wing-held darkness

This post was written for Beauty from Chaos,
but I have posted it here too, since I want to keep Zadkiel close by.

Zadkiel looked slowly around the crowd. Mary. Mary. John.  Most of the others had fled.  But as his eyes searched he saw familiar faces. The blind man. The woman who had bled. Those who had realised that suffering was not the end of the world.

But this suffering might be, he thought.

Jophiel knelt on the other side of the clearing, tears streaming down his face as he recorded the fugue that had begun with those hard struck nails.

Michael seemed unflinching, but one wing reached out.  Feathers brushed the woman he had chosen, who had done her work so well.

On the edge of the crowd, stood Sariel: his work not yet done.

Michael drew close to Zadkiel and said, ‘It is time.’
‘Must we?’ Zadkiel said angrily. ‘God seems to have gone already.’   ‘No. This is just the beginning. You know what we must do.’

Zadkiel nodded and caught Jophiel’s eye.  Jophiel set down his quill, and called the angels to attention.  One signal, and the circle formed: wings locked to forge a wall around the cross.

The tent of absence, Zadkiel realised.  He raised his wings reluctantly, and darkness covered the whole earth.

Their task was to keep God out.  God had withdrawn himself from himself, and become as remote as the deepest fear of the heart.  God stood on the edge of non-being to create a space where he was not, to allow this darkness, this freedom, this choice.

And we bear the weight of it, Zadkiel uttered, still resisting his task.

The darkness held for three hours.  The angels strained with it, letting love and grief, longing and abandonment bash against their wings.

Then Jesus cried aloud, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’  and Zadkiel’s scream filled the heavens.  Michael and Jophiel flexed their wings around him, absorbing the force of his grief and using it to strengthen the circle.

God’s agony pressed in on them too. The sun stopped; the heavens shuddered, and the whole earth stood on the edge of the abyss.

Jesus cried out again, and Sariel stepped forward.  He curled his dark wings around the cross, gently. Then, as Jesus breathed out, his wings snapped shut: cutting breath from breath; life from death.

Jophiel was the first to break the circle, as anguish overwhelmed him.  Myriad of angels shut their wings as the sky was rent and the veil of the temple torn in two.

‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ Zadkiel whispered, the words now fully his own.

Chrism Mass

Little girl: it’s all right.
It is true
that the stranger sat behind you
cried through the second half
of each hymn
(and that was a bit confusing)
and it is true
that your father had to work
and brought you with him
(and that was a bit frustrating)
but that is just
what Maundy Thursday is like.
Truth be told:
tomorrow may be worse.
But you will make it through
and then there will be change.
Come Sunday
there will be laughter
and chocolate
and freedom
and time
for you go up the hill,
where you might find
the one who was crying
flying her kite
and ready to sing with you
a new song.

Holy Week

It was bound to be hard, right?  A year out, a priest without altar.  No liturgies to prepare, no stresses at all, past the self-inflicted choice of a week of prayer-book eucharists to attend (chosen not for language, but for timing).  I’ve sensed it coming for weeks, as my body kept trying to gear up for the great week, and I had to slow it down saying ‘no, not this time…’

I knew it would be hard — but I didn’t know what, or how.
Until, that is, they began reading the passion.

The story will always catch us if we let it.  And that was part of what happened.  But this time the shock and pain came at realising that I could take no part in it — that I would not be reading it aloud for the first time since I was ordained deacon.

Reading the passion aloud in worship is an odd and difficult thing.  It is physically demanding.  It is emotionally demanding.  And — for me at least — it is one of the formative acts of ordained life.

It’s not the sort of thing I anticipated as an ordinand, of course.  I cannot remember a single conversation in which it was mentioned as an essential part of priesthood.  So it was a surprise to realise how crucial it is, how much it forms you.

That first year as a deacon, I was given it to read four times:  as the narrator on Palm Sunday, at the Roman Catholic ecumenical service (a hugely generous gift), at the Gospel of the Watch, and in the Good Friday liturgy.  I’ve read it at least twice every year since.  It gets harder each time, as it seeps deeper and deeper into my bones, and draws down every last drop of energy.

The narrator stumbled at one point yesterday.  I heard the odd ‘tut’.  But that was precisely the moment my heart leapt for him, because I could feel that it was the moment the reading had taken over.  He began in control, a priest and liturgist, tending pace and timing.  But at some point he just gave in.  The story took over, and he was subsumed. Who can say what someone else is experiencing, really, but this is how it seemed.  And I remembered the doing of it — the strain of yielding, and yet retaining enough poise and presence to go on, to proclaim, to speak and breathe and stand still.  It is harder than one might think.  And the absence of it tore through me.

I know this is not uniquely a preist’s task.  I remember powerful readings done without priests at all.  I don’t think it matters who reads it, or who reads which role, so long as it is read well.  But I do think it matters for the priest — to be able to read this, to have to read it, over and over again.

The physical act of reading the passion changes us.  It cannot be ignored, it cannot be tossed off or resented, and heaven help the priest who fails to realise this.  We are given this great task and privilege — to stand at the intersection of anguish and love, degradation and glory — and to find our identity there.

I will miss reading it this week.  Desperately.

And I pray for all those who are charged with the task of it: that they will live well through the doing of it — allowing themselves to be drained, and loved, and changed.