Dear Reader: I’ve collected some previous Lenten meditations to send out during this Holy Week. I hope they are a meaningful addition to your reflections in this special season. I start with one that has special significance today, as we are returning in an hour from Phoenix–just as we were the day we got the call from dear Mark below.
Palm Sunday blessings, Cory
For me, it’s often the staccato of facts, passionless facts, that evokes my emotions and empathy the most.
Such was the case tonight as I read an assessment carried out by World Vision relief experts a few weeks following the  Haiti earthquake.
Tucked into the document was a section on pre-existing Vulnerability Patterns, the primary two being the need for meaningful work and the need for clean water. Notice how the descriptions shift from technical facts to the social and emotional impacts of those facts:
1) One main vulnerability pattern stems from livelihood insecurity. Due to a lack of access to work, jobs and income, families are unable to invest in productive assets for farming, petty trade or small businesses. Instead they go into debt to pay for consumable expenses such as food, water and health care. Personal impacts attributed directly to livelihood insecurity include stress, depression and loss of hope, alongside social impacts such as fighting and stealing by those without any other means to survive.
2) The issue of water scarcity touches nearly every aspect of life, with a pattern like spreading fingers. In many communities the local sources are damaged, destroyed or dried up. Lack of access to water is connected directly to the following:
- Livelihood and food insecurity (lost crops resulting in lost income, no food)
- Inability to cook (inability to meet basic needs, including paying for water; widespread hunger)
- Financial burden (costs money, expensive; further burden on family budgets)
- Expenditure of time (water sources are far away; in families where children are responsible for water collection, they miss school; there is fighting for water)
- Drinking contaminated or untreated water (not enough water to bathe or wash; sickness and disease)
In the end, stress and hopelessness are the ultimate effects on families because resources are unavailable to resolve the chronic lack of safe, adequate water or to mitigate its impacts.
I can’t read the above without exhaling a sigh, feeling the weight of these cumulative effects on the human psyche, glimpsing a bit of the spectre of hopelessness that would nip at one’s heels.
A spectre has visited our dearest family friend (age 56) who just received his oncologist’s report… a rare form of lymphoma… no cure, 3-4 years life expectancy if one is willing to do aggressive, in-hospital chemo, starting as soon as possible.
This was just technical information, fire-hosed at an unprepared business major who had barely begun to experience a single symptom and was hoping for a benign wait-and-see diagnosis. Mark’s regurgitation of the fire hose nearly knocked us over as we drove, to the point that we had to pull over. So I can only imagine what all was running through Mark’s mind in the doctor’s office as he tried to grasp the full significance of the news.
We have another important friend (very dear to Janet) who at age 48 may not see Easter Sunday. Peggy has made it six months from her cancer’s recurrence, and we are awaiting the final phone call.
Today Mark emailed Janet, asking whether Peggy was in much pain (yes), is she alert and how effective are her medications. I emitted that same sigh when Janet told me about it tonight, comprehending that Mark is not so much interested in the technical answers, but is no doubt projecting ahead into his own possible future not so many months from now, if the doctors are correct.
Facts. Technical information. Like sharp granite blocks. Stumbling blocks. Our emotions shatter when we trip on them. Our collisions with them blunt their edges, our tears and human detritus dry on them, and they become worn, rounded and complete, like the dirt and vegetation that gradually blankets craggy rock protrusions and lava flows into what we admire as mountains.
Fact and response. The two go together in any fully human experience. The data itself is enough to provide and provoke the human response.
And this is an aspect of the gospels I’ve come to love. With only a few exceptions, the gospel accounts don’t try to ascribe motives or use melodramatic words which I’d feel compelled to filter out.
In one way, it’s odd that Christ’s crucifixion is known as The Passion, and that this week ahead is known as Passion Week: because the gospels are nearly devoid of passionate words. Aside from Jesus’ anguished words from Gethsemane and on the cross itself, we as the readers are left to insert the emotion behind the actions and words of the characters.
This is no doubt the attraction of fictional speculations in each generation including mine, from “Superstar” to Mel Gibson’s movie to vampire novelist Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord novel series. They seek to turn the black-and-white of the biblical page into the Technicolor of life.
What was he thinking? Why did she do that? What was their tone of voice? What would I have done?
But in the gospels themselves, we are left alone, free to feel on our own. Yet to do so requires a quieter, more thoughtful reading and reflecting, allowing the bald facts themselves to stop us in our tracks, to trip us up, to humanly feel their impact.
In a Bible study I attended this week, we looked at the passage where blind Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Our leader asked us to each reflect: What do you want Jesus to do for you this Passion Week?
Lord, I want to feel what you feel. I want your passion.
Passion Week, 2010