Last night I talked about my favorite new painter, William Brassey Hole. I am not sure he is the most spectacular painter. But the scenes he paints are the most spectacular ever.
The one on which we were meditating last night is the one called, in short, “Jesus about to heal a boy.” It is one of Hole’s “on the spot” imaginations of what it must have been like to be part of the scene when Jesus descended from the experience of transfiguration on the mountain and entered into a village in which a boy was tormented by an evil spirit.
There is a lot to say about what Mark reveals about that moment in history. But the part of the painting that sticks with me is the man in the foreground zoning out. He is reminding me too much of myself. I can’t help but pay attention to him as we get near Holy Week.
A few people reading this probably just said, “What is Holy Week?” Wikipedia does not really do it justice. Circle of Hope tries to get into it deep. We spend the whole week walking with Jesus through his last days, in a symbolic way, mainly through our nightly meetings that listen to the scripture and replicate it in some significant way. Our Holy Week observance is intentionally “over the top.” It stakes a claim to our attention and time in a world that would love to shuffle Jesus off into “private time,” which none of us has much of anyway. Holy Week insists that we plan around it, we change our schedule, we do something so Christian that our acquaintances will find out about it and we will have to explain ourselves; it honors Jesus going to the cross, which is still the scandalous basis for our faith. I love it.
That is, I love it theoretically. It is certainly the right thing to do. I am proud to have it in my schedule. I think I should honor Jesus. But I am still way too much like that guy in the painting looking “wherever.”
The most important thing that will ever happen in his village is about to happen and he is looking somewhere else. I can’t quite interpret what he is thinking.
- He could just be blanked out, like people on the subway waiting for the train to stop, sleepwalking.
- He could be lost in his own thoughts, slightly depressed; a screaming boy can’t even get his attention.
- He might be worried, looking up the hill to see if anyone is watching this, like his wife maybe, who wishes they would move out of his terrible village into her father’s village, where there are no seizure-ridden boys.
- He might be wondering if that dog wandering up there is his dog that got untied and is chasing the neighbor’s chicken.
For whatever reason, his attention is wandering away from Jesus coming to his village and the miracle that is about to happen. I might do that with Holy week.
A lot of my friends will ignore the discipline of Holy Week because they think they carry Jesus with them in their heart, exclusively, like they are the vehicle for his existence. They don’t live in Jesus, Jesus lives in them; and whatever they do, Jesus is privileged to bless. If they let Him out of the cage of their heart, he should feel grateful.
I never quite got that Christianity, even though it has been popular for decades. I still feel like I am privileged to follow Jesus around. I expect to be surprised at how he is going to show up. I spend a lot of effort tuning my receptors, so I am ready for him. I am welcomed into his universe, restored to my place in it. I am watching for what my king desires.
So I don’t want to zone out during Holy Week. Yes, it is arbitrary to have a holy week, and no, Jesus is not restricted to showing up during it. Yes, most of it was invented by Catholics, and no, it is not a magical vortex of some kind. Yes, there are a lot of arguments for why one should go to class or wherever instead of the observances, but they are mostly bogus reasons, imho. I think the week will be especially helpful in fulfilling my desire to zone in on Jesus, so I don’t just zone out about stuff that is threatening to overwhelm me.
It is tempting every year for me to tamp down the meaning and emotion of Holy Week, to look away, to let it happen without me while my mind is occupied elsewhere or my mind is occupied with resisting being occupied. I am way too much like that man in the painting. Jesus is going to the cross and I…
- could be preoccupied with my relationship problems.
- could wonder if the observances are worth the effort to attend. Some people would think it was radical to ask their boss for time off from noon to three on Good Friday because they aren’t going to work while Jesus is on the cross doing his work. And it is true, some people in charge of the observances might not be all that adept.
- could be distracted by how weird it is to be a Christian who is so serious. Every day!?
- could just stay distant. I might go to every meeting and manage to never concentrate on what they mean, or on the Lord’s presence in the moment, or on my own heart’s struggle.
Those are just a few of my issues.
How are you working with the opportunity?
I think it is the most important week of the year. It is the week that should color all the other weeks. If the year is going to be Christian, it should be like Jesus is coming to heal a boy in our own village, not like a passing thought trying to get into my preoccupied mind.