HOLY WEEK

HOLY WEEK

13 Comments on HOLY WEEK

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince)

Growing up as a Catholic in Ireland, and then, later, working as a missionary priest for many years, the week before Easter – what Christians call Holy Week – was always central to my sense of meaning and purpose. Jesus, of course, was the focus of the week. Today, my spirituality focuses on expanding consciousness, both individual – my own – and society’s, and Jesus no longer plays (or at least seems to play) a central role for me. However, at times like this, I experience a sense of something akin to loss or at least nostalgia. Where did Jesus go? So I am using this Holy Week as an opportunity to immerse myself in the story of the life and death of Jesus to see what it stirs in me now.

To help me with my immersion I’ve been re-reading a book by Marcus Borg called, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (2009) that distinguishes between the historical Jesus and what some call the Christ of faith, which is the understanding that developed after the death of Jesus. The historical Jesus we know little about, except that he was a wisdom-teacher whose particular wisdom threatened the conventional wisdom of the day and led to his death. The ideas about his divinity and the salvation he brought – the Christ of faith – were generated out of the experiences of the followers of Jesus after his death and the communities that formed around the experiences. These ideas developed and evolved over many centuries into the teachings and beliefs that shaped many of our lives. Moreover, these ideas continue to evolve, which, for me is equally important.

Holy Week presents the earliest ideas about Jesus as the Christ of faith though they are ideas that are still in the form of stories-as-memories versus the more developed, dogmatic statements that came later. The high-points of Holy Week are Palm or Passion Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Passion Sunday is the story of Jesus’ decision to walk his talk, so to speak. Already there is the sense of paradox that characterizes his entire process in this strange scene of Jesus arriving in Jerusalem – the center of power that he is confronting – as a hero figure: the people lay palm fronds before him and acclaim him as king, but he, in keeping with his ‘subversive wisdom’, is riding on a donkey.

The Holy Thursday story describes the time when the destiny of Jesus is presented in terms of his larger significance: ‘Do this in memory of me’ he tells his followers the night before he dies. ‘This’ – which refers to the ritual he is enacting but also, clearly, to his teaching – is essentially about living in communion with everyone and everything in the world that like us are expressions of the same life-force that constitutes our lives. Good Friday is about what this entails: it is the apparent contradiction of crucifixion when you have to lose your life in order to find it; when you have to let go of the illusions that constitute your sense of reality in order to discover a deeper truth with others. Resurrection is seen in the strange examples of this discovered truth: Oh, so that’s what he was saying….that’s what it all meant.

These resurrection experiences were all forms of deep spiritual awakening. But, like all such experiences and the ideas they generated – whether in Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam – they were shaped by many things, including the cultures of the day and strong, influential individuals. None of this makes them invalid or even less true, rather it simply highlights that truth emerges in different ways and in many different contexts.

The work I have done with Dialogue reflects this process of awakening and resurrection. I have defined Dialogue as participating in the emergence (dia) of truth or meaning (logos). Marcus Borg actually uses the word logos to help explain the emergence and evolution of the Christ of faith. One of the more theologically developed Gospels – the Gospel of John – offers an example in its opening lines: ‘In the beginning was the logos and the logos was God, and the logos was with God….and the logos became flesh.’ Logos is understood as the blueprint of all life that, for Christians, is manifested in a special way in the person of the historical Jesus. This does not suggest, however, that Jesus is the only such manifestation of God/Life/Being: the only logos. In fact, it is accepted by most scripture scholars that the historical Jesus had no such understanding of himself as ‘the son of God’ in the unique sense that we tend to use this term.

Dialogue, for me, has become the process of making sense or meaning (logos) of things in the place where we find ourselves. All of these places have their stories of heroes that point the way. The important thing is not which of these heroes is greatest (and then insisting that he be the hero for everyone, which is the direction that an earlier form of missionary work, that I was part of, took). Rather the important thing is to understand the way that we all make sense of things. This is the reason why I am (re)immersing myself in this Christian tradition even as I find myself seemingly far removed from the forms that once were central to me.

Immersing myself like this in the world that shaped me is important for a number of reasons: One is to help me become more aware of how I see the world, and understand what assumptions I use to construct reality for myself. Another is to help me better appreciate that others have their own – different – ways of seeing the world or constructing reality for themselves. The third, and most important reason is so that I can better bring my unique – but clearly relative – truth to other levels of interaction that will allow new and deeper truths – logos – to emerge.

So, maybe this is what I’m trying to do with this Holy Week immersion: I am not simply attempting to resurrect the historical Jesus as the center of my life; rather I am trying to remember and acknowledge what and who I am deep inside (as someone shaped by this historical figure-become divine symbol), so that I can bring this valid and unique perspective in a more skillfully conscious way to the continuing critical conversation to discover and understand the logos that underpins all life. This, it seems to me, is as vital a conversation for us, and our children, as any other.

For that to happen in the deep, rich way that is needed to generate meaning and purpose that is relevant to us all, we all need to immerse ourselves in our roots. For there is no one who experiences life in a vacuum: there is no ‘immaculate perception’ for any of us, including – perhaps especially – those of us who would claim such objectivity because we have stepped away from our cultural (and religious) roots. Even if we have rejected not only the literal or magical interpretations of our particular scriptures but also the principles and values and structures of the religious cultures of our childhood (or even our grandparents) we have inevitably internalized many elements of that religious culture that constitute the particular lens through which we encounter the world and make meaning. For example, I can see where my rather reactive attitude to authority comes from, but also my sense of justice.

In order to participate in the continuing critical dialogue we need today to find meaning and purpose, we all need to immerse ourselves in our histories: our own Holy Weeks. So I invite you to immerse yourself in whatever tradition that shaped you, one that you may have long since stepped away from. For the stories remain in us like cellular memories, even if we are two or three generations away from the ancestors who practiced the rituals that the stories generated.

Perhaps my sense of something akin to loss or nostalgia comes from my intuition that the Dialogue – about Jesus in my case or about Buddha or Mohammed, or about religion in general – is not over. Perhaps it has not been done as creatively or skillfully as it might: certainly not in this generation.

Do you feel that tug: to do this right; take a closer look at what was maybe so important one time; and explore what it is you’re feeling a hunger for now that other things don’t seem to fill?

Already half-way through Holy Week, I can see that Jesus, for me, is a manifestation of Christ – the blueprint or template (logos) of all living things: certainly an evolved manifestation, though not, thereby, unique in the sense of superior to all others; but clearly unique for those who know him. In that sense he still does play a critical role, the way an important ancestor whose genes you have inherited does, or the way someone you have spent a lot of time with when you were younger still touches something deep in you. Like the Little Prince’s rose. What’s your story? Your rose?

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13 Comments

  1. Hans  - April 14, 2017 - 8:08 am
    Reply /

    Thank you brother Danny.
    My story is simple, “… the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46).

    I was a merchant who found a pearl of great value 27 years ago, and I never let it go.

    For me the Easter Resurrection story is simple, profound and encapsulated in the Jesus statement from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
    If we, like Jesus in his time, can forgive the macho, ego-centered people of the world, including current leaders of states, then atonement and resurrection is surely at hand for us all.
    May it be so.

    • Danny  - April 17, 2017 - 3:03 pm
      Reply /

      Merchant indeed. What a great story your story is: a true resurrection story. Thanks Hans. The notion that forgiveness elicits in me is being able to rise higher because I’m less weighed down by the things that I was holding onto but have now let go of….

  2. Peter K.  - April 14, 2017 - 8:43 am
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    Dear Danny,
    I like your reference to John; “and the Word (Logos) became flesh”, as it seems that this mysterious process, or transformation, if you will, is at the heart of Jesus’ message. He was certainly a messenger from Above, whose call from a higher level of being can only be heard in that place or state within me, by the “representative” who usually lies covered over by the ordinary, the subjective, the animal, the ego, the personality, or the devil on my shoulder, which does not in any way wish to be disturbed by the suffering and remorse of conscience that this call must bring into focus. Perhaps Teilhard de Chardin would agree that the evolution of being pointed to by this phrase, is the holy grail, which will not be found except through that perilous quest of inner redemption that we are so reluctant to embrace every day.
    Happy Easter

    • Danny  - April 17, 2017 - 3:09 pm
      Reply /

      I like the image of ‘that place within me…of the representative..’ I think we all have experienced this at one time or another: the one who knows; the best part of me. But who is this other ‘personality, subjective, ego..’ that is also part of me? Is this the product of fear and the tendency to react, protect myself – an older survival part of me? Or something else?

  3. grady mcgonagill  - April 14, 2017 - 9:22 am
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    Thanks, Danny. Fruitful and helpful reflections. I’m moved to respond briefly.

    I walked away from my Methodist upbringing in Texas with relief at age 16. I’m now 72. Over the years my stance toward religion has evolved through atheism, agnosticism, “deep agnosticism” (Stephen Batchelor’s term) combined with a spiritual yearning and a Buddhist-influenced meditation practice, and most recently an affinity with “religious naturalism.”

    For most of this time I’ve had little interest in revisiting Christianity, feeling more aversion than curiosity. But occasionally I’ve come across articulations of Christianity that resonate–e.g., Cynthia Bourgeault’s “Wisdom Jesus.” Krista Tippet’s “On Being” interviews have also brought to my attention some very attractive Catholic figures (Brother David Steindl-Rast, Xavier Le Pichon, James Martin, and just this week, Richard Rohr). And I continue to come across people like yourself, who though raised in the church have moved on, yet still continue to find something of value there. And when I do, it catches my attention.

    • Danny  - April 17, 2017 - 3:13 pm
      Reply /

      Thanks for your story, Grady. In my younger days, some of us referred to ourselves as ‘prayerful agnostics’ which echoes Stephen Batchelor’s term). There are, as you say, some truly helpful articulations of Christianity, like the people you mention. I’m touched by how you describe people like myself as ‘though raised in the church have moved on, yet still continue to find something of value there..’

  4. Rev. Franklin Vilas  - April 14, 2017 - 1:26 pm
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    Hey, Danny–
    A powerful piece. I know that you may consider me a Jungian nut, but I have been tremendously helped by his identification of Christ with the archetype of the Self which anchors the human psyche. Here is the promise that whatever energy flowed through the historic Jesus is present and available in the depths of our own souls. Then, the Passion story becomes the projected drama of our own inner transformation.
    Happy Easter with love from Joyce and me.

    • Danny  - April 17, 2017 - 3:16 pm
      Reply /

      Skip! A Jungian nut: never! A Jungian gentleman, more like. I think I recall that this idea of Christ as the archetype of the Self was part of our first conversation over thirty years ago. Thank you for staying with and developing the concept.

  5. Kathleen  - April 15, 2017 - 8:02 am
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    Love this reflection, Danny. Love it. So in resonance with my own soul-shifts of late, ever between / among the many manifestations of the Wholly Ineffable.

    Sometimes the Jesus of my first spiritual awakenings as a child, to the Pauline/Teilhardian Christos of adult years, to the experience of Divine Hiddenness of maturity, round home again to Jesus of my wisdom time, my own chronos interfacing with kairios.

    I hear the ancient chants in my mother-tongue lost to me but sounding still: Íosa Críost, mo croi…

    I always feel that though I am a Catholic from birth, a nun, a theologian, that I yes to not at all comprehend “The Mystery” of which Paul spoke, which Jesus awakened in him and in so many. All I know is that it is about being born again as a totally new species of Human, and that this time, we are our own midwives.

    Wish I had time to reflect more.
    Have you (anyone) seen the PBS special “THE LAST DAYS OF JESUS” ?
    If the work on the historical Jesus of Irish scholar John Dominic Crossan blows you away, this will send you into smithereens. WOW. The historical intentions and complexities and totally new perspectives on what he was up to are shocking, and like Crossan’s work, revitalize one’s sense of Jesus forever. Probably can stream it on PBS online.

    Good to have caught glimpses of you these Holy Days. Blessings to you and Ann, dear Danny, and to your families here and t here. Cait

    • Danny  - April 17, 2017 - 3:23 pm
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      Kathleen. As you imply it is a continuous process of awakening: like seeing a part of someone you hadn’t appreciated before or even ‘falling in love’ with someone who until then was one among many..
      And ‘..my own chronos interfacing with kairios….’ highlights the wonderful and sometimes magical synchronicities…
      Of course I resonate with your Celtic roots. I may have shared this piece of Kavanagh with you before where he was speaking of the tough – almost crude – farmers who struggled to eke a rough life out of a hard land, but who can be awakened by the within of ordinary things:
      ‘Yet sometimes when the sun comes through a gap
      These men know God the Father in a tree;
      The Holy Spirit is the rising sap,
      And Christ will be the green leaves that will come
      At Easter from the sealed and guarded tomb….

  6. grady mcgonagill  - April 16, 2017 - 11:48 pm
    Reply /

    I was greatly stipulated by this post, Danny. A couple of days ago I even responded at some length—very unusual for me, for whom writing does not come easily. I then visited the site today, one to discover that I had not successfully posted me comment! It disappeared into cyberspace. I don’t have the energy to rewrite it. But it was worthwhile to write what I did, if only to make more clear to myself my evolving stance toward Christianity.

    Short version: raised in Methodist Church; fled when I was old enough to resist being forced to attend services; was attracted to atheism, then agnosticism, then “deep agnosticism”–thanks to Buddhist Stephen Batchelor–and then “religious naturalism,” thanks to Chet Raymo and Ursula Goodenough.

    But recently I find myself curious about Christianity, suspecting that in my rebellion against it I overlooked features that have value. I’ve enjoyed Krista Tippet’s “On Being” interviews with several Catholics, for example: James Martin, Brother Stendl-Rast, Xavier le Pichon, and–most recently–Richard Rohr, whose daily meditations I find worthwhile.

  7. Tony Mc Donald  - April 18, 2017 - 9:15 pm
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    Hello Danny.
    I know it has been some time but be assured I have been keeping you on my radar through your inspiring, thought provoking blogs.
    The taciturn Scot in me makes it difficult to express my spiritual thoughts and feelings openly but your invitation to comment on experiences and thoughts of Holy Week and its place in our personal life has given me food for thought.
    Being a cradle Catholic, Holy Week was great. Initially because you were off school but on reflection it was much more. Looking back, I suppose it was a time of family and community closeness, warmth and shared purpose as we journeyed through the Liturgy and narrative of Jesus’ passion and death on the cross. This continued in seminary where as you’ll remember we thought of ourselves as perhaps a little bit more literate in the theological and liturgical aspects of the journey but really I was just a bystander watching, waiting and wondering. That state continued for me for a long time but gradually I found it changing into a journey where instead of just watching I am walking with Jesus and understanding a little more of his humanity as a young man about to be executed unjustly. Perhaps memories of his life are flooding in almost as a distraction from the pain and He begins to tell his story . His happy family memories, the friends, the laughs, the tears, the driving need in Him to teach the Truth He knows deep down in His being and then the deep clawing fear He feels in the pit of his stomach at what lies ahead. A real person is now at the centre of Holy Week who has taken me by the hand as He is walking his way of the cross. He wants me to walk with Him but at the same time He is accompanying me on mine. The logos has become a real living breathing, loving person who is wanting to walk with us and teach us on our shared journey. The Word has become flesh and is truly a real person.
    You may recall Danny that during the thirty day retreat we were urged to contemplate on Jesus’ physical sufferings, something that was a bit of a tall order for me at that time. It’s easier now as I listen and understand suffering a lot more. We walk together more now but I still stand back at times and watch and wonder.
    So I suppose Holy Week has changed a lot for me and is now a more personal, intimate time shared with a friend in need who knows better than me where He is going.
    Liz sends her love. Looking forward to getting together with you and Ann before too long. Tony

    • Danny  - April 19, 2017 - 8:49 am
      Reply /

      Good to hear from you Tony. Your comment brings back sweet memories of many years ago. In a sense that is also the value of times like Holy Week: as an archive and a reminder of who we are at a more authentic level and what is still important to us. It is clear from what you say that the significance of a message like that of Jesus – specifically around suffering – is more understandable in the second stage of life. I also look forward to an opportunity when we can meet again. Perhaps this year….??

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