You have my whole heart. You always did. —Cormac McCarthy, The Road
Imagine for a moment the greatest love of your life. Your beloved. This person is the center of your existence, a person who makes you feel truly alive. Before you met your beloved, you were anxious, distracted, frail, broken. But now in your emerging love, you feel strong. You feel alive. You don’t know what you were experiencing before, but it wasn’t this. This person has helped you understand your past, and you are worrying less and less about the future. Instead, you are focused on the here and now. Everything you do, everything you experience, is saturated with feeling.
Continue to imagine your beloved. This person is a gifted teacher and not only has taught you how to live but also has touched the hearts of a community. The more lives this person influences, the more people flock to your beloved looking for inspiration. This is certainly a drain on the time your beloved spends with you, but for the first time in your life you don’t feel jealous. You begin to realize that the more love is shared, the more love you have in your life. If you have an apple and cut it in half and give one piece of it to a stranger, you will have half an apple to eat. You may get hungry. But if you give half of your love away, you end up having twice as much love as you did in the first place. By giving, you gain.
Although your beloved has helped numerous people, there are others who have grown bitter, envious, and angry. They slander your beloved. They criticize; they mock and soon bring your love to trial. Certainly the storm clouds have been gathering for a while. You heard the rumblings of discontent. Your beloved acknowledged that these were dangerous times. But everything moves so fast. One moment you are having dinner with your love and your friends, and soon thereafter are betrayals, an arrest, an indictment, torture, and a sentence of death. All in less than 24 hours. Your mind keeps racing with the same question: Why is this happening?
Now imagine your world beginning to implode. Here is the love of your life, falsely accused and charged, being taken away from you. Your beloved has committed no crime. You are helpless. You feel useless. There is nothing you can do. The friends who have claimed loyalty to your beloved have turned their backs. You are not even allowed one final moment with your beloved. Instead, you will be forced to be a spectator to the execution. You feel completely alone.
Shadows deepen. Winds hiss. The sky turns the color of dirty bath water. The air smells of sulfur and ozone. A crowd begins to stir. You turn and in the distance see your beloved in the streets among a jeering, spiteful crowd—laughter crackles like flames. On your beloved’s back is a beam of wood. You cry out in horror, but your voice is not heard. Empty birdsong.
The crowd is ravenous, held back by the arms of soldiers who have taken to the streets to keep the scene peaceful. Amid the chaos, a few people weep for your beloved, holding out their hands in support. You try to get closer to your love, moving among contorted faces, but the crowds are too deep. You catch a glimpse of your beloved struggling to walk. And then the falling. You want to help the love of your life, to ease the burden, to put an end to this madness.
But there is nothing you can do except watch and pray for mercy. As hot tears run down your face and you feel your heart beating in your head, you hear a whisper in your ear: “It is only when the seed is broken that the tree begins to grow.”
Gary Jansen is the author of several books, including Station to Station: An Ignatian Journey through the Stations of the Cross, from which we excerpted this post. Jansen has appeared on A&E, the Sundance Channel, the Travel Channel, Coast to Coast AM, CNN.com and NPR, and his writing has been featured in the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, and USA Today. Currently, Jansen is senior editor of religion and spirituality at the Crown Publishing Group at Penguin Random House.