Lent is when Christians step away from the world root to ourselves more firmly in the heart of God. Reading poetry is a practice that helps me shift to a quieter, deeper source. Here’s a poem by Emily Dickinson that touches on Lenten themes with her reference to “sabachthani” (“Why have you abandoned me?”) and Christ’s crucifixion. One early critic of Dickinson said that if she exhibits toward God “an Emersonian self-possession,” it is because of her unflinching and radically egalitarian candor.
by Emily Dickinson
I should have been too glad, I see,
Too lifted for the scant degree
Of life’s penurious round;
My little circuit would have shamed
This new circumference, have blamed
The homelier time behind.
I should have been too saved, I see,
Too rescued; fear too dim to me
That I could spell the prayer
I knew so perfect yesterday, —
That scalding one, “Sabachthani,”
Recited fluent here.
Earth would have been too much, I see,
And heaven not enough for me;
I should have had the joy
Without the fear to justify, —
The palm without the Calvary;
So, Saviour, crucify.
Defeat whets victory, they say;
The reefs in old Gethsemane
Endear the shore beyond.
‘Tis beggars banquets best define;
‘Tis thirsting vitalizes wine, —
Faith faints to understand.
“Love has its own wisdom, its own science, its own way of exploring the inner depths of life in the mystery of the loved person. Love knows, understands, and meets the demands of life insofar as it responds with warmth, abandon, and surrender.”–Thomas Merton
Here’s a very moving 3-minute video of images (some graphic) from El Salvador’s war and the voice over of Archbishop Romero’s last Sunday sermon on March 23, 1980, in which he appeals to the members of the Army to put down their weapons. Romero was shot and killed while celebrating Mass the following day.
The 30th anniversary of Romero’s assassination will be in March 24, 2010. I’ll be interviewed on NPR’s Latino USA by Maria Hinojosa with Salvadoran theologian Ernesto Valiente who teaches at Boston College. The English translation of an excerpt of Romero’s sermon is below the video.
“We want to greet the entities of YSAX, which for so long have awaited this moment which, thanks to God, has arrived. We know the risk that is run by our poor station for being the instrument and vehicle of truth and justice, but we recognize that the risk has to be taken, for behind that risk is an entire people that upholds this word of truth and justice….
We give thanks to God that a message that doesn’t mean to be more than a modest reflection of the spoken Word finds marvelous channels of outreach and tells many people that, in the context of Lent, all of this is preparation for our Easter, and Easter is a shout of victory. No one can extinguish that life which Christ revived. Not even death and hatred against him and against his Church will be able to overcome it. He is the victor!
As he will flourish in an Easter of unending resurrection, it is necessary to also accompany him in Lent, in a Holy Week that is cross, sacrifice, martyrdom; as he would say, “Happy are those who do not become offended by their cross!” Lent is then a call to celebrate our redemption in that difficult complex of cross and victory. Our people are very qualified, all their surroundings preach to us of cross; but all who have Christian faith and hope know that behind this Calvary of El Salvador is our Easter, our resurrection, and that is the hope of the Christian people….
Today, as diverse historical projects emerge for our people, we can be sure that victory will be had by the one that best reflects the plan of God. And this is the mission of the Church. That is why, in the light of the divine Word that reveals the designs of God for the happiness of the peoples, we have the duty, dear brothers and sisters, to also point out the facts, to see how the plan of God is being reflected or disdained in our midst. Let no one take badly the fact that we illuminate the social, political, and economic truths by the light of the divine words that are read at our Mass, because not to do so would, for us, be un-Christian….
Part of an adult experience of Lent is wrestling with thought’s like Merton’s below:
How many people are there in the world of today who have “lost their faith” along with the vain hopes and illusions of their childhood? What they called “faith” was just one among all the other illusions. They placed all their hope in a certain sense of spiritual peace, of comfort, of interior equilibrium, of self-respect. Then when they began to struggle with the real difficulties and burdens of mature life, when they became aware of their own weakness, they lost their peace, they let go of their precious self-respect, and it became impossible for them to “believe.” That is to say it became impossible for them to comfort themselves, to reassure themselves, with the images and concepts they found reassuring in childhood.
Place no hope in the feeling of assurance, of spiritual comfort. You may well have to get along without this. Place no hope in the inspirational preachers of Christian sunshine, who are able to pick you up and set you back on your feet and make you feel good for three or four days-until you fold up and collapse into despair.–Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton was an Trappist monk, mystic, and writer who shaped modern American Catholicism. He lived in Kentucky for most of his life.
In the afternoon I went out to the old horse barn with the Book of Proverbs and indeed the whole Bible, and I was wandering around in the hayloft, where there is a big gap in the roof. One of the rotting floorboards gave way under me and I nearly feel through.
Afterwards I sat and looked out at the hills and the gray clouds and couldn’t read anything. When the flies got too bad, I wandered across the bare pasture and sat over by the enclosure wall, perched on the edge of a ruined bathtub that has been placed there for the horses to drink out of. A pipe comes through the wall and plenty of water flows into the bathtub from a spring somewhere in the woods, and I couldn’t read there either. I just listened to the clean water flowing and looked at the wreckage of the horsebarn on top of the bare knoll in front of me and remained drugged with happiness and with prayer.–Thomas Merton
Entering the Silence, Journals Volume 1. Jonathan Montaldo, editor (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997, p 363)