Another Forty Days, Day 41–And So We Rest

“I’m going to miss your writing. Sure you don’t want to continue?” And old friend posted on my Facebook page in response to the Day 36 post. I smiled when I read it, but gently let her know that writing a daily blog required a lot of effort and often far more energy than I believed I had. I am amazed to be at the end of this journey of Another Forty Days. I was only in the first 10 days of writing when I seriously considered throwing in the towel and abandoning this Lenten blog in the same way as I’d abandoned my Advent blog after just a few days. See, I was not confident that my mental and emotional capacity, not to mention my energy level, for sustained writing on a daily basis was sufficient to carry me through all 40 days. And yet, here we are on Day 41.

“I don’t know how you do it sometimes, push through your exhaustion to get things done.” Another friend remarked, shaking her head. “I don’t think I’d be able to do it.”

“You push through things,” I protested, pushing back, trying to minimize her compliment of my stick-to-it-ness. In reality I know she was right and I was trying to ignore it, that feeling of exhaustion I experience on a far-too-regular basis.

How do we keep going, when everything in us is screaming for us to stop, to take a break, to give up and give in. But we keep going–we do it, well, let me speak for myself–I do it, keep going, because I must, because the alternative would be to stop moving, to sit, and not get up again. In so many situations, I have found that I have had only myself to depend on to get something done. If I didn’t or couldn’t do it, it simply wouldn’t happen, and that thing not happening was simply not an option. And so, it didn’t matter what I did or did not feel like doing, I got up, put one foot in front of the other, and worked until I got it done.

Nevertheless, there comes a time when we simply must rest, where we have to take a breather, whether for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days. There comes a point at which we can no longer push, tax our bodies and/or our minds, asking, demanding it to do whatever it is we’re asking of it. We have to find a way to stop. And so we rest.

I must be honest that I am glad to have reached Resurrection Sunday. I can say “Hallelujah” again (though in truth I never really stopped, and I don’t say it that often anyway), I get to eat foods that I generally only eat a few times per year, and, I get to take a rest from this daily blog. I still write every day–I’ve been journaling every morning for many years–but not for public consumption. The pressure to write something coherent and relatively meaningful every day, particularly after I get home from some long, stressful days at work, can be a heavy mental load indeed.

And yet, as I think about Jesus, and other human beings who devote significant hours each day teaching, healing, preaching to, feeding, speaking with day in and day out, seven days a week, it is a small thing to reach out and touch people with words and to do what good I can where I can to support the people around me. It’s what Jesus did, no matter how tired he invariably got, so I imagine I can find the energy to do what I can do. I don’t think, at least for the foreseeable future, that includes continuing to write a daily blog. I need to take a little time off to figure out what’s next.

It’s been a privilege, once again, to share my thoughts, ideas, and yes, occasionally my struggles with you over these 41 days. I have no idea when I’ll be back here in “Consider This,” the overall name of this blog site, but I will visit her periodically. And who knows, after writing “Forty Days,” in 2015, and “The Next Forty Days” last year, and “Another Forty Days,” this year, who knows what will happen next Lent. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Meanwhile the end of Lent often signals a time of taking back up the various things we “gave up” for the season and stopping those things we took on (like fasting or not eating meat on Fridays). I encourage each of us to think about those things we gave up as well as those things we took on and see if there’s merit in continuing the practice for the foreseeable future. One year I decided to give up riding the elevator at work and, in the interest of overall wellness, take the four flights (66 steps, not counting the landings) up to my floor. After Lent was over, I continued the practice and do so to this day. I will continue to fast and spend some time in reflection in the days ahead. These things are good practices for any time of the year, not solely during certain liturgical seasons.

I wish you all good things as you continue your journey. May you be filled with lovingkindness and compassion. May you be peaceful and happy. May you be safe and protected from harm. May you be healthy and strong in body, mind, and spirit. May you live with joy, ease, and wellbeing. May all of your sorrows, grief, and suffering be held with great compassion. May your good fortune continue and grow. May you learn to see the arising and passing of all things with equanimity and balance. May it indeed be so for us all!

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Another Forty Days, Day 40–And So We Wait

Jesus is dead. For  those watching the spectacle from start to finish–people like his mother, Mary, Mary Magdalen, and John–it must have felt like the day that would never end. He was taken down and prepared for burial, then sealed in the tomb and the massive stone rolled in front of it. When it was all said and done, the two Marys, the disciples and followers went to their respective abodes and likely collapsed from the exhaustion and strain of an incredibly stressful 24 hours.

Anyone who has ever sat with the dying and been drawn into all the preparation that precedes and follows the death of a loved one, knows what a stressful and exhausting ordeal it can be, even when the death is expected and relatively uneventful. While my mother was dying, my five siblings, our father and I sat vigil with her at the hospital for nearly a week, all of us arriving from various cities on a Sunday afternoon. Apparently she had died at least once when she’d first arrived, but my father (who was a physician) resuscitated her. We hovered around her praying and singing and telling her it was okay for her to go. (I can only imagine what she was thinking, we were probably such a sight.)

At one point in the middle of the week, she appeared to rally, actually alert and motioning and asking questions. By Friday, she had exhausted herself and fell into a deep sleep, from which she didn’t stir before I left to go back home to check on my family. We were all physically and emotionally drained from having lived at the hospital for most of those days, keeping watch. It was interesting, but she in essence waited for most of us to leave–me back to Michigan and my sisters back to the DC area–before she quietly took her last breath, witnessed only by my father, one brother and his wife.

I was not involved in planning my mother’s funeral. I showed up where I was told to be, did what I was told to do. I did sing at her Mass, a song I had written for her, alongside my younger sister who sang harmony. The entire time was surreal. But it was simple, straightforward, and while heartbreaking for us, it was not marked by the drama and violence that had been visited upon Jesus and witnessed by his mother and close followers.

For some reason, I was more involved with the process of my father’s death and aftermath. I arrived in his hospital room only a few moments after he’d died. One of my brothers and my oldest sister were in the room, and my father lay there, still and unmoving. It was hushed in the room–no whirring machines or beeping monitors, only the occasional sniffing of one of us who was quietly crying. After a while we scattered, and I called my children in California, trying to wait until it was late enough to not wake them, to tell them their grandfather had passed.

Those days were a different kind of exhausting. I wrote his obituary–for some reason the task fell to me, though any of my siblings were capable of writing it–and all of us were involved in the planning of the service, selecting readings, and music and making all manner of mundane decisions. At times we argued over silly things. I could tell it was all about the strain of it all. And I wept far more often than was my wont. Mostly the time was draining. When it was all said and done, we all boarded our planes or got back into our cars, and went back into our lives.

For the followers of Jesus, from the time he was sealed in the tomb, they waited. Hadn’t he said he was coming back? What must that Saturday have been like? They all were sequestered, in hiding while much of the unrest surrounding Jesus’s death continued to bubble. The religious establishment as well as the Roman oppressors each had their stresses associated with this wait. The whole city, at least the part of it who had heard the prediction, the promise that Jesus made that he would rise from the dead to walk the earth after three days, was holding its breath to see what would happen.

We too wait, though for what I am not entirely sure. To see that promises and predictions about those things we are waiting for come to pass? While Jesus slept or did whatever it was he was doing after he died, the people who loved him waited. The people who feared him waited. The people who hated him waited. And so we too wait.

When we take a 360-degree view of the world around us, we see so much conflict and confusion and uncertainty around us. Few places in our line of sight are untouched by some form of drama, trauma, or difficulty. And, in a sense, as the followers of Jesus waited in their tiny hiding place to see what would happen, we too wait and watch to see what’s going to happen. The fact is that waiting is inevitable, but what’s important is how we wait.

As I wrote in a post from a short-lived Advent blog:

There’s a line from the Catholic Mass that captures this anticipation, “As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” I’ve often pondered this notion—waiting in joyful hope versus what? Fearful dread? And yet, in fearful dread is sometimes how we wait. We wait for outcomes, for news of someone who’s been injured or seriously ill, for the results of a medical test. Or the more mundane waiting: being stuck in the slow crawl of rush hour traffic, sitting in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, standing in the checkout line at the supermarket. We spend a lot of time waiting, but how do we learn to wait in joyful hope?

The last few weeks and months have been very challenging ones for the heart of a nation. How do we learn to wait in joyful hope for good to come? How did the Israelites do it two millennia ago as they waited for Emmanuel? How has any people waited who suffered in bondage or oppression? Perhaps for a time there is fearful dread, followed by grim determination and perseverance. I honestly don’t know what it takes to wait in joyful hope, but that is what I am reaching toward. It’s inevitable that we wait; what’s important is how we wait. What do we do during the waiting time, and how can we turn from fearful dread toward joyful hope?

And so we wait, not passively, but actively responding to the things we see around us. While we’re waiting for Jesus to wake up, rather than cowering in a room somewhere waiting to see if the promise is fulfilled, let’s find ways to make ourselves useful to calm the unrest around us, including the unrest that resides in us during these tense, intense times. What would Jesus have us do?

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Another Forty Days, Day 39–And So We Mourn

What a 24 hours it must’ve been between the Last Supper and the removal of Jesus’s lifeless body from the cross. Imagine the urgency he must have been feeling as he dined for the last time with his closest followers, his friends. There was so much he still wanted to tell them, to teach them, and to reassure them one more time that everything that was happening and going to happen was all part of the plan. Perhaps he had to likewise remind himself that it was part of the plan.

“Okay, friends, remember when you take this bread and this wine and bless it to share with others, remember the sacrifice that I am about to make. When you do this, remember me.” So many things to tell them, so little time. And yet if the entire scenario was to play itself out, he was essentially out of time. He had to release Judas to go play his part by betraying him to the authorities, and he still needed a little time to prepare himself, because once it all started to go down, these very same beloved disciples would scatter and desert him, cowering in fear that the same fate that befell Jesus would likewise fall upon them.

And so when the conversation and dining was over, as was often his habit, he retreated to pray. He brought some of his disciples with him, asking that they keep watch and likewise pray. He walked a little deeper into the garden, before “falling with his face to the ground” crying out in agony to God. In the garden, the Son of Man agonized and fretted in such anguish that it was said that his sweat came out like great drops of blood. He essentially asked God if he really had to go through with it, the suffering and death he knew was coming. He really was, in those hours, the son of man, for what human being would want to endure what he knew was to come. And, perhaps the worst part of it was that through the ordeal he would be separated from God, the one constant voice, connection, he’d enjoyed throughout his entire life. Yes, I suppose I would also be lamenting and crying out and sweating blood.

At the end of a long day, and the end of a much longer week, one which began with triumph and adulation and would end with ignominy and rejection, he spent those last solitary hours in mental torment.

This evening I was talking to my friend about how I envisioned various parts of the “passion story.” We talked through some of the gory, painful details of what we imagined happened to Jesus from the time Judas kissed him and turned him over to the mob to the time he spoke his last anguished words that told of his disconnection from his father, “my god, my god, why have you abandoned me?” Such a heart-wrenching and excruciatingly painful story. Whether one is religious, agnostic, or even atheist, a story of such human suffering touches all but the coldest, deadest heart. And so we mourn.

I find my heart breaking for all the other innocent victims who are tortured, suffer, and die in agony, ignominy, and rejection. So very many, all around the world. Can we not see Jesus in them recognize their humanity? I have been on a news fast for many, many weeks. I simply could not turn on the evening news, even the local broadcasts, and take in the sorry state of the world. One cannot act if one is overwhelmed and depressed by the sheer magnitude of the problems we face in healing this planet. And so, I stopped watching, particularly the over-sensationalized stuff I had been dining with each night after I came home from work.

I have the privilege to simply turn off the television, stop reading the news on my Facebook feed, and engage my mind in mundane pursuits. But the passion of Jesus, commemorated today in particular, but every day in Catholic masses around the world, invites me to turn and face those things I find difficult to bear and ask, “What can I do? How can I serve?” I am not sure I have the answer in its entirety; perhaps I only have an answer for myself and we each must seek our own. As I wrote two weeks ago:

“How can we hope to make a change, given all the strife around us? And then a light goes on and I remind myself that it starts and ends with me, doing what I do where I do it.  If I focused on all that needs to happen in the world, my heart would go out of me at the near impossibility of the task. I have to remember that it is not my job to change the whole world, I need to work in my own back yard. That is the way to change the world: by changing my world.” ~Another Forty Days, Day 24

And so it goes. On this the 39th day, I bow my head in remembrance.

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Another Forty Days, Day 38–Loving the Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

Sometimes it seems there really are more questions than answers. I have spent a lot of time developing patience with the many things that have been unsolved in my heart over the years. At any given time, I’ve had a lot of questions that have required that I develop patience. There are times when I seem no closer to the answers than when I first started asking all of the existential questions: Why am I here? What is my purpose? What would happen if I stick these tweezers in the socket? Yes, I was quite young when I began asking all these questions, including the last one. (I tried it and lived to tell the tale.)

In all seriousness, I have learned to live in a space where I had to begin trying to love the questions, because the answers either were not coming or were so obscured I could not read them. Sometimes they have been tantalizingly close; I can literally feel them, see them on the periphery of my sight, but when I turn my head to “catch” them, they wink away. I have spent a great deal of time living the questions, befriending them, at times lamenting them. I can’t help but feel that perhaps I am approaching the “distant day” that Rilke refers to, and that I am actually starting to live into some answers. And beyond that, I find that there’s no longer a sense of urgency in my questions.

Perhaps, indeed, Rilke’s “distant day” is here. The answers are likely all around me, not out of reach as I used to envision them, but all around. It could be I had to live the questions until they became the real questions. I have no idea. And although I have my days of doubt and frustration and sometimes anger at what I see in the world around me, I also know that I am here to help resolve someone else’s questions.

Have you ever done something, said something to someone, offered a kind word or gesture, went out of your way to reach out to someone you hadn’t spoken to for a while? And when you did that, the person responded with something like, “Thank you, that was exactly what I needed to hear?” On that day, in that moment, you answered a question they didn’t even know they’d asked. There have been times when, in conversation with someone, I can literally feel their spirit drinking in what I am saying. It is the divine spark in them responding to the divine spark in me. In that moment, I helped them live into an answer.

As for my own questions, I have at times been hard pressed to find answers or have not recognized them when they were given to me. I think it’s kind of the law of “physician heal thyself,” in which those of us who coach and guide and lead and offer all kinds of sage advice, are very nearly incapable of doing anything of the sort for ourselves. I think that, too, is a spiritual principle of sorts, based on our interdependence with all other beings. We truly do need each other and provide balance for one another.

Oh yes, I’m learning to love the questions and live into them as best I can as I wait for that “distant day.” Over the course of these 40 days I’ve explored a variety of questions, noting some of those here in this blog, and contemplating others in my heart and mind. And now we approach the last days, of the Lenten season and of this year’s blog.

In liturgical terms, today is “Maundy Thursday,” which I grew up referring to as “Holy Thursday.” It’s the evening during which Christians commemorate the “Last Supper,” the last time Jesus hung out and broke bread with his closest followers. It was the night his betrayer would hand him over to the authorities, commencing Jesus’s last days on the planet. Tomorrow, “Good Friday” is probably the most solemn day in the liturgical year; and even though I no longer adhere to the various practices and tenets of my former faith tradition, I still find myself reflecting on various elements of Jesus’s final, agonizing hours–at the last supper, his anguished prayer time in the garden of Gethsemane, and his arrest, torture and crucifixion.

Regardless of the faith tradition of the various people who’ve taken this journey with me this year, I appreciate your company, the occasional comments you shared, your “likes” and “shares” on Facebook. My purpose in writing each year is about learning to love and living into the questions alongside you, and perhaps occasionally living an answer or two. Thank you for joining me.

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Another Forty Days, Day 37–No Right Time

Whenever you’re ready,
I’ve got the car and the engine running
Such a bore when you know what’s coming all the time.
Whenever you’re ready, to slam the door ’til the hinges fly
Trace an arc across the big blue sky,
It’s always gonna be hard, to take things a little too far…

“Whenever you’re ready
To light a match and to burn some bridges,
Try to dance on a narrow ledge that’s way too high
Whenever you’re ready
To give it up or to just give in
The more you lose, hell, the more you win
In spite of all of your plans, it’s always been out of your hands.”

~Mary Chapin Carpenter

This morning I asked myself a question: why do we wait? Why do we linger in unhealthy relationships, go to work everyday at unfulfilling, spirit-murdering jobs, rush through our days to get to the next thing without ever considering what the next thing is? For most of the choices we make there usually consequences, and sometimes benefits. There’s something that keeps us doing what we’re doing (whether it’s working or serving us or not) or not doing what we could be doing, to make the change our spirits are calling for. Perhaps part of the answer is found in this lyric from “The Wiz” soundtrack.

“There’s a feeling here inside
That I cannot hide
And I know I’ve tried
But it’s turning me around
I’m not sure that I’m aware
If I’m up or down
Or here or there
I need both feet on the ground
Why do I feel like I’m drowning?
When there is plenty of air.
Why do I feel like frowning?
I think the feeling is fear.”

~ Dorothy from “The Wiz”

Ah, fear. Fear has kept me immobilized from taking many actions, making many decisions that I was being called on to make, the vast majority of which were directly connected to those things I needed to do for myself, to enhance my personal situation and/or strengthen my overall sense of wellbeing. Time after time, the decisions I’ve made and the actions I’ve taken had led me in the very opposite direction from what I needed to do, where I needed to go. And all of my reasons for not doing what I didn’t do and for doing what I did largely have their bases in fear, disguised as “common sense.” See if any of these sound familiar:

  • “I can’t do that (quit my job in a highly toxic environment), I have people who depend on me.”
  • “I can’t leave him (choosing to remain in a mentally abusive relationship), he doesn’t mean what he says, it’s just because he’s so stressed.”
  • “I’d better accept this job even though they’re offering me a lower salary than I should be earning. I need the job.”
  • “I’d better not saying anything about that (not “blowing the whistle” on unethical or illegal behavior), I don’t want to get into trouble.”
  • “I’m not going to submit that manuscript to a publisher, it’s not good enough.”
  • “_______________________.” You fill in the blank.

I actually could include my own long list of things, but above are a few examples. Look through your own life, there are plenty of items you could probably add to the list. But the list is no longer important. What is important is what you are–what I am–willing to do today. What kind of decision can I make, what small baby steps can I take that move me closer to a life of wild joy?

The other day I posed a question to my significant other, and then asked a couple of other people: Can you age out of your dreams? In other words, when does the time come when we’re too old to do those things we longed to do when we were younger, before the realities an challenges of life took their toll on us? Will I ever be an olympic, world class athlete? No. Can I still finish the novel I’ve been writing for my entire life (in one form or another)? Absolutely. Can I quit my job and travel around the world? Most likely, with a little planning and a lot of pluck. Will I ever own and manage my farm, retreat center? Will I do so many things that would have been so much easier for a 40-year old versus a nearly 60-year old? Hard to say. The point is this: there is no “right” time, no good, convenient, perfect, auspicious, (insert additional adjectives here ______) time for us to make a move. So, as I asked at the beginning of this post: why do we wait? Perhaps it’s time to stop waiting.

What does any of this have to do with Lent, with the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Not much, except that as long as we walk this earth, what would Jesus have us do to bring more love, compassion, peace, and joy into the world? Perhaps we begin by first inviting those things into our own lives and spreading it outward from there. I want to pose the question that Mary Oliver asks at the end of her poem, The Summer Day:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Posted in Dreams, Random Musings, TIme | Leave a comment

Another Forty Days, Day 36–Lost Connections

“If God is in his sanctuary
And Jesus is still on the throne,
And the Holy Ghost rests in the hearts of man,
Then why am I still struggling alone?”

I penned these words as part of a song I wrote in the months after my mother died. I was angry at that particular time, not just because God seem to be invisible, hiding from me, but also that he† seemed to have abandoned my mother in her sickness. I didn’t expect that God would help me, I who had abandoned my religious practice some years earlier, but I really expected that he would show up for her, she who remained relatively devout in her faith throughout most of her life. I felt in some ways that she and I had been sold a bill of goods about God, believing that  when we had need, God  would answer and somehow fix things. If we believed hard enough, God would heal her of Stage IV lung cancer that metastasized to her brain.

It might sound odd and contradictory, but the last 20+ years have both hardened and softened me. I hardened my heart to the grief and pain, layering protections over it, layer after layer after layer, to keep me from feeling the sadness and deep loss. But the time has also softened me, encouraging me to open my eyes with a more seasoned, reasoned view of things; the overly simplistic, childlike faith that expected God to be magician and fix things matured into a deeper understanding of the complexities of faith, life and death, and religious practice. Over time, the hardening and layers, too, have diminished and I have been able to feel more fully and deeply, though I still have a ways to go with that.

“I prayed and I cried and I sought the Lord’s face
I chased his spirit all over the place,
But no matter how I try,
He doesn’t seem to know my name.”

I spent a number of years deeply immersed in a fairly strict, fundamentalist church. I joined, having left behind my Catholic faith, because of the promise that I would hear from and know God, that I could forge a personal connection to God. Since childhood I had been a spiritual seeker, sensing the presence of the divine all around me without knowing how to access it. I saw something in the church that I believed would help me find it. And while there were times when I touched it, the overall environment was oppressive and manipulated, even though it professed the opposite. I left with my sanity relatively intact, but my trust level in organized religion and, unfortunately for a time my faith, had diminished dramatically. It wasn’t until I was free from the structures that I discovered my true faith, outside of organized religion.

“Lord, I want to believe
There’s someone up there listening to me,
You see, I called and I cried ’til my throat was sore
But I don’t think I can cry out anymore.
Oh Lord when I call, won’t you please just answer my prayer.”

As for my personal connection to the divine: I’m still working on it, still discovering it. It is a work in progress. There are times, as I wrote the other night, when I can feel the divine in the stillness at my core, and I know I am connected. It’s not the voice speaking to me as I once imagined I might communicate with God, but it’s a peace and calm outside of something that I could create. My definition of divine.

“God, if you can really hear me, please won’t you give me a sign,
Just to know that you’re there or that you even care,
Just to know that you’re still on the line.
I need something I can feel, hear or see, ’cause right now the silence is deafening to me
And no matter how I cry, you never seem to answer my prayer.”

So this week in particular I find myself thinking about losing even the tenuous connection that I feel I have with God. I literally find myself talking to God, all day long, every day. I thank God for the sunshine, the buds preparing to burst open, the amusing antics of the squirrels as they raid my neighbor’s bird feeder. I express gratitude for the things that go well at work, and when I curse and swear when things do not go well, I don’t blame God. We are in a largely one-way conversation every day, and while I don’t hear a voice in my head or booming down from the heavens, in a very odd way, I feel heard.

So what must it have been like then, for Jesus, when at the height of his agony he cries out, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” To have felt cut off from God, the constant and close-as-your-own-skin companion, the one who declared Jesus to be his “beloved son in whom [I am] well pleased”…what must that have felt like? Jesus, after living a life dedicated to God, to healing others and sharing the message of the blessings God has for believers, felt abandoned, left alone to die a brutal and ignominious death. But even at the very end, his last words were to God, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

God and I have had an interesting relationship over the years. I grouse at God about a variety of things over the course of the day, which is almost alway balanced out by gratitude and praise. I can’t help it. It seems to always be where I land. Once I passed through the anger phase of the various stages of grief, I resumed my constant stream of communication with God. No matter what is going on in my life, my heart seeks the connection, and while I don’t often hear the voice of God or experience direct engagement with or intervention in the various activities and predicaments I occasionally find myself in, I nonetheless appreciate the connection. As these 40 days of focused attention come to a conclusion at the end of the week, I will nonetheless tug on the connection just to be sure it is still there. And I’ll be grateful.

†I use the pronoun “he” for God for sake of simplicity, and I suppose out of habit, not because I believe God has a gender. I do not.

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Another Forty Days, Day 35–Bloodied but Unbowed

It would not be one of my blog series if I didn’t include, in some form, the poem “Invictus,” written in 1875 by William Ernest Henley. Although I had known of the poem for many years (remembered in vague childhood recollections as being recited by my father at some point, though I could be wrong) it wasn’t until I was befallen by a series of unfortunate events back in 2011 that it became a source of strength and inspiration that kept me encouraged, even when my life felt most challenged. At any given time in rereading the poem, different parts would catch my attention, giving me what I needed in that moment.

And so as these 40 days begin to wind down, this line stands out to me, “My head is bloodied, but unbowed,” reminding me that we can be bruised and battered–figuratively and literally–by circumstances, wounded by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, and still be able to stand strong.We have all been through trials, challenges that left us wondering what was happening to us and when would it end (or when we would end.) It is in those moments that we learn what we are made of, we recognize our ability to withstand the storms no matter how hard the wind blows and how many times we get blown over. We somehow learn to get back up.

My life is so much better by far than it had been when things went sideways a few years ago. Every material thing I lost during those months has been fully restored and then some. The lingering residue from that time is that it left me with a keener understanding of who I am outside of the external trappings of social positions, jobs, relationships, and any tangible, material things. Those times weren’t easy, but they helped me to focus on what was important.

I think the line, “My head is bloodied but unbowed” implies standing strong in the face of adversity. On one level, it can sound like a lot of bravado; much of the imagery in the poem seems to focus on stoically taking a beating at the hands of life without crying out or bowing one’s head to it. I like to think there’s a sense of gratitude at having taken everything that circumstance had to throw at a person and coming through it stronger for what those circumstances had to teach. Life has it’s difficult moments. One can learn from them without being utterly shattered by them.

Sometimes it isn’t the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but small winds of discontent may blow through our lives…nothing that causes the serious damage of a tornado or hurricane, but enough to stir up a variety of smaller irritants. It’s much harder to learn what one is made of when life is slowly eroded away by these winds and rains rather than blown quickly away by a powerful storm. The good thing about the storm is that the damage is immediate, and you know how to assess it and take action to repair the damage. The slow erosion is much more difficult because of the gradual leaching away of essence and energy. It sort of makes the brutality of the storm sound  preferable to the achingly slow, glacier like movement that grinds rocks and boulders into soil. (Oh dear, mixing metaphors again…)

In either case, the task is to stand strong as best we can, and persevere. This last week of Lent is filled with drama, of agony and ecstasy, but mostly agony. Jesus’s head and entire body was battered and bloodied as he went through the various trials and ordeals on his last day. His head wasn’t bowed either; for though he stood laid bare and humbled before the masses, even as he was beaten beyond recognition and paraded through the city streets headed to the hill of crucifixion, he still reached out and spoke to and comforted people around him, especially to those whom he loved. To the moment he died, his head was bloodied, but unbowed.

When people say, “I want to be like Jesus,” they need to be careful and mindful of what they’re asking for. Nevertheless, there is a lot to learn from the examples he set not only about how to be loving, kind, and compassionate but also how to suffer physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually and somehow remain intact. There is so much more to learn, and so we go on.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
~William Ernest Henley, 1875

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