Good Friday is a beautiful day but an ugly one, too. It is the day on which Jesus Christ surrendered himself to death, the day of darkest hope, the day on which we contemplate the depths of physical and emotional torment as they can be experienced here, in our broken minds and broken bodies. Like so much of the Christian faith, it’s a paradox that is as comforting as it is confusing.
The temptation, of course, is to experience it all as a prelude to Easter Sunday. We can understand that. And we know how the story ends, so why pretend otherwise? But there is so much we miss out on if we don’t allow ourselves to live in the despair for a few days, even a few hours. To contemplate what it would mean to have Jesus and to lose him, to wonder if we ever had him at all. To look elsewhere for something else that can make the trees of the field clap their hands, to consider what it means if none of it is true. This is not so hard, really. Even for those who believe, and have believed from their earliest memories, these questions are never too far away.
Poetry is such a perfect, perhaps even necessary, complement to faith. It’s woven throughout the Old and New Testaments for a reason–it is the one art form most particularly well-suited to expressing the range of experiences and emotions that make up belief and doubt. To me faith is often fractured, and imagistic, and lacking clarity where I would want it. Sometimes I don’t see how it will all come together, or wonder if it will. But it always brings me back to this one image, this one man, this one moment, and it is the only story that can hold all the other stories. And it is a choice to hope, to believe in this story. But it’s also impossible to choose otherwise, when I have experienced the love and forgiveness and fullness that are made possible by this story.
So for this Good Friday, I share a favorite poem from a favorite writer. I can only hope–and that is the most painful, beautiful, true thing I know.
Sure we’re trained to his suffering, sure
the nine-inch nails, and so forth.
And the cross raised up invoked
the body’s weight so each wound tore,
and from his abdomen a length of gut
dangled down, longing towards earth.
He was a god, after all.
An eternal light swarmed in his rib cage
no less strong than the weaving nebulae that haul
this dirt-speck planet through its course.
Surely his flesh mattered less somehow, less
than yours to you. He hung against steel rods
with his whole being, and though the pain
was very pure, he only cried out once.
All that was writ down. But what if his flesh
felt more than ours, knew each breath
was a gift, and thus saw
beyond each instant into all others.
So a morsel of bread conjured up
the undulating field of wheat from whence it came,
and the farmer’s back muscles
growing specific under this shirt
and the sad, resigned pace of the mule
whose opinion no one sought.
Think of all we don’t see
in an instant. Cage that in one skull.
If Christ saw in each
pair of terrified eyes he met
every creature’s gauzy soul
then he must have looked down from that bare hill
and watched the tapestry teem
till that poor carcass he borrowed
wept tears of real blood before they
unhooked it and oiled it and bound it
round with linen and hid it under a stone,
to rise again or not, I can only hope.
“Christ’s Passion” by Mary Karr, Viper Rum, New Directions, 1998