Sometimes life presents strange contrasts, like when I found myself simultaneously watching The Passion of the Christ and hearing background radio coverage of the aftermath of an ongoing presidential race “for the soul of a nation”, as the world turns upside down. It is a surreal thing to be watching Christ suffocating on a tree in the midst of the world spinning chaotically on its thought-to-be-stable axis. We think we can save ourselves, save our own souls. That has always been our greatest of weaknesses.
Perhaps this whole world is still being crucified; perhaps we are always gasping for breath in a suspended vacuum of time and space, victims of our own worst demons, for nothing we build is without flaw, and we never tire of tearing down our own imperfect structures, and demonizing each other while seeing ourselves as avenging angels. All our little Camelots must fall, through adultery and betrayal, the severing of vows and drowning of swords. We are always fighting the long defeat.
It sets one in a frame of mind to sort out the real from the unreal, and stopping to rediscover what will be left standing when the smoke has cleared. If all our worst case scenarios were to manifest themselves, and the climate of the world plunged into a domino effect of disintegration, what would hold together the whole? How will we be able to fill our lungs again, and what will be offered as wine to drug our cracked lips?
Sometimes, suffering seems to be the ultimate reality that remains unchanging. Many people these days are struggling with a rapidly changing world of lethal sickness and social unrest, and feel caught in a backwards pendulum swing in a world where right and wrong have become sorrowfully blurred. They are truly shocked by this latest wave of reality, which they thought simply wasn’t supposed to happen. Sure the future always holds the promise of progress.
But to me, it is more or less par for the course. We are ultimately at the mercy of history, being dragged down by the grand events that ultimately prove as meaningless and passing as sea foam after the great waves have broken. It is a helpless, heartless hurdling that leaves us bruised inside, but in the end ebbs out apace.
We watch others commit acts driven by hatred and hysteria or perhaps worse yet, the soulless force of apathy. We see corruption rotting foundations, and rashness tearing down the walls. We see humanity, which should be growing ever closer together in familial unity, throwing up parapets that break us up into squabbling factions. Will we always behave as children, brandishing our toy guns that steal away life and swords that sever our ties as flesh and bone is severed?
We run around pell-mell, and then ask if the sky is falling. Well, maybe it will. Or maybe it already has. Maybe it fell on Calvary Hill, and the jagged pieces tore us bloody.
As a Christian, I would say that we have already killed God; all other self-made calamities pale in comparison to that single suffocation of the Word of Life. But even non-Christians might agree that we indeed kill God in this world through every act of wrong that is committed. Yes, we are the splintered sky, and the jagged pieces tear apart our world and our God. They tear Him bloody. For if there is a Life Force, then every death, whether it be physical or the death of deeper ideals, pinions the Hands of Time with nails. Yes, spear to the heart, and blood everywhere. Should we be shocked if our clothes are stained by it?
That is the truest tragedy, and we engage in it with verve. All our hands are on the spear. Our own thoughts, words, and deeds are the tools that can build the world, or rip it apart. We are eaten away by our own cynicism. If we are disturbed by the insanity we feel swirling around us, perhaps we should first acknowledge the insanity within our own turbulent souls. But we prefer the blindness of neon lights flashing in our eyes. We fear the depth of the night, for fear that it will swallow us up. And yet it is in the heart of a darkened world that we can best see the brightness of a flame.
That flame is our own spirit’s breath, borne from the death of our bloodied God, who looks so very much like our own bloodied humanity. It talks to us, though we will not hear it unless forced into the darkness. We may grope in confusion or suffer in the silence, but only then will feel the beating of our own hearts, and our cynicism will crumble beneath its pulse. We may yet crush the serpent in the garden. For our God is dead…and yet lives. The great calamity was flipped on its head. By the light of lights plunging into the depths of darkness, darkness itself gave up its dead. Do we not all have cause to find prisms of rubies reflecting from wounded hearts, sacred in their suffering?
We may be surrounded by “great events”, and yet the true greatness may rest hidden in the holy darkness, borne up to the dawn’s flowering on the wings of loving. Perhaps it is found in the apex of pain, or a life poured out for the sake of others. Perhaps it is the splattered wax from a burning candle that shows it is alive. Perhaps it is crushing blow that enables the stars to shine, and small apples to grow. It is Moses, dead on the mountaintop before reaching the Land of Milk and Honey, and God coming down to mourn him. It is Christ dead on a hilltop, with his blood-splattered mother weeping.
I think of the fall of the Roman Empire, and the sweep of the Dark Ages, and how civilization was nearly destroyed. But it was not, for such things do not rest upon outer structures. Who preserved civilization when the course of history betrayed its worldly champions, and the structure was washed away like the house built on sand? It was those who embraced the solitude of the long night, who drew prayer around them in their cells, and who kept alive the words of life and learning. They kept our stories from dying; they kept the music of our souls coursing, spiraling like the designs on their illuminated manuscripts.
These are the “great events”, the stream running underground, unseen in the darkness, and yet never ceasing in its flow. Call it a gush of life-blood, if you will, straight from the heart of the human experience. And all acts and signs of truth and beauty flows straight from the heart of God. We can be a part of that current, even amidst the chaos. There are some things that no amount of unrest can rob from us. Indeed, when our outer securities are stripped, we find ourselves tapping into our primal soulscape, our interior silent planet which we all too often neglect.
So I am walking along the paths of this world, and I would share the songs that never sleep to all whom I pass by. When wounds are open in the hearts of others, music may weave its way within, like light straining through glass. Our vulnerability becomes our salvation. So let the world be torn down the world, brick by brick, if it must be, but we must never be afraid to sing in the face of it. We have the keys to the imperishable treasures that can never be corrupted. We must bide our time and stand our ground in the face of the whirlwind. Nothing truly good can remain undone forever. The dawn will break, and all will be made new. Resurrection is on the horizon.