Let's see. How to start this?
At choir rehearsal shortly after Christmas, we began working on a piece from Handel's Messiah for Holy Week: "He Trusted in God." These are the lyrics: He trusted in God that He would deliver Him; let Him deliver Him, if He delight in Him” (Psalm 22:8).
And I just could not stand it. Could not sing that. It hurt me emotionally and physically. It sounded hateful, sarcastic, cold. The story behind it…one I have known for my whole life…hurt too much.
I couldn’t understand such a God. How could God not delight in and protect God's child? It reminded me of the ‘Abraham and Isaac go to Mount Moriah’ story, which we had recently heard in church. I hate that story. I understand about the foreshadowing of the Crucifixion. But it seemed to me that if we have a NEW covenant in Christ, that God isn’t doing a very good job of making it new in the Crucifixion! That son got killed, after all.
Of course, I am emotionally raw from four years now of body and energy work, and painful things can strike me with greater force and immediacy than they used to. I have to “put my shields up” to go into certain situations. I know this. But I was not prepared for it in choir, in my spiritual life, in preparation for Lent which I have observed my entire life.
I told the choir director I needed some time off. And I started wandering in what felt like a desert. How could I reconcile my (almost lifelong) faith with what was quickly becoming clear to me as a horrible, brutal event perpetrated by the head deity? Could I stay a Christian? Could I be an Episcopalian anymore?
I wrote a screaming e-mail to a friend (“what kind of a God would invent such a horrible religion?!”) and, with great love, she shared with me, for the first time in my life, the notion that maybe God didn’t make up that idea…maybe that was a human construct that we made up ourselves to deal with our pain and shame. I had never heard the phrase “atonement theology” before.
Sometime during this process, I remembered watching Ben-Hur when I was very young, about 7, and after the movie was over I went to my room cried brokenheartedly. Somehow I had not understood before that it was all my fault that Jesus had to go through that…that’s what the movie conveyed to me. We had pictures on the wall of my bedroom of plates from the Godey’s Lady’s Books. I remember looking at those simpering ladies and thinking they were feeling very superior to me somehow.
So this Lent has been filled with questioning, reading, listening and counsel by various friends, both sympathetic and skeptical, and lots and lots of anger. It’s as if a great deal of rage I was holding on to has come out through the vehicle of this pain. I’ve been angry at bad drivers, cold weather, stupid newscasters; at the wrongs perpetrated by institutional religion, and particularly at the institution of religion to which I belong.
I told my Teacher at one point that I felt my world had gotten very small. I think that was because I have been so focused on the one thing and the implications of it.
The bluebonnet camping weekend was restorative. The world spread back out for me. It meant missing Palm Sunday church, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before…but the time away was what I needed. It allowed me, as a friend said, to “get out of my own head space.”
Now I am ready – I think – to step into Holy Week and see what it has for me, and what I might have for it. I am fortunate that I have few responsibilities this week other than singing during Maundy Thursday, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday services. The Handel “He Trusted in God” was dropped from Maundy Thursday repertoire, not because of me but because of a general dearth of enough voices to pull it off. We are still singing from the Rutter and Fauré Requiems, and two Easter pieces from the Messiah.
It’s not finished, the questioning. Probably the anger is not either. But the grace and the love are still there too. That’s my blessing for today.