Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." -Mark 8:31-38
He who seeks not the cross of Christ, seeks not the glory of Christ. -John of the Cross
Lent's hardest sacrifice is giving up illusion: illusions about God, the world, safety, yourself. Peter tries to cling to an illusion. Jesus' harsh rebuke is devastating - meant not only for Peter, but all of us.
Sometimes it's necessary to abandon the illusion of what you previously called “faith.” As you mature as a Christian, faith draws you to a dark realm beyond reason. Reason is merely a place-mark of discernment: the content of the pages can shock with their unreasonable wonder, complexity, beauty, horror, emptiness.
All the scripture readings for Sunday reference faith in some way. God initiates a reciprocal pact of faith with Abraham. The Psalmist remembers God’s former faithfulness in order to find faith in present distress despite the jeering of companions. Paul considers how Abraham’s irrational faith blessed him. Jesus asks his followers to follow him in faith to the Cross.
The meditation prompts this week circle around the problem of illusion.
In dark faith, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) losing your life
Now as it was the spirit of the world that nailed our Blessed Lord to the Cross; so every man that has the spirit of Christ, that opposes the world as he did, will certainly be crucified by the world, in some way or other.
-William Law 1686-1761 A Serious Call to the Devout Life XVII
Those who want to save their lives will lose it, and those who lose their lives for my sake and for the gospel will save it.
Now we begin to see why repentance is a uniquely Christian path of liberation from self. All great religious traditions recognize that the deepest desire of the human heart is for freedom from inner oppression. We feel "conditioned": bound by the chains of our habits and compulsions, our likes and dislikes, our fears and guilt, our inability to love. Our great tragedy is that we so often mistake these habits and compulsions for our true self. Perhaps most of us operate on the assumption that this conditioned, unfree self is all there is, all we can ever be, and we fear that without it we could not exist at all. We are unable, therefore, to stop protecting ourselves at all cost. This fear, however, is an illusion and we need to be freed from it.
-Irma Zaleski Repentence
The Paradox of Prayer
I know that the prayers of those other parents and children were not less worthy than mine. I am not ungrateful, but I can’t forget the children who were left behind and I do not know what my prayer or my love or my ministry would be like had I not carried my children out of the hospital corridors alive and whole. Yet I sensed at the time that God was present in death as well as if life. It was not a sense of comfort of assurance that I experienced, but a love that did not depend on life or death.
A hospital corridor can be a mysterious place, a terrible and holy threshold upon the boundary of the soul. Here you will find an opening through which you might apprehend and embrace unexperienced aspects of God. Uprooted from your ordinary days, the hospital confounds the peaceful soul with the realization that the God of daily living is also the God of sudden dying. The God of the comforting parish sanctuary is also the God of the Intensive Care Unit. The God of beeswax candle and incense is the God of vomit and pus; the God of white linen and embroidered chasuble is the God of plastic curtain and sweaty sheet; the God of organ and flute is the God of squeaky gurney wheels and crying children; the God of deep port wine and delicately embossed communion bread is the God of infected blood and wounded flesh.
The God of all those corridor smells and sights and sounds is also the God of profound silence. When despair has obliterated ordinary prayer, when the psalms fail and all words are stupid and meaningless, the mantle of loneliness surrounding me becomes a mantle of dark and wordless love. This darkness reveals the paradox of prayer: in the absence of God, all there is, is God.
Suzanne Guthrie Grace’s Window
Crucifix, Master of San Francisco Bardi, 14th century
Meditation Two (insight) nights of faith
Saint John of the Cross does not hesitate to apply his principles to every kind of "clear knowledge" about God, even if it should come to the soul in the form of a vision or revelation. All these experiences are less perfect than the union of the soul with God in “pure faith,” that is to say, in the "night" of contemplation. … The only proximate means of union with God is faith. No vision, no revelation, however sublime, is worth the smallest act of faith, in his eyes.
- Thomas Merton 1915-1968 Ascent to Truth
Meditation Three (integration) heart of faith
Have mercy Upon us. Have mercy Upon our efforts,
That we Before Thee, In love and in faith, Righteousness and humillity, May follow Thee, With self-denial, steadfastness, and courage, And meet Thee In the silence.
Give us A pure heart That we may see Thee, A humble heart That we may hear Thee, A heart of love That we may serve Thee, A heart of faith That we may live Thee,
Thou Whom I do not know But Whose I am.
Thou Whom I do not comprehend But Who hast dedicated me To my fate. Thou -
- Dag Hammarskjöld 1905-1961 Markings
The Last Word
Why should I be anxious? It is not up to me to think of myself. It is up to me to think of God. And it is up to God to think of me.
- Simone Weil 1909-1943
Peter is the foil in Mark's Gospel. He not only plays the fall guy for various misunderstandings, failings, and general dunderheadedness, but by doing so, he stands in for you and me. Peter's illusions represent ours.
How many Lents now have I cried out from my study desk to Jesus, “Don't go to Jerusalem, you idiot !” But he goes anyway and I'm stuck reconciling my yearly illusion that Jesus could find a nicer, more refined, more reasonable way to break open the gates of hell than through submitting to a violent, radical self sacrificial death.
In today's Gospel, Jesus decides it's about time to prepare his closest friends for what will happen in Jerusalem.
“No no no no,” says Peter, master of platitudes. “That will never happen to youuuu.”
Jesus looks at the other disciples. Then he looks at Peter. And calls him Satan. He says, “You think as the world thinks.” Jesus has been fighting the way the world thinks all through Mark's Gospel. The conflict is partially within himself.
Not only will Jesus have to take up his cross - you and I will. There's no nicer, refined, more reasonable way, even if we carefully surround ourselves solely with nice, refined, reasonable churchy people.
For true life requires complete surrender to it. And what will be the point of gaining the whole world by thinking as the world thinks, if it means falling short of true life?