Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Message: He is risen!

Matthew 28:1-7 (The Message)

After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God's angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn't move.

5-6The angel spoke to the women: "There is nothing to fear here. I know you're looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.

7"Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, 'He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.' That's the message."

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Stations of the Cross for Ragamuffins

It was my beloved Brennan Manning who introduced me to the Stations of the Cross. In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, he speaks eloquently of that February day, in 1956, when meditating on the Stations of the Cross he had a powerful experience of the personal love of Jesus Christ, and it is very personal, lovies. Manning recalls, "At that moment the entire Christian life became for me an intimate, heartfelt relationship with Jesus." It is my prayer that you experience Jesus this way always.

If your faith tradition does not practice this devotion, you may not know what it is. Allow me to demystify it for you. The Stations of the Cross, often called The Way of the Cross, is an imaginative prayer the re-enacts the story of the Lord's passion, death, and resurrection. Don't try this as merely an intellectual experience that demonstrates his death precisely. The Gospels testify of such, and you can read the entire Passion of the Lord narrative in John 18 and 19. But this experience of going to Golgatha with Jesus in our imagination can be still be quite useful. For me, it's needful. So, I'm inviting you to open wide your heart and soul, and travel with Jesus on His darkest day. Enter into His suffering, and share it with Him. See where the experience takes you.


I'm going to divide the Stations into four parts.

1. I'll name the stations and describe the scene.
2. I'll cite the words of the traditional prayer, certain that if you allow them to, they'll be a tremendous blessing to you.
3. I'll reflect on the power of the scene, and hopefully guide you to do the same.
4. Finally, I'll respond to what I've experienced in each meditation, as I hope you will. We'll see what God does in our hearts.

You can come back to this as often as you like.

The First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Die

Look at You. I wish You'd so something. You're innocent, for God's sake! It's a fearful thing, God with us, as docile as a sheep, with the shouts of Your own people, "Crucify Him," still ringing in Your ears. You're standing there like so many of us, misunderstood, misaligned, and mistreated. Falsely accused. You are the forgotten, the prisoner, the ever-victimized. Look at You. With us. God, acting like a ragamuffin with the words, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me," a mere few breaths away.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

Response: Why am angry so often? What makes me defensive, easy to offend, and slow to forgive and forget. I look at you, mute before a crowd of haters, good, religious, law-abiding haters, and I see the humility it takes to simply live for Our Father. Even poor in spirit I find this kind of humility hard. Jesus, you came to us as vulnerable as a human being can be: God in a diaper. It's enough to blow every circuit in our fearfully and wonderfully made brains! And now God, I share this moment with You, as you quietly accept impending your murder. I'm filled with sorrow, and gratitude for your sacrifice. Humble me. Teach me to love. Make me more like You.

The Second Station: Jesus Carries His Cross

Dear God! What have they done to You? You don't even look human, your skin is shredded so. You said blessed are the poor in spirit, but it's hard to see that now. There's no one poorer than You, not in all of creation. You, the God Who will die in disgrace, dragging the instrument of Your death all the way to the hill we all know--we know--You'll die on. We are the ones who cried out for Your death! Lord, I'm so sorry. That cross must be so heavy with the sins of the world on it. No one can say You aren't human. If You were only God, You'd have done something about this. I can hardly stand to look at it.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

Response: My cross seems awfully small and light compared to the one your bore on your bloody shoulder, all for love. Most of the time, I bear my cross complaining, rebelling, or full of sorrow. You teach me so much, in this painful meditation. Help me to carry my cross with courage. I can't do anything without You anyway. Maybe that's what you mean by blessed are the poor in spirit. We ragamuffins, who are so helpless, perhaps You will walk more closely beside us, knowing what it's like to be lonely, whipped, despised, and forsaken. It's only because of You that we're blessed. We see that now, Lord. It isn't even because we need You most. We're blessed because You suffered for our sake. And You remember us. Always.

The Third Station: Jesus Falls the First Time

My sins alone heavy Your cross, and You've taken on the sins of the world. I believe You are Who You say You are. I know You sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, just thinking of all this. The awful prayer you will soon pray, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" is already inscribed on my heart, but I'm horrified watching You fall just the same. It makes You seem more human than the Word made flesh ought to be. There You are, cross bowing your back, Your knees bent by this terrible burden. You are weak. The Son of God is weak! A soldier forces You too Your feet so You can carry on. It is unimaginable.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

Response: All I want to think of is You. I want to comfort You and give You rest. I want to heal Your wounds, especially now that you've fallen. But You, Lord, are only thinking of me. You were wounded for my transgressions, crushed for my iniquities, upon You was the punishment that makes me whole, and by Your bruises--and oh, Lord, there are so many of them--I'm healed. Help me to remember Your great love for all the weak, including weak, ineffective me. Give me the grace to give and receive mercy.

The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother

Even God incarnate needs His mama in times of need. She is so brave, even though her heart is pierced with a sword because of Your suffering. When Your Archangel Gabriel met her he said, "Hail, Mary, full of grace." I see that grace as she watches You, her Baby, her Joy, the Promise of Israel and the whole world, trudging toward that hill, dragging Your murder weapon. And You, until the end, You're more concerned about what will happen to her. To all of us. Your sorrowful brown eyes gaze at her with such tenderness, and she looks back at You, proud of her son, the Son of God, and utterly crushed by what she sees. You take courage from her gaze. You give her courage.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

Love without limits. Love that endures the impossible. Love that gives you the strength to get through anything. That is what I witness looking upon You and Your mother. You allowed-- trusted Yourself, God!-- to be taken care of by her, from her pregnancy, throughout Your infancy and childhood, and even as You were dying. It is she who will cradle Your dead body. She is Your mother. My mind reels to think of it. God has a mama! And Lord, You are kind enough to share Your Mary full of grace with us when we need a mama, and who doesn't need a mama? Thank You, Lord, for the wonder that is the Incarnation, and the communion of Saints that gifts us with she who loves You more than any of us.

The Fifth Station: Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross

By now it's pretty clear You aren't going to be able to carry Your cross alone. What must it be like for You, Who spoke worlds into existence by the power of Your Word, to surrender and accept the help of a man, this reluctant son of Africa, who wants nothing to do with any your suffering? He is a black Jew, in town for the Passover. This is why Simon was chosen, because those who believe they are good and proper Jews, those who can't see that he is their brother, can't be bothered to soil their hands touching You. They choose Simon's hands. They force those black hands. After all, You can't just drop and die where You are! You need help getting to the spot of Your execution, and Simon takes the heavier part of the cross, despite his reticence, and gives You a respite. The two of you continue.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

I am an African American woman. I know the burden of being black. Simon teaches me to see the grace that my suffering the injustices of racism afford me. It's a brutal grace, but there is redemption in our suffering when we offer it to You. This softens my heart to all kinds of suffering, but especially the many injustices in this world, to people of color, to women, to children, to the poor, but Lord, there is nothing more unjust than an innocent Man dying for everybody's sins. You received help, knowing You couldn't carry the cross alone. This station also teaches me to accept the help I'm offered, and to give the help it's often difficult for me to extend. We really do have to bear one another's burdens. Teach me to do so with great love and humility.

The Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

Suffering monstrous injustice has a face, and that face is God's. Jesus, Your brow, furrowed from the tremendous pain You're in, Your kind eyes, moist with grief, your cheeks, reddening and purpling from being struck repeatedly in the face... Lord, Your altogether lovely face, looks like the face of the battered woman, the political prisoner, and those afflicted with chronic pain diseases. Your face is the disabled, and every suffering soul, body, mind, and spirit. The ragamuffin face is Your sweet face. Veronica sees You. She cares. She doesn't have the good sense to stay away from you. Careful! Girl, Jesus is dangerous! But love compels her. She isn't thinking about the trouble she can get in. About the risks. From her own veil she wipes the spit and blood off Your face, to give You a modicum of relief. Grateful, You leave her a divine imprint of Your image on her cloth.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

I want to be Veronica. I want to relieve, in some tiny way, Your suffering. Maybe my veil will be the work, the helping. And the imprint of Your face You'll leave with me when I share with others is the smile on the face of a child who is no longer hungry. Perhaps Your icon will be gratefulness shining in the eyes of a transvestite prostitute who has lost all sense of self, but remembers what dignity is because I offered her a cup of coffee. No preaching. Simply a cup of coffee offered with no judgement, because like Veronica, I'll see and care, no matter how much trouble I'll be in for helping one of them. Yes, I want to be one who loves beyond calculating risks. I want to be the one You show Your image to, and that image, the imago dei, is present in the poorest of the poor, and I don't mean just financially.

The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls a Second Time

He is half-way there. Even with help the load is too much to bear. Once again, Jesus hits the dirt, dirt that He made with the sound of His voice, then humbled Himself to become. It's astounding. "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return." He, too, though Divine, was Dust. Jesus falls again, deeper into His humanity. He will not forgot us. He knows that we are weak, and so very human.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

Everyday I grow older. Every moment. I was born in the process of dying. My hair is grayer now. My joints ache and throb. My body is soft, flabby, and diminished. You enter into my suffering, having embodied it Yourself. You love me even though I didn't take care of myself. Even though I'm undisciplined, lazy, and self-destructive. I see what You have done for me. I see You there on the ground, so weak, tired, and human. You became human so that I could partake in Your Divine nature. I see this. It takes my breath away.

The Eight Station: Jesus Meets the Women

You met them, these women who love You, in their times of need. You touched them, and You weren't supposed to touch them, healing them of issues of blood and such. You spoke to them, even though some were Samaritans, because You saw their thirst, their deep, unquenchable needs, and You said to them, "Give Me to drink," because You thirsted Yourself, for their love, for their deliverance, for their healing. And now here they are, flanked by children, babies on hips, horror on their faces. They showed up for You, and You acknowledge them, just as You always did. But You keep going, so You can continue to love, touch, heal, deliver, and quench our parched, hurting places.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

Burn this moment in my soul: seeing You suffer, for me, a ragamuffin diva, and how You took the time, despite Your suffering, to look upon me with love in Your eyes. May I never forget that on the way to the cross You remembered me. You saw the rejection, the men, the rapes, the abuse, the self-abuse. You saw my thirst, that desert stretched out in my soul. You let me wash Your feet with my tears and hair, and the only beautiful fragrance I slathered on You was sorrow for my many sins, and my deep gratitude. You never, ever forget me. You remember us all.

The Ninth Station: Jesus Falls a Third Time

The people mock You. They think You are a joke, and they jeer at You from the sidelines. They don't remember the day the voice of God split the sky and the Holy Spirit glided through the blue to settle on You. "You are my Son, the Beloved," Abba said, "In Whom I am well pleased." The Beloved falls again. The Beloved doesn't appear to be capable of going on. Jesus, my Beloved, has fallen for the third time. If I don't feel I can take my much more of this spectacle, how in God's name is He going to get through this?

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

You are flattened beneath this cross. I want this terrible execution to stop RIGHT NOW! But it doesn't. You are still alive, dying, but alive right now. Jesus, You are crazy to suffer like this for the likes of us! You don't deserve it! But You accept it anyway. Your executioners help You to Your feet. One of them strikes You again, and they all laugh, as if it's hilarious seeing You so incapacitated. You, with Your wild claims, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." You look destroyed already, but somehow you for now, You only rise from the ground, take up Your cross, and show me how it's done. I adore You, Beloved.

The Tenth Station: Jesus is Stripped

Remarkable. Incredible. Unbelievable, but it's true. You arrived on this tiny planet You spoke into being, naked and squalling, clinging to a woman. Now, You are naked, again. Only there is no woman to swaddle You in cloth and cradle You to her nourishing bosom. Not yet. You are more vulnerable now than You were as a newborn birthed in a filthy barn. You have no protection. No hidden weapons. Certainly no shield! Naked. Evil men have stolen the dignity of God.

No, it is we who have stripped You. In fact, Lord, it is I.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

Your losses are staggering, and you've been stripped of far more than Your clothing. This is a shameful, bloody, humiliating death, that leaves little room for doubt:You love like no other. Lord, You're not even crying out here! Where is justice? It sure isn't demanding, "Pay me!" No, justice is as mute as You are, as You submit, for love, to the unthinkable.

I want to pray that You'll help me, touch my heart, so this can mean something to me. I don't want to forget this, especially on my cold-hearted, selfish days, but I literally don't have a prayer right now. It's You Who's on my mind. You are holding nothing back. I see it all. Every physical wound You took for me. My own shame, my own nakedness, doesn't even cross my mind. Jesus, I can only think of You. And this isn't over yet!

The Eleventh Station: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross

No gentleness exist here. They hoist You onto the wood, use unnecessary force to stretch out your arms and legs, and with those wretched nails, long and thick enough to carry the weight of a man, they hammer You, God, beaten, bloody and abused, to the cross.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

You've done it Jesus. You've entered completely into our suffering. There is no ragamuffin poorer and more needy than You. Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

The Twelfth Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross

You hang in the middle of two criminals. Naked. You thirst, but we are not like You. We cannot begin to quench Your thirst. Not today.

You give Your mother to your Beloved disciple, and in doing so, entrust her to us all. You give your disciple to her, ensuring that we will always have a Jewish mother. All of us. You forgive us, knowing we don't know what we've done. You cry out to Your Abba, the one Who called You The Beloved, Who said He was pleased with You. He presence is gone. You pray a shocking prayer, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me. Why have You deserted, left, cast aside, turned Your back on... why have You broken Me?

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

Saying, "I'm sorry," Isn't enough. My mouth refuses to utter such inadequacies before a broken God. My Lord, and my God, like the Beloved disciple, standing with You, I say nothing at all. I just stand there, staring and weeping, being broken myself as You draw Your final breath and gives Your life for me.

I must remember this:
"Then He took a loaf of bread, and when He had given thanks He broke it, and gave it to them saying, 'This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.' And He did the same with the cup after supper saying, "This cup that poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood." John 22:19, 20

The Thirteenth Station: Jesus is Taken Down From the Cross

His mother cradles Him in her arms, once again. But He is not a Babe. He is a Man, an innocent one. Jesus, the Beloved, in Whom God was well pleased, is really dead.

God is dead.
The world goes dark in mourning.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

I am weeping.

The Fourteenth Station: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

You said blessed are the poor, and who has less than the dead? You said blessed are they who mourn, but where is our comfort? Your disciples have scattered, afraid. Two men who followed You in secret, take You away from the scene of the crime, give You a resting place, and brokenhearted and reverent, wrap Your lifeless body in burial cloths and herbs. They place You in a tomb You did not own, though You made the world. A stone is rolled over the door.

You did it. You went and died for us. You, Who knows death is so permanent, so unforgiving. Hope died with You. And justice. Love is extinguished.

This is hell, existence without You.

We Adore You, O Christ, and we bless you;
Because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the whole world.

Dear God, we've killed You. Forgive us.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Congratulations, Lenten Failures

This year I felt like the flu was the Grinch who stole my Lent. For weeks I've languished, more miserable than not, with one brand of flu after another, back to back. I may find a few days respite, only to be slammed again, by some new incarnation of it.

Some days, I got my penances and devotions right. Most days I was toast. On this Holy Tuesday I'm thinking of all the people who shared their Lenten journeys with me, and how often I heard from them, "I failed."

Me, too.

Congratulations. If we are more aware of our sins, weaknesses, and failures, we have had a successful Lenten journey. I began the 40 days so earnest, chapel veil on my head, and cross of palm ashes on my forehead. I end it sitting here weary, with another achy tummy, having just finished yet another bowl of Mrs. Grass's Chicken Noodle Soup. I have no idea where my chapel veil is. The cross I bear now is not ashes, but illness, and not the usual one! A completely unexpected addition to my season of penance. The flu taught me something, however, namely, without God, I can do nothing. I can't pray. Can't fast. Can't long even so much as for Him. Lord, have mercy, a sistah can't even crawl, Pepto Bismal and Thera-flu in hand, toward grace with out the grace to do so. My vaguest notions of poverty of spirit are oh-so much more real now. I'm completely reliant on God, because I'm a mess, a sick, tired, sinful, and ridiculously needy mess. What is the point of Lent if not becoming more keenly aware of that?

Thank God for failure. It effectively chases ugly spiritual pride away. It burns up our self-reliance. If we are smart, we will learn to love better because of our failues, and look upon our brothers and sisters in Christ, and on this planet period, with the soft, kind eyes of grace.

Another Lenten surprise has been the tender emotional healing of wounds that have needed salve for a long time. Some sore spots in our soul heal a bit, only to fester once again. What love I've been given. I wanted to do something for Jesus. Turns out He did something for me, and several other lovies in my life. Thank you, Lord!

I wasn't able to do the zine, The Stations of the Cross for an African orphan, but I'm keeping the idea for a later time. Sadly, the orphans need so much support, whenever I do it will be timely, and they will benefit from whatever we raise.

I'd still like to share The Stations of the Cross with you, however. By Holy Thursday I'm going to post my ragamuffin stations right here. We, as poor and needy as we are, can walk together with Christ on the scandalous journey that showed us He loves us to death. I hope you will join me, and covet your prayers.

Much love,