“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”[i]In dying, we live. Anything would be more palatable. Nothing is so essential. We must surrender, losing and letting go, being vulnerable again and again, dying to ourselves in order to live. This Holy Week we face Jesus on the cross.
When serving as a hospital chaplain, I found it exhausting continually listening to heartache. One day I realized Jesus was listening to the same heartache yet not for a few minutes per person and not just how many people I met. Jesus knows everyone and listens to all hearts, to everyone sick and dying, to all who are grieving, to each in any kind of suffering, and indeed to us all. Jesus draws the whole world to himself with a loving ear in a listening embrace.
All of us need and glory in the cross. Jesus invites each to die to self-sufficiency and secrecy. Jesus invites us to pray the whole truth of our lives, naming what weighs us down, our grief and questions, our wounds and concerns, as well as joys, thanks, and desires. Jesus listens directly and in the flesh through other people. Jesus, exposed and vulnerable on the cross, invites us to expose ourselves, share our inner life and struggles, pray in the dark, and pray our hearts.
Telling our stories can be painful, like touching wounds, a kind of death. Like wheat dying to bear fruit, safe exposure of our story heals. We like to edit, restrict, categorize, or deny our lives. Good listeners help by attending to our stories with their surprises, seeming contradictions, and scattered pieces. Listeners help us hear how these pieces together form us.
Letting ourselves be seen and letting our stories be witnessed by another person actually changes our internal chemistry. We were created for this. Being listened to literally helps our bodies heal. Love listens.
Look at Love on the cross. Everything hangs here. Everyone is held. On the cross, Jesus hears all. Jesus listens to people lost and lonely, grappling and grieving, troubled and terrorized, wounded and dying. Jesus listens to you, to me, to everyone. On the cross, Jesus bears the weight of the world.
Look at Love on the cross. What is heavy on your heart? What pain or trouble do you bear? What secret is eating away at you or what story needs telling? Nothing is too awful, or messy, or trivial, or weighty. Nothing.
As we walk in Holy Week facing the cross, here are a few suggestions for prayer.
First, look at Love. Pray with a crucifix or an image of the cross. Gaze at Jesus, his agony, his wounds, his love. Listen for what he says to you. Surrender by speaking your pain to the one who bore and bears all pain. Pray to the crucified Christ. Listen for his response.
Second, pray as Jesus did. On the cross, Jesus cried: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This bitter grief is the first line of Psalm 22. Like other psalms of lament, it goes back and forth from trouble to trust. Jesus surely also knew the next lines of Psalm 22: “[Why] are you so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? … I cry in the daytime but you do not answer, by night as well, but I find no rest. Yet you are the Holy One, enthroned upon the praises of Israel. Our forebears put their trust in you; they trusted, and you delivered them.”[ii]
Pray Psalm 22 or use it as a model. Be specific about your pain and your present situation. Cry. Question. Grieve. Then pause to remember the past. What’s your experience of God? When have you received love? Cling to memories as hope even amid today’s desolation. Pray the tension of present pain and trust God’s future informed by past provision.
Third, pray to Jesus with skin. Find a safe, trustworthy person and share what’s on your heart. Take a risk by telling your story honestly. Speak up to share. Let another witness your inner life. Let another grain die to bear fruit. Surrender by praying your life, sharing your story honestly. Let Jesus listen to you in the flesh with a safe person.
Love listens. God created us each to listen. While we can build skills, all can help heal with listening. One need not necessarily be or go to a professional. Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Love by listening.
This Holy Week, linger at the cross looking at Love, praying to Jesus, who is listening to all, tenderly holding hearts.
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.