Good Friday, And Then Some

I know what I am supposed to be writing about today, it being Good Friday and all, but for some reason, I just can't.  I'm not entirely sure why, but I'm simply not in the mood.  Maybe it's because I missed going to church this past Sunday and so missed Our Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem amidst the waving palms, but I was there last night at the Maundy Thursday service.  I even had my feet washed and washed someone else's feet in turn.  But when the meal turned from a happy feast together with friends to the singing of Psalm 22 (or 21, as we say in the Vulgate numbering), there was none of the wrenching sadness that I felt last year, perhaps because last year I did at long last skip fencing practice in order to attend the Maundy Thursday service and was simply struck by the novelty of the contrast.

See?  I'm even having trouble writing about the absence of a strong response, so weakly has my attention been focused on the events of this holiest of weeks.  Okay, so it's the first week of term and I've been having to concentrate on getting my classes started.  And I am still tired from the emotional and physical stress of the tournament last weekend.  Plus, my puppy has finally learned to walk--or, perhaps more accurately, I have learned to lead her--so we've been making the mile-or-so long trek from home to campus and back every day, with, of course, stops for Doggie Happy Hour in the park both ways, but my legs are still worn out.  And the paint color in the butler's pantry and the laundry room (formerly the pantry) doesn't match the color in the main part of the kitchen, so there's that to negotiate with the contractor today.*  Plus my husband is going to have to go back to Mexico next week to sort out some issues with the museum loan he is working on.  Really, there hasn't been time to think about what the suffering and death of Christ means.  And, by the way, didn't we do that last year?

I know, of course, what it is supposed to mean, for me and for all of humanity.  God descended into His Creation, taking on the suffering and mortality of His own creatures, in order to save them from the consequences of their own failure to will according to His will.  Okay, fine, so it really isn't all that gruesome to be spending today meditating on the particulars of His death because it isn't as if He didn't choose to suffer on our behalf, quite the reverse.  And yet, it seems callous, indeed, downright wrong not to be more moved by the whole incident.  God died here, people.  Let's show a little grief.

Nope, it's not working.  Not that I thought it would, but you gotta try.  Instead (LOL), I'm getting jokier and jokier, almost as if to stave off the grief that I might otherwise feel.  But it just seems, well, so virtual.  Not really something to do with me much at all.  It's not as if I was there when He died.  It's not as if I ever actually met Him.  Mind you, I do cry every time I think about the young woman from my son's school who died last week after a biking accident when she and two of her friends were hit head-on by a minivan that had wandered across the center of the road, but I didn't know her either.  Her death just seems so wrong and tragic and pointless, whereas at least God's death saved the world.  It's hard to feel much of anything in comparison when so many people die every day for apparently no reason, other than that God made us that way, so we die.

Or did He?  I also spent last week reading Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity? (2007), so I should be simply stuffed full of arguments about how rational Christianity is and how it gives much better answers to the dilemmas of the human condition than does atheism or, indeed, any other religion.  And, indeed, I agree with most of what D'Souza says.  So why am I so dispassionate on this day of all days, the day on which Christians (at least those who follow the Roman reckoning) celebrate Good Friday?  It's not just that I want Christianity to be true; I was thinking last night at church as we stood to celebrate the Eucharist how I am, if I think about it, actually fairly certain that it probably is (note the number of qualifiers--why won't I fully commit?).  But.  But what?  But I want more proof?  But I won't believe unless I feel something?  But it's fine if God died in order to restore us to the condition we were in when He first created us, before the Fall; I just don't buy the whole resurrection/life-after-death thing?

Okay, so I didn't actually get to finish this post yesterday (Friday), what with having to go teach and then hold office hours and then walk the puppy home and then go to church again and then stand in the kitchen marveling at the fact that we can actually unpack and will be able to cook Easter dinner in our own home.  By which time I was feeling simply exhausted, but also, yes, moved.  As I sat in church, I thought about how perhaps it was appropriate that I should spend Good Friday so hot (literally, it was in the 80s yesterday) and bothered, out of joint with the world.  The service was calming, moving us as liturgy is supposed to do into sacred time, the time of history and myth, the time of recurrence and memory.  And, yes, I even felt not a little moved as I went to join the line of those of us who wanted to adore the Cross, but in a good way.  Not just emotionally moved, but maybe even spiritually.  I found myself clasping my hands, not quite in prayer position, but also not in the usual genital-covering gesture of humility that people tend to use as they are waiting in line for the Eucharist.  My hands seemed to want to move up towards my heart, to be holding something, maybe my soul, to offer to God.  Because, I had a thought, liturgy really isn't about feeling something, at least not in the usual "I was so moved" sense.  It is about standing before God, offering praises with the angels.

This is not my idea.  I used Pope Benedict's address for the inauguration of the Collège des Bernardins about the place of monasticism in European culture as the introduction to my course this quarter on medieval monasticism, and that's what he says: "For Benedict, the words of the Psalm: coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine – in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) – are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks.  What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards:  that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres." Wow.  That's so much more powerful than just worrying about whether one feels emotionally affected by the smells and bells.  See?  It's not really about us at all, but about God.

God.  I want to write something profound and enlightening about God, but what is there to say that has not already been said much better, much more eloquently and transformatively by others?  Indeed, by the Scriptures, if only we could read them in the proper spirit.  Maybe if I start making a collection of all of the places where someone writes about God in a way that I find stimulating, I will be able to articulate my own thinking better.  I really enjoyed the way Northrop Frye talks about the word and the Word in his Words with Power.  Only I can't seem to find the passage that I was thinking about now.  "When I was a child / I caught a fleeting glimpse...."  Glimpses of God, always there, right out of the corner of my eye.  And yet, still fleeting.

Unlike my puppy's butt, which I have spent the past week watching, at least on the second half of our walks.  During the first half, I tend to be pulling her, resolutely refusing to look back, like Orpheus not wanting to lose Eurydice but anxious whether she is actually following him.  But once we get within a few blocks of either campus or home (depending on which way we're going), she's warmed up and as close to running as she can get without making the leash go taut and bringing us to an abrupt halt.  It is, indeed, as if she has to get warmed up.  She's just like me, a slow starter, but once she gets moving, she is very hard to keep up with.  If only.  If only that really were the metaphor for where I am going in my writing; more importantly, in my faith.  Maybe if I read more actual theology.  That is, actual modern theology.  But I like the medieval writers better.  They seem more, yes, real.  As if they are writing about something that is real for them (like my puppy's butt), not something that they are trying to convince themselves is true.  And yet, they also wrote to convince themselves, otherwise why Thomas Aquinas' great project on the relationship between reason (philosophy) and revelation (theology)?

Oh, round and round.  See?  I'm so packed full of thoughts of late, I simply can't sort them out.  Am I on the verge of a breakthrough?  Is there ever such a thing as a breakthrough?  I want to help you (yes, you, my readers).  I want to be writing something that helps others see what I have seen.  But what I have seen is still so dark and confused; indeed, "through a glass darkly."  Not at all along the brilliant beam of light that I wish I could see by.  Am I being too allusive?  Probably.  Everything I think of late is in code, deeply embedded in metaphor and experience.  My experiences fencing, especially the past few months.  I can't quit, I know I can't quit.  I am on the verge, in the midst, so close that I can almost touch it.  Nearly purified, nearly transformed.  And yet, still suffering from my own self-judgments.  But I can't back off.  If I back off, run away, refuse the test, I will never make it through.  This is my test: to learn to compete.  It is not as if I do not have the skills.  But I have yet to realize how to use them.

It's like vertigo, which I don't really remember experiencing when I was younger, but which now that I am older seems to be only increasing with age.  I used to enjoy looking down from great heights.  Now, I almost can't bear it, I feel so dizzy and, at the same time, drawn.  Even a decade ago, when I was finishing my first book, I still experienced the world of my writing as something limited; to be sure, bigger than I felt I was able to realize, but clearly marked as a problem.  Now, it is as if I am standing on the top of the world, looking down over the whole expanse of history with the realization that it is my job not just to understand, but, even by writing about the past, to create the future.  We have no idea in my field anymore about what anything that we are studying means.  Sure, we are expert at writing about what the things that people thought and did meant in their own time, but what do those ideas and actions mean for us?  We haven't a clue.  We're just really, really good at making widgets.

To be reborn.  To spend today (Saturday) in the belly of Hell only to come forth tomorrow alive and transformed, glorified and made new.  It's a wonderful myth.  A glorious hope.  And yet, truly, everything is exactly as it should be.  My confusion.  My desire to write about God.  My ambition not yet buttressed by the necessary skills.  I've been living inside of myself for too long, but where else should I live?  This is the lesson that God wants me to learn.  But, oh, the anxiety.  What if I am so busy studying, I cannot see?

 *Actually, it's exactly the same color of off-white.  It just looks different under different lighting.  A metaphor here?


  1. Oh my... Dinesh D'Souza? Surely there must be other places to turn for Christian apologetics? Don't you find his politics to be rather... troubling?

  2. I don't know about his politics, but I like the way in which he tries to answer the new atheists (Dawkins, Harris, Pinker, et al.) on the grounds of reason. He does a better job than some others I have read on this count.

  3. I may not have phrased that very well, because I believe it really goes deeper than politics per se. I, personally, think that the statements Dinesh D'Souza has repeatedly made public demonstrate moral turpitude on a truly staggering scale. I can't critique his academic skill with regard to Christian apologetics because I haven't read his works in that area, and if you think well of them, I'm sure he's quite academically skilled indeed in that field. But there's more to faith than pure academics, and I feel that it's troubling to take him as a guide in spirital matters when his view of world politics reveals such staggering moral bankruptcy. Well, just my 2c because for me he is rather a household name, for much the same reasons as Glenn Beck, Jonah Goldberg, Eric Erickson, et al. :-/ I do suggest you check out D'Souza's political writings further if you have the time. I guess you might disagree with me, but at least it's worth looking into, at any rate.

  4. You aren't really leaving me much room to respond in any way other than to attack your assumptions about the depth of my reading or my understanding of Christian apologetics, so let's just leave it at this: I am sorry to have caused you concern. I am not going to be backed into a corner defending D'Souza when all I have read is the one book, which, as I have said, I found better in its appeal to reason (not, I should say, academic scholarship; D'Souza is not an academic theologian, nor much of an historian) than other books trying to answer the New Atheists that I have read. I do take your point about the relationship between our scholarship and our personal spiritual life, but then, as a regular reader of my blog, you know what I think about that.

  5. I'm sorry!! It was *absolutely* and specifically not my intent to, as you put it, make assumptions about the depth of your understanding of Christian apologetics. Quite the contrary, as I meant it when I said, "I can't critique his academic skill with regard to Christian apologetics because I haven't read his works in that area, and if you think well of them, I'm sure he's quite academically skilled indeed in that field." (I hadn't known he wasn't an academic theologian.) Nor was it my intent in any what whatsoever to attack the depth of your reading, as I understood it was the only book of his you'd been exposed to.

    My motivation in sending you that link from and in making these comments is just that from I have a special animus toward D'Souza and his ilk, and get some relief from trying to make sure people have a fuller picture of his background and are in a position to judge him from all of that and not from what is surely a relatively innocuous slice of his writings. I'm sure that within specific isolated fields, even Glenn Beck can come across as a good and reasonable individual, but when you zoom out...

    Having said that, I'll stop beating the dead horse. :-)

  6. No worries. I feel the same way about the New Atheists as you do about D'Souza, which is why I so pleased to see him taking them on.


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