Black Saturday. Reflections on sorrow and joy, gratitude and grief.

On this Black Saturday, allow me to share an excerpt from one of my favorite lent reflections, one that has since my first reading of it last year, transformed my experience of this season and the Cross.

The excerpt is followed by a personal prayer that I began to write earlier today as I experienced the Prayer Labyrinth at my church for the first time. This prayer was also inspired by yesterday’s Good Friday Service of Darkness, featuring the Seven Last Words of Christ by Theodore Dubois, and reflections by members of our congregation.

“The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope – and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend upon it) disappoint us.

… For the moment, lay yourselves aside. Become one of the first disciples. And in that skin, consider: what makes the appearance of the resurrected Lord such a transport of joy for you? Consider this in every fiber of your created being … What causes joy? What transfigures you, you flaming disciple, you burning witness, with such a fusion of joy in the encounter? 

This: not just that the Lord was dead, but that you grieved his death. That, for three days, you yourself did suffer his absence, and then the whole world was for you a hollow horror. That, despite his promises, this last Sabbath lasted forever and was, to your sorrowing heart, the last of the world after all. You experienced, you actually believed, that the end of Jesus was the end of everything.

Death reigned everywhere. 

Death alone. 

But in the economy of God, what seems the end is but a preparation. For it is, now, to that attitude and into that experience that the dear Lord Jesus Christ appears – not only an astonishment, gladness and affirmation, but joy indeed! 

It is the experience of genuine grief that prepares for joy. 

You see? The disciples approached the Resurrection from their bereavement. For them the death was first, and the death was all. Easter, then, was an explosion of Newness, a marvelous splitting of heaven indeed. But for us, who return backward into the past, the Resurrection comes first, and through it we view a death which is, therefore, less consuming, less horrible, even less real. We miss the disciples’ terrible, wonderful preparation. 

Unless, as now, we attend to the suffering first, to the cross with sincerest pity and vigilant love, to the dying with most faithful care – and thus prepare for joy.” 

-from Walter Wangerin Jr.’s book, Reliving the Passion, Meditations on the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark.

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The Prayer Labyrinth experience at Union Church of Manila

 

A prayer of thanksgiving and of grieving:

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for the Cross. Thank You for the death You conquered and the agony of separation that You endured. Thank You for Your gift – of Breath, of Presence, of Love, of Life eternal in Shalom.

Thank You for Your love that You continue to lavish on me – for the Light that you continuously pour into my life; light that I now feel overflowing, not only reflecting, but pouring out of me. This Light is You. This is Your heart, Your grace, Your embrace – always more than enough, always perfect, always with me.

Thank You for who You are, what You’ve done. Thank You for how You love – truly unconditionally, having proven it generously and courageously on the Cross, even before I lived out my own sin in time or accepted any faith in You in life. With full knowledge of my future and recurring betrayal, You carried my sin, my shame, my guilt, my stubbornness, my resistance, and my darkness with You to the Cross.

Thank You – for even before I could understand the significance, Love was made whole in Your surrender. In Your sacrifice I am saved. All death was conquered and all evil overthrown. You finished it with love, absolutely and completely. But first, the Cross.

On this Black Saturday, I grieve Your death, Your separation from the Father, the weight that I put on Your shoulders, the wounds that I tore open with my sin, the brokenness of my life that broke Your heart. I grieve this death. And for a day, I try to sit in the posture of Your first followers. Is it anguish, desperation, loss, fear, or deep deep sadness that I try to carry and somehow treasure?  I grieve and yearn like the apostles did for You, for Your presence, so tragically and quickly stripped away. You are not with us in these moments, but suffering and bearing all our darkness on our behalf. You are bearing us.

I grieve Your death. I long for Your presence, for the heavy veil to be lifted off this darkness – opaque and consuming. Today, I can only imagine this agonizing weight, this loss of Light and Leader. I consider what it might have been like to meet this day of grief without the knowledge of Easter morning, without the full understanding of the completion of Your sacrifice, not having yet experienced the rise of joy and the truth of resurrection.

Tonight we sit in longing.

Thank You for what You have done, an act that You so graciously have never regretted, a gift you have never taken back and never withheld from the least of us – dirty and filthy as we are.

Grace and grace and grace so sweet, covers this grief; grief from a heart to whom your renewal is yet be revealed in the dawn, but a heart that clings dearly to all that You have said. For having known Your presence, as Your first and faithful followers had, how could one, how could I, sit in a sorrow that does not hope for You? Here again, another advent season.

Thank You for this moment, for this suffering, for this sacrifice born in absolute, unparalleled love.

Tonight we grieve and wait for morning, and oh what an unexpected morning we long for it to be.

In Your Courageous Name,

Amen.

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Truth Thursdays: I am Here

This month I’ve been teaching a beginner’s dance class on Tuesday nights. Towards the end of class, I teach a phrase of choreography. The movement begins with a closed stance, head down, hands hanging by your sides, feet together and bent. Then, with a quick roll of shoulders, one at a time, sharply the phrase begins. Hitting the second before the count, “And one!” In the same breath, but still separate, a flick of the head upward to the audience follows.

Then a slow expansion of the body takes place. As slow as two full counts can allow. The arms slide up to be raised at their widest, the head dramatically turns to the right, exposing the neck and jaw, and the right leg sweeps to open underneath. These last three movements, in that slow expansion, create a moment.

What follows this moment, are a tumble of many other moments, and you’re thrown into the dance. If you’re not mindful of your breath, you’ll find yourself winded in the process.

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To my students, I emphasized the importance of the first movement. You may just be rolling your shoulders back, but you’ve got to make an impact even with this exaggerated shrug. Don’t make it look like a mistake. You’re not responding to a fly buzzing in your shoulder, you are announcing your arrival, the beginning of something. It isn’t a question. You are inviting your audience to pay attention. Demanding they be held captive.

And that slow expansion that I spoke of? Those two full counts that describe your presence on stage, that is you saying, “I am here. I have arrived.”

Take your time, I tell them, enjoy it. Don’t be worried about the quick shuffle of steps that follow, how quickly the music is pushing you to move, or how nervous you are to be trying something new. Fulfill the movement. Show the audience who you are, and in that moment, simply fill the room. That is the movement’s purpose.

At the end of next month, it will be a year since I moved back to the Philippines. Although it has been many months, the move back is still on my mind. And I am often reminded that I was not always around here – through conversations with friends, the many inquiries about whether I am here to stay, the memories with friends from miles away that still fill my mind. I am reminded too that although a new departure is not in line of sight, it is never simply out of the question.

I wonder, in what part of my choreographic phrase of transition do I find myself today? For much time, I may have stood in the beginning stance, closed and cautious, although already breathing to the beat of the music. My very blood pulsing to a new song.

Later, I began to really move. I began to remember my need to make an impact, no matter how slight.

Today, I am certain that I have arrived. This is not a mistake. It is not a question. Pay attention.

And there is no lack of movement, no blank stares. I am juggling a number of jobs, managing a handful of community service initiatives, as well as caring for a few personal dreams that I have planted. I’ve been growing into community. I’ve been taking on challenges. I’ve been trying new things. I am here.

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The movement of the slow expansion is still my favorite. In my improvisational movement of living, I punctuate my sprightly dancing with moments such as those. Making a simple moment matter, making it everything that matters for a breath. Or two. Doing it with integrity. Filling the space. And I too, being filled.

I am taking my time. I am fulfilling my movement.

I’ve thrown myself into the dance. How can I not?

I am here.

 

(Images in these post are photographs from a piece I choreographed in the fall of 2011, for the Wheaton College Dance Company. I can’t recall its title at the moment, but it was a piece centered around a lightbulb, and more personally spoke towards my process and decision to move home to the Philippines in the following year. In this moment, this is where the light leads. I am here.)

 

To find out more about Truth Thursdays, click here.

For more on this specific prompt, click here.