:
We gather tonight to open the veil between the worlds, to seek the Lord and Lady, and to experience the Mystery of Their Love.Hear this warning. To be touched by the Lord and Lady is to be changed. If you open yourself to that touch, you put at risk your comfortable view of the world. You risk experiencing a sense of awe to which worship is the natural response. You risk discovering Deity as your Lover and your Beloved.
Bard lights Grove candle on North altar, then continues:
Let none remain who is unwilling to be changed by Their touch.
Claiming the Space consists of four balanced spells to prepare the ritual area for magical work. The four Claimings are normally performed immediately after the Circle is cast, before any invocations or welcomings.
Each of the four Claimings is performed by a person standing at the appropriate quarter and facing inward (not outward as in quarter calling).
The normal sequence is East, West, South, North, to emphasize the polarities and balance of the working.
The Claimings are spells and should be spoken with conviction and intent. The Bard and remaining Quarters respond So mote it be! to each Claiming.
If the Circle is cast with all participants present, replace the words Let all who enter withLet all within.
In the name of the Lady of Light, and in my own name, I claim this circle as a place of Men. Let all who enter be bound to speak and hear the Truth.
So mote it be.
In the name of the Sacred King, and in my own name, I claim this circle as a place of Women. Let all who enter be bound to Perfect Love and Trust.
So mote it be.
In the name of the Lord of the Greenwood, and in my own name, I claim this circle as a place of Nature. Let all who enter be bound to the Sacred Web of Life.
So mote it be.
In the name of the Queen of Heaven, and in my own name, I claim this circle as Sacred Space. Let all who enter be opened to the presence of God and Goddess.
Updated 10/15/2020: It didn’t happen. Maybe I can pull it together for Samhain.
It’s time for the Grove to manifest itself anew in the age of pandemic. Tools are available and being used to meet in cyberspace, and we are forging ahead. The plan is to schedule our Sabbats for the coming year, by date and time, and set up Zoom gatherings for the observance.
Invitations to participate will include the ritual structure, and attendees will be offered the opportunity to Claim the Space, while the wording is made available on screen. Host will act as Bard and Priest, at least at first.
Invitations will be distributed, at least, by email and through the Facebook Grove page. Respondents by email will be sent the link.
Priestess will establish the Zoom meeting at the specified date and time, then admit attendees, who will be welcome to chat. Once Bard begins Warnings, no others will be admitted.
Still working on the particulars of the ritual. It will be geared toward the Wheel of the Year and probably, at least at first, be of a participatory Journey format.
Cleaning house, I found a Facebook post from ‘way back with a prayer that resonates with me and which I share because so many suffer from fear of Hell, even when their theology no longer supports the concept.
If I adore You out of fear of Hell, burn me in Hell! If I adore you out of desire for Paradise, Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone, Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.
Everyone prays to You from fear of the Fire; And if You do not put them in the Fire, This is their reward. Or they pray to You for the Garden, Full of fruits and flowers. And that is their prize. But I do not pray to You like this, For I am not afraid of the Fire, And I do not ask You for the Garden. But all I want is the Essence of Your Love, And to return to be One with You, And to become Your Face.
I had a particular leading of Spirit that resulted in a reflection for Good Friday and the 7 Last Words. In particular, I was drawn to Mark 15:34, the Aramaic version of the cry of Jesus from the Cross to the God he felt had abandoned him to die in agony, alone. I wonder if we do not encounter this very human depth of despair, even unspoken, in our work or lives. We sometimes find ourselves in the presence of that despair that cries for reconnection to the Presence, and our hands, too, are tied.
So that reflection does not go to waste, you are my congregation. May Peace be with you.
Let me set the scene.
In the ritual of Holy Week, we reflect on the completion of the ministry of Jesus by joining ourselves in the experiences of that time. Good Friday relives his torture and execution for the crime of sedition, which was punished in those days by crucifixion. Jesus is tried by religious and civil authorities, scourged, with a crown made of thorny vines jammed into his head, and made to carry the cross on which he will be executed through the streets of Jerusalem to the place where many are already hanging in the hot sun.
Our reflection begins after his clothes have been stripped from him, he has been nailed through wrists and feet to the cross, the cross has been hoist upright and its base dropped into a hole. Above his head, a sign proclaims “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
We are present and stand witness to the completion of his three years of ministry.
“Eloi? Eloi! Lama sabachthani?”(“My God? My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”)
In our hearts, we can imagine the depths of pain and anguish of that prayer. We can hear his unspoken words:
“Where are you, Father? Why have you left me … hanging here all alone?
“Abba, what did I do? Wasn’t I good enough?”
“Where are you? Abba?”
No one else heard God’s reply, and some didn’t even understand the question. The Scriptures are silent.
But in our hearts, with Jesus, even now, we can hear echoes of his Father’s reply:
“I am here, with you, Son. In you, through you, now and always. You are my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
“The worst is over, Beloved. Just a few more breaths, and your mission is complete. You are coming Home.”
“Feel me here within you Breathe me in, now. With each breath let me fill you.”
“Exhale. Give me your fears. Blow out your pain. Give them back to me.”
“Inhale. Fill yourself again with my Presence.”
“Open your eyes, my Son. Look down. You are not alone.”
“Breathe in my Love.”
“Be here now. Just a few more breaths. See the others who suffer with you?”
“Behold, your mother, your beloved, who would not leave you here alone.”
“Fill yourself with me and let that Light shine on them.”
“Breathe in my Strength. You are my Voice. Lead them through this Hell.”
“You are my Beloved. Just a few more breaths.”
“We are One, and you are coming Home.”
Jesus finds the composure and strength to use the control he still has over his life and his words. He can breathe, with increasing difficulty. He can speak. He need not wait alone, in agony, for the slow approach of Death.
With Divine inspiration, he speaks:
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
After all the words and acts and turmoil of his ministry in Galilee and its endgame in Jerusalem, Jesus has been brought to a full stop. A sudden, devastating silence.
Last night, after a ritual and working supper with his followers, he had prayed fervently that he could be spared this suffering, but, if it must be, he accepted it. He had asked his closest friends to be with him in prayer, but they had fallen asleep and left him alone. And now he is alone, again. In agony and terror, bereft of meaning or hope. Is God mocking him, too?
In overwhelming pain and tormented by the wounds of trauma in the very recent past, Jesus is bewildered and powerless to help himself, to find any measure of calm or peace. He has only his voice, and with what breath he has, he calls for help. Not for physical help, taking away the pain, relieving the merciless strife between gravity pulling his body down and the nails through his flesh resisting that pull. He calls for hope that all this suffering is not a cruel joke, that the loving Father God who led him into this is still with him. His cry sounds almost angry, almost like he is accusing God of betrayal.
In my mind’s eye, giving voice to the question with Jesus, I was also hearing others in moments of pain and despair, breathing the shortest of prayers: “Oh, God!” Or even the newborn, suddenly exposed to light and sound and breezes and a totally changed world, crying out in shock and surprise. Or myself, once, as an overwhelmed mother with two messily sick babies and my own devastating case of the flu, whimpering quietly, “I want my Mommy.” Wanting Someone, somehow, to make it better.
Asking a question opens the mind to receiving an answer. And the God of Love, the Heavenly Father that Jesus had brought to the people who followed him through Galilee and Judea, would not have left him to suffer unto death alone.
But what would God have answered? What could Jesus hear in his heart that could help at all in that agony? What would I say, in all Love and Compassion, or what would I want to hear?
I fell back on the training I have had as a crisis response chaplain, on how to help when the unthinkable has happened. How do you approach someone who is in shock, when all meaning and hope for even the next breath have fled in the face of terror and anguish?
God reaches out to touch Jesus, to connect with Jesus, through the air, through his breathing. Jesus will feel the air he gasps into his lungs; let feeling that air become feeling God’s Presence; and let Jesus turn his attention to that feeling, to seeking more of that Divine inspiration. And give Jesus a way to unload the heavy burdens he no longer needs to carry; let him give them back to his Father; let him even throw them back at his Father. Which will trigger yet another inspiration of the Divine Presence.
Death will not come swiftly; crucifixion is intentionally horrible in that regard. How to help Jesus through the Hell ahead of him? Bring his focus back to this moment; not the past that got him here; and not apprehension of what is yet to come. Help him open his eyes to the moment. He is not alone. Somewhat refreshed, the old reflexes return. There are people at his feet with needs only he can fill. With the measure of reassurance that his Father is still with him, that he is Loved and accepted and has done well, and with the return of a small measure of personal agency, Jesus uses the last of his human life as his Father’s Voice to complete his mission.