Friday, April 6, 2007

Good Friday

"Although many people suffer from physical and mental disabilities, and although there is a great amount of economic poverty, homelessness, and lack of basic human needs, the suffering of which I am most aware on a day-to-day basis is the suffering of the broken heart. Again and again, I see the immense pain of broken relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, lovers, friends, and colleagues. In the Western world, the suffering that seems to be the most painful is that of feeling rejected, ignored, despised and left alone. In my own community, with many severely handicapped men and women, the greatest source of suffering is not the handicap itself, but the accompanying feelings of being useless, worthless, unappreciated, and unloved. It is much easier to accept the inability to speak, walk, or feed oneself than it is to accept the inability to be of special value to another person. We human beings can suffer immense deprivations with great steadfastness, but when we sense that we no longer have anything to offer to anyone, we quickly lose our grip on life." Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen

A night of darkness, emptiness, loneliness, death. That this night, in any way, is referenced as 'good' seems masochistic and down right barbaric. With theist theologies of substitutionary atonement, grotesque images from Mel Gibson's Passion supposedly lending greater credibility and purpose to his death just because it is more brutal, it is clear that we are driven to make meaning out of meaninglessness. What if the cross is just that, meaningless? What would that do to our entire theology of 'dying for a purpose'? What if there is no purpose? What if our attempts at arriving at a purpose say more about us than God?

'Oh, you mean, to die for the sins of the world? But doesn't God already do that before Jesus comes on the scene? Don't we hear about God's gift of forgiveness in Psalm 51, Jeremiah 31 and continual words from the prophets that what is acceptable to God is not sacrifices, but a contrite heart?'

Still, tonight I ponder and share in the emptiness of death with all those meaningless deaths out there for which there is no answer, for which there is no neat and tidy resolution to the dissonance of existence within this world. What of the hundreds of thousands of children dying this night of starvation and disease? What of the innocent joy-filled families whose lives are forever shattered by a bomb entering their living room? What of the over 600 young girls from Juarez, Mexico who never make it home to be reunited with loved ones and who only turn up brutally murdered and raped? Is there an answer for them? I suppose in each of these cases we could just demonize the perpetrators or justify their ends through our fancy intellectualized constructs like 'teleological ethics'. But in the end, it really is without meaning, that is, a meaning that really never satisfies, justifies or comforts.

So how do I make sense, myself, of my grandfather living all those years as a Jew, whose father Albert Stern, sent him away when he was 18 years of age with a special book, within which was inscribed, "To our dear son Alfred, as a keep sake. Use this prayer book to remind you of us. Stay a faithful Jew and be a good human being! Berleburg, on the day before your exodus. 5 February, 1939, your dear parents."

What am I to do with this? To hell with all your explanations and justifications! Emptiness and darkness is all there is and seems to be. While he never saw his parents or his sister again, and it was reported they were killed in the camps, he did meet up with his aunt and uncle years later who would sponsor he, his wife Grace and my mother Freda (Frieda) into America in the early 50's. And so I often think back on his life at this time of year, and wonder about his thoughts on death and life. I was never old enough to engage with him in any serious way before he died, but in some way, I actually do find some semblance of hope in the meaninglessness of death, because it is there, where one is alone, in the loud silence, that perhaps we, or maybe just I, am comforted by the idea, that I'm really not as alone as I'd like to believe that I am. There is one, a powerful, holy and humble One, who is willing 'to be' in the isolation of the fullness of humanity.


Sarcastic Lutheran said...

Our need to pretty things up is just our fear of meaninglessness. I know for me that there is actually comfort in facing the meaningless, for it is that space in which God can be God and not our projected image of God.

tamie said...

your words are courageous.

i bow to you, to your honesty, to your humanity.