Sunday, March 24, 2013

palm sunday

Here are some daily reflections on Holy Week, which I first wrote and published on this blog in 2009. They were created as the result of meditating in the style of Ignatian spirituality, where one imagines oneself into a scene, either as a person in the story, or as oneself. My exercise took the form of the imaginative experience of Mary Magdalene during the events of Holy Week. I am offering them again now, for a newer community of friends and colleagues.

The noise. Voices and wind, clamorous and calling. We have been walking for more than five miles and just now reaching the edge of the city, drawing near the gates. The old men stand up, some turning their backs to us, others moving to let us through, their tired faces like the crooked path that brought us here, filled with marks and the heavy weight of knowledge. They are good men - I see one I know - he is my uncle's father. I wave to him; he nods his head, then looks quickly away. I search the faces of the people near me. Rhapsodic and suspicious, anxious and happy, they see only the teacher.

We are stopped now. The crowd presses us together. Peter comes between me and a woman who is trying to touch the teacher. My Lord takes the woman's hand for a moment, holds it, lets her go. We move forward a little. Three of the gatekeepers are pushing on the doors. Two more keep their backs to us. A gentile spits at these two, curses them. I call out "no!" in anguish. No one hears me.

The gates grind as they open. The crowd floods them, pushing them back, spilling into the city beyond. We follow slowly, separating into a narrow line to get through, each of us touching the gatepost scroll and bringing our fingers to our lips. Even my Lord does it. But the gentiles do not. The gatekeepers watch and I am shamed. It is terrible, and it is the new way. I look at John, then at Andrew who is near to him. We all seem to have the same thoughts. Peter has impatiently gone into the crowd and tried to teach them but it is too fast, we are already inside.

In the city, there are people lined up on the walls, on walkways, hanging from windows. Their faces frighten me. I cannot easily tell who are our friends and who are our foes. The people on the road lay leaves of palms down before us, but some of them spit on these first. They call out 'hosanna', but some of them say 'heretic'. Some Samaritans who are trying to join us are pushed to the ground by some men. "Unclean! Unclean!" shouts a woman at those who pushed them. A Roman soldier is at a distance, his horse baying at the restraint. I cannot see my Lord's face. I am behind him and near to the horse's thigh. Philip is to my right, shielding me from the crowd. The sun is hot. A man lunges forward, tries to touch the teacher. Philip and Bartholomew stop him. Some women among us fall in behind me, for my protection. I am so grateful to them. I think of Miriam and her timbrel. I think of when our people returned from Babylon. All this 'hosanna', 'save us, send rain', what hosanna really means. This crowd is sending us water. Sending us rain. And also parting the way for us like the sea of reeds.

I think of just this morning, when my Lord and myself and some of the others bathed in a river and I watched my Lord drink. I think of how silent it was, how still, except for the dripping water. And now this crashing din. We are always leaving and coming. Leaving and coming. And there is always this silence, then noise. Quiet and stillness, then raging sounds, like a crushing torrent.

We have miles to go before the Temple. I do not know the plan, whether we will stop. Where will we lodge? When do we eat? Will we go there straightaway? We too, must pick out our passover lamb, and who will inspect it for us? It must be done by sundown. I lift my head to find the eyes of the others. They are all absorbed, each looking to himself and the journey. Only I seem to look at us all, search our faces. But I cannot see my Lord's face.

A man pushes forward, offers us a skin of water and figs. I take it gratefully, smile at him. It is surely prayer answered, in the very moment it occurred. The man is now gone. I take a sip, then hand the skin to Thomas, who gives it to James who passes it to my Lord.

I start to feel dizzy from the noise, the heat. I reach out to steady myself on the horse's thigh, and find my hand on my Lord's foot. The foot which has been anointed and kissed by my friend Mary, by myself. I am so grateful for it. I take hold of the ankle, slip my hand around it. The skin is swollen and caked with dust and gravel. Underneath there are callouses I can feel with my fingers. I look down to keep my balance. My Lord's foot is in the edge of my view, and below it, the horses feet trodding the hard clay road, and my own feet, shaded and then bared, shaded and then bared, by the flow of my garments as I walk along.

I begin to feel blessed. A holiness rests within me. I hold on to my Lord's foot and lift my face. Happily, I walk, happy with love, love for the teacher, love for our friends, love for those who love God. People stare at me, and I smile back at them. I am stronger now.

I feel a breeze on my cheek and look up. My Lord is looking at me now, the skin of his hand on my cheek. I can see his face now. All is well now.