Monday, December 15, 2008

Advent: Peace in our body’s unrest

From Joey Tomassoni: 

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst”.  A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.”  John 19:28

There are a few foundational impulses that are embedded in the core of our existence, perhaps one of the most pointed and ever looming motivational needs is to be at peace.  Deep in our psyche we know all too well that our bodies are not completely stable or if they are, we at least know we don’t have control over that stability.  

And whether it takes form in what we might call aging, malfunctioning, hurting and hurting others, lacking control, being wounded, intolerant, not loving, hating, cutting, sinning or doing wrong; we carry around in our bodies a sense of incompleteness.  There is a continual grinding in our existence that longs to feel secure, to be in control, to be at peace. And in the context of this need there is a great paradox that lives within our bodies: a sense that we are both material and immaterial, of this world and of another, lacking and yet complete, physical and metaphysical, asleep and awake, dead and alive, dry and wet.

We sense this intrinsically as we mourn the loss of a loved one, when we feel the joy of holding a new one, as we weep and as we laugh there is something happening in or through us that signals something beyond.  Our temporal existence is a foretaste of a distant land, a land where suffering isn’t present, where confusion doesn’t occur, where the things, those limiting things we can never seem to escape in this world are vanquished.  

This is why so many tribes and peoples throughout the history have sought after that distant immaterial land where the good things they experience here go one with infinite magnitude and where the hurting things in our present forms, bodies stop at the threshold of the veil.  The veil, yes the veil, that transcendent space between here and there now and forever, this body and the one to come, the lighted tunnel, the darkness of abyss, the nothingness, the everythingness, that translucent and milky invisioscreen that is untouchable, intangible and never sensed until that moment, that twinkling of an eye, that rescue the day we will be gone, done, removed, free. The veil they say, that is the entry point, that is the place of destiny, that is the space that we will inhabit when our flesh begins rotting back to the earth and no one any longer remembers us.  

How we long to escape, how we yearn for a different place, torn between the reality that we are both body and spirit, how interesting it is that we all want to leave, to go home, to go to the place of ultimate comfort and happiness, our destination island, this why fantasy experiences exist whether it be football, second life or virtual sex.  How can we cope with our bodies but with different drugs, drugs that distract for a moment while we dream of peace.  In fact we are all journeying drug addicts seeking our out through various narcotics.  Narcotics that promise peace but return unrest.  To the moralist the drug is religion to the immoral the drug is autonomy, to the prophet the desired drug is to be hated, to the performer it is to be loved, to the dead the drug is to be alive and to one who is not at rest the drug is the desire for peace.  

Peace in and with our bodies is rare thing.  Perhaps this is because we are at the same time both aware and completely oblivious to our level of unrest.  My breathing changes when I am anxious, I take deep breaths of inhaled fear.  My two-year-old son’s palms perspirate when he comes into a room of strangers, he feels insecure, our bodies express the unrest in our souls.  Laying in my bed in the early morning I am struck with anxiety when I hear my children crying in the next room over.  I sink into my mattress to consider the daunting tasks of the day ahead.  Sometime getting out of bed is the first and most difficult task.  

When I am cut off in traffic, when I get a phone call from a certain person, when I drive through a certain neighborhood, when I enter into a certain store, when I remember a certain church or religious group, it all triggers unrest; when I see a certain person, when I hear their voice, when I smell their scent, it unleashes a quiet desperation screaming in my soul and yet my body only responds with the minimal response on the surface.  We are so unaware of ourselves, our bodies and the very real things happening under the surface, behind our own veils.  

For we are skilled at maintaining the surface of things in pristine ways.  We are able to carefully craft language both with words and our bodies that communicate we are at peace when really inside we are a raging storm.  How are things? We say, Good, how are you? Good, Good, Good, Good, Good, everything is just good. And both leave knowing we have lied to each others face.  We are trained from a very early age to behave in ways that will bear certain results.  My daughter hones her good behavior so she can get a piece of candy.  We leverage human desire (a foundational jewel of the created soul) to obtain good works.  We trade one evil for another.  You ought to tell the truth, why, because if you don’t you will be punished.  And so we learn not to tell the truth because we love the truth, but only because in sharing the truth we won’t ultimately receive what we fear.  Is it any wonder that through our bodily experience we lack a regular peace and at the very same time desperately desire to find it by any means possible? 

But it not true of the suffering servant, the Christ, the divine body incarnated.  With him something different was happening all together, in his moment of ultimate unrest, hanging from two planks of wood a tree height above, looking down on those who had done this thing to him. His heart beating in chaotic rhythms, perhaps stopping at any moment, draped, bleeding, mocked, and yet there he was, he just was. This is difficult and perhaps irreconcilable within the human capacity to grasp and understand. The immaterial God in the form of a material man, suspended in desperate dissemination and then speaking these two very ordinary words, that when put together, in a moment like this, echo in our collective conscious a primitive longing that we all get:, we all understand: “I Thirst”, he said “I thirst”, he said “I thirst”.  In his words we find for him and for ourselves cathartic moments, peace in our bodies through a time of unrest of suffering.

It is in our bodies, our human experience we are able to find identification with Jesus words “I Thirst”.  For both the tragedy and beauty of his moment of unrest is that Jesus thirst was not quenched by the sour wine, it only made it worse.  Neither was his thirst quenched by some deliverance from heaven, a divine rainstorm or a supernatural event that would take him off the cross like a superhero to slay the evil people who had committed such a wicked act.  He simply dies, alone he suffers, and accepts the weight on his body with no deliverance in his utter unrest.  The void was not filled, his thirst was not quenched, Jesus never received the kind of peace one might expect in the story, a relief or a filling of the void rather he received his death.  Accepting and relinquishing control he inhabited the unrest and there found a different way of peace.

But even this moment was not new to him for he had suffered both internally and externally never experiencing a life of ease.  In his birth and childhood he was an exile, into his adulthood he was accused of being a drunkard and a hypocrite by the religious.  He was homeless, restless, chased after, attempts made on his life, lied to, lied about, saw his close friends die, his best friends betray him. He was spit upon, mocked, cursed, hated, held a prisoner while a convicted murderer was released before his eyes, he wept, hurt, lived at moments in exhaustion, had no place to lay his head, no certain food to eat, few friends who would be loyal to the end and ultimately was murdered for a crime he was innocent of.  His life was never one of comfortabilty. 

Many years later a friend who journeyed with Jesus through his life, who experienced many his sufferings first hand writes a letter to encourage a small fledgling community of faith that was in a time of suffering themselves.  He pens these riveting words describing this thirsting moment of the Christ.   His friend writes:

“He himself bore our inadequacies in his body on the tree, so that we might die to our damaging ways and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed”.  2 Peter 2:24

There is something in his moment of suffering, in the actual physical wounds that he carried that we somehow, even so many years later are able to identify with.  Perhaps it is because our lives have been filled with wounds, filled with hurt, filled with unrest.  And maybe part of it is that we know what it means to be mocked, we understand what it means to be not live at ease.  Our bodies can identify with his body, our anxieties, our fears, our voids are very real and very much like his.  It is identifying with him that we, through our times of unrest are able to embody a different way of peace, not one that fills a void and takes away the pain but one that exists in spite of it. It is a peace that experiences and feels the heaviness of the unrest, the suffering and yet transcends.  

We are awakened to this different way of peace that embodies the suffering, letting go and being ok with the present circumstance, whatever it may be.  The question in our moments of unrest is not “where is God when I suffer?” but perhaps better would be to say: God is present, suffering with me as I suffer, the question is whether or not I will allow myself to experience Him in that moment as I did the moment before when things seemed ok.  For what kind of a God is only present when things are good but flees when we hurt?   There is no lesson to be learned here, no end goal in mind, no morality tutorial to be charged with, simply being and accepting.  As he was, just was, so we are, we just are.  His wounds were not bandaged that day, they were not miraculously healed on the cross, like his thirst the pain was not quenched yet mysteriously through the wounds on his body we find a different way of peace with God, one beyond the unrest we suffer. 

So what is the unrest in your heart?

What is that thing that causes your blood pressure to rise?

Who is that person that causes you anxiety?

What is the fear that lurks in your heart subconsciously and deteriorates your thinking through the day?

What are you desperately attempting to control that is uncontrollable?

What drug are you using to fill the void?  What narcotic to take away the pain?

What hurt are you carrying from long ago that has weighed down your journey?

What are you consuming that falsely promises to fulfill you?

And whose wounds do you identify with? Your own or those of Jesus.

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