Holy Week: 20 Weeks of Gratitude, Week 15

Part 1: Stations I-III

This week is Holy Week. I briefly considered writing about something else—I’ve been thinking about time and how I mark it and what that means for the moments of your day that you share with me reading these—but after seeing @neighborhoodliturgy’s “Stations of the Cross” through South Lake Union, I knew that writing about anything else would be inauthentic to the actual arc of my gratitude, right here, right now.

I don’t think the Stations are a thing back home like they are in the West—for me, the Way of Sorrows, a procession commemorating Jesus’ death march to the Cross, is a practice that happens in Jerusalem, and only in Jerusalem. Imitating this liturgically as a spiritual pilgrimage became a thing in Europe when the wars it waged in the Holy Land made it unsafe to travel there—a good example of social distancing. But I liked how jarring it would be to practice this pilgrimage through SLU, to “dislocate” this ancient Middle Eastern rhythm and transpose new meaning on a very different city; a “drift” or dérive or counter-map “in quest of new passions” (Debord).

Today, I’m sharing the first three stops: from Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, to his betrayal by Judas, his arrest, and his condemnation by the Sanhedrin.

We followed the instructions closely, read the description of each station out loud, and tried to look for visual connections in the spaces chosen. Then we prayed.

Let me know what you notice.

Neighborhood Liturgy is connected to @thesanctuaryatdennypark – I’d like to pay them a visit when it’s safe to reopen their doors.

Part 2: Stations IV-VI

“In ancient Palestine, a Roman middle manager dresses down a radical:
“I have a backlog of so-called prophets-
You are of a multitude.”
The offender said, “I witness truth.”

Perplexed and filled with pique the jailer replied,

“Truth, what is it?”

The next two stops on the Via Dolorosa involve the question of truth—with Peter’s denial, we encounter mere falsehood; with Pilate’s judgement, we brush up against epistemological nihilism. Peter weeps bitterly for succumbing to a lie; Pilate thoroughly disinfects himself from the miasma of concern with the question, with no addition or qualification. He sees nothing wrong with this fellow but goes along with the condemnation anyway.

I wonder if that’s how history will remember us, once we’re done soldiering on. Over the past few weeks, I’ve worried about the harm that fighting to maintain a sense of normalcy might cause, but even if we get away with it—even if we manage to get out of this unscathed—I wonder what time will tell about what drove us.

We followed the letter of the law, but not the spirit; we looked for room to maneuver and found it often.

“Quid est veritas?”

This is an ancient question that sounds familiar to us moderns. We’ve seen truth mocked and dragged through the streets. We’ve watched truth beaten and scourged. It’s not hard to see ourselves doing just as Pilate did in this situation.

But before he is sent out to be tortured and mutilated, Jesus makes a bold yet enigmatic claim: “Every one that is of the truth hears my voice.” This is a stark divide, but that’s the thorny logic of truth: like an invisible contagion, like a silent killer, you don’t have to believe it’s out there for it to get the job done.

“Truth is the half-sister
That will not be forgotten.
Truth is the half-sister
That will not forgive.
She is trying to reach you,
Trying to reach you.”

Part 3: Stations VII-IX

Jesus carries his cross for the next three stations, eventually meeting the weeping women of Jerusalem. I assume that they grieve over the legion of men—their sons, their husbands—being executed that day. Their wailing is not unfamiliar to me; I picture Qana and Jenin and Sabra & Shatila.

This part of the walk through South Lake Union is quite effective; the street is a vestige of the area’s industrial past and feels especially desolate at this time. The only place in operation is the corner store where we meet Simon the Cyrenian, an innocent bystander “pressed into service” to help the weakened Jesus carry the cross.

“Pressed into service.”

That sentence struck me and took on new resonance as I watched the sliding doors of the grab-and-go market open and shut. It’s incredible to think that being pressed into service right now is something of a privilege.

I think of Laken and Carly and Brynn, whose whole careers were rendered non-essential overnight. I think about the dumb luck of how my having to work much harder every single day since this crisis began has meant giving up my side-hustle hours just in time for my colleague to pick them up, after losing hers.

What a gift.

Lord, grant us willing spirits that we may be your instruments on earth.

Part 4: Stations X-XII

Here is what happens next, in the words of the Passion according to John, as it will be sung tomorrow:

“So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called the Place of a Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them.”

In Seattle, this takes place in a plaza at Amazon HQ. I don’t know if the blunt force of that curatorial choice was intentional, but it works so well. Standing there, at the foot of the stepped mound, I think about life in the shadow of Empire, and what it means to be completely enmeshed in a world-system like Rome—how it was the air you breathed, whether you wanted to participate in it or not.

Yes, I’ll go there—it’s like capitalism today. That thought is unoriginal, but thinking it then and there takes on a slightly more penitential tone—I shudder at the number of times that Amazon Prime’s been a godsend for my work during this crisis.

The liturgical Passion omits the conversation with the two thieves, which is a bit of a missed opportunity. During these services, the congregation usually takes on the role of the condemning crowd who has no king but Caesar—what would it feel like to speak in the voice of both thieves as well?

I know I fluctuate within all three subject-positions daily.

Finally, “when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’”

It’s the beautiful details like that that are so easy to miss, when stories become routine. But this Paschal Triduum is far from routine. Last night, the same preacher who opened our Lenten season with a call for “more engagement, more connection, more work,” preached again, pointing out the obvious yet profound: she wouldn’t be up there in the pulpit one more time, if the season had gone according to plan.

How right she was, the first time.

Part 5: Station XIII-XIV

Today is Good Friday. Back home, I’d be hearing Fairouz singing those haunting syllables on loop: “al-yawm ‘oulliqa…”. The Catholics and the Orthodox would be competing to see which of their Good Fridays is the wettest and dreariest. At one point, we even fasted til noon.

What happens on the Cross is a question that divides. Muslims believe that Jesus never died; God took him up and saved him. It would dishonor the prophet to say that he was allowed to die. And even Christians disagree about the cause of death—look up “atonement theory” if you’re in need of some light reading. One of the images that stuck with me back when I was beginning to question my faith is the story that Thomas Paine shares about his memories of a Good Friday sermon, as a child. At that young age, he refused to believe that a father would kill his son; God was too good to do that. And so, as an adult he wrote: “Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be true.”

There’s a lot about Good Friday that shocks the mind, but it was only in preparing for this year’s Triduum that I realized that I am a Good Friday kinda guy. I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, etc.

I actually enjoyed working on tonight’s worship broadcast. I told my boss that it’s in my wheelhouse, that I’d probably find filming something jubilant a lot less intuitive. He reminded me that we did film something jubilant—tomorrow’s Easter Vigil—and I said: “oh yeah.”

We live in a Good Friday kinda world and it’s truly right and good to sit with that, to face up to that, to behold the wood of the Cross.

This day and tomorrow are more than punctuation. Our hope is real, but so is the uncertainty of this moment.

Just don’t get lost in the shadows. Jesus descended into hell so we don’t have to stay there.

Part 6: In Via

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been circling around the questions of meaning and interpretation and decidability and truth; these thoughts have assailed me because I’ve had to work very hard under my least favorite conditions: little time to think. This has made me tired and irritable and hopeful and inspired; mercifully, today is Holy Saturday and much of that toil is over. For now, “it is finished.”

I’ve felt this kind of stress before; in Lebanon, fifteen years ago, when the killing of Rafik Hariri sent us all into a long “Black Sabbath” of waiting for answers. His death also inaugurated a season of car bombings that inflected life as pretty much usual; it was a simpler time, I guess—we did not think to work from home.

The television station that Hariri had owned put up a giant icon of his face at an intersection I’d drive through on my way to uni. On it, they placed an LED display counting up the days since his assassination; above that, they wrote “THE TRUTH” in a font as black and as bold as the content of its message was essentially contestable.

So I thought a lot about “truth” back then; day in, day out, truth was like that Elvis Costello song about unrequited love—beautiful yet menacing.

I believe that Christianity is true, but I also believe that the answers it provides are not straightforward. They cut across; they run diagonally—a theologian came up with that geometric metaphor to describe how Christian concepts demand new ethical & intellectual mappings:

“To diagonalize a choice…is to refuse the two (or more) alternatives it offers & elaborate a position that is neither reducible nor utterly unrelated to them.”

The Trinity diagonalizes the One and the Many. The Incarnation diagonalizes abstract generality and concrete particularity. The Resurrection diagonalizes death’s dominion and points to our both/and reality of the Now and the Not-Yet.

All that is well and good and a major reason why I found this faith so compelling after re-discovering it as an adult, but if that were it, I wouldn’t be satisfied. That sort of talk can get as tacky as the posters of politicians back home—it sounds arrogant, like a kid who flips the board game over and shouts: “I win!”

For me, the truth of Christianity is in that diagonal space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday where certainty and despair meet, not as ying and as yang, but as a tumult—a storm over the waters, a tear in the veil—a troubled spirit always seeking God’s face anew.

Christianity was called “The Way” by early Christians because it is a journey, a process, a method—not a digital stream of preprogrammed responses.

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