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Healing Words from the Cross: Love’s Extremities.

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

Healing Words from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you deserted me? (Matthew 27: 47)

From the Tree of the Cross Jesus spoke words of healing, seven important qualities we all need if we are to help complete God’s vision for humanity: in this fourth word spoken from the Cross for healing: LOVE’S EXTREMITIES

Only with profound awe dare we listen to this 4th word from the Cross, spoken as a leaf for the healing of humankind and for the world.  We are given just a glimpse of a deep mystery.  Within these words we begin to see love’s extremities, the measure to which love goes for us, the measure to which love takes us.

Jesus feels himself abandoned by God – Jesus stands alone, in his own unique self, and experiences that aloneness, that loneliness.  Jesus plumbs the uttermost depths of the human situation.  Psalm 22 begins the same way – a psalm that Jesus would have been familiar with, a psalm that I believe most of us are familiar with: not just in words but in a powerfully emotional way!  We know deep down trust in God even in the midst of feeling abandoned by God.  We know that abandonment is an emotion and we know that trust is a spiritual power that can exist and operate even when feeling deserted.  It can be hard work living with this paradox – that abandonment and trust can co-exist. 

The loneliness of modern life may be considered in two ways.  There is the loneliness of being alone, of experiencing our uniqueness, the knowledge that I am myself and no other can be me, and that essentially I must face the challenges of life alone  – this while painful and difficult, can be creative and generative – it is in this experience of God’s call and his vocation, that Jesus cries out his healing words.   And there is the loneliness of alienation that breeds anger, revenge and can be destructive and life destroying – it is in this experience of self-alienation and self-rejection, disturbing anxiety, rebellion and intolerance: a condition that seems too prevalent today in our world, that Jesus words My God, my God are held out for healing. This word is a loving plea gift from God – trust me, I hold out a gift of trust to you, a free gift, take it. I care about you, I love you ….

We enter here into a mystery, but it is one that is important for us to enter into – again we are standing on holy ground.  These words resonate for most of us – it is a cry of loneliness, whose origin is in the recesses of our own souls.  Can you hear it – in yourself, in the news, on the TV and in our cities?

Henri Nouwen writes: “The roots of loneliness are very deep. … They find their food in the suspicion that there is no one who cares and offers love without conditions, and no place where we can be vulnerable without being used.”

In these words Jesus speaks words of healing to the depths of our souls when he cries out, to God, his feeling of being abandon and alone.  Why have you forsaken me?  How often have we said these words, crying out to God from the depths of our great need?  Our fears, our despair, our sins hide God from the eyes of our souls.  They hide God – a God who is always there, calling and loving us unconditionally – a God who is our constant companion on our journey, and whose love for us will never let us go.

In my own experience, as years pass and life goes on and as bitter tragedy enters into it, there comes times when I feel that God has forgotten me; when I’ve been immersed in a situation beyond my understanding and feel bereft even of God.  In these fourth words there is a compassionate, yearning, personal understanding – there is also a tenaciousness, a not letting go, a stopping at nothing that I believe comes both from myself – my God, my God – and also comes from God’s own tenacious love and desire for friendship with me.

This word is encouragement – to maintain faith and trust that God’s work will get done, despite all the diminishments that befall us.  Life is a continual process of groping and growth.  It is inevitable that there should be conflict, tears, bloodshed, suffering, death, destruction, natural disasters, injustice, immorality and other forms of diminishment.  Teilhard de Chardin says: “Our being must, indeed, be precious for God to continue to see it thought so many obstacles.  And it is a great honour that God makes us able to fight in companionship so that God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven!”

There have been many times when I have been thankful that God himself raised this question – glad that this question “why” was asked before me asking it!  I know that even in darkness and the unknown, when feeling forsaken and in loneliness – this cry is to God, my God.  It is only in the dark that we can see the stars, and I have seen the stars too many times to know that the darkness is forever.

The suffering of loneliness makes us stop, it slows us down.  When human suffering confronts us and we are in its presence, we find ourselves bereft of ordinary ways of responding.  These words “My God, my God, why?” help us to enter into our fear and dread.  When this time comes we can’t see its outcome.  We’re rarely sure what it means, but we are certain that we don’t like it. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  This cry is an essential part of our human experience – it is something to be accepted and used.  These words can cause our lives to fall into perspective.  We never reach maturity as people, or as a world, without the dark nights of the soul.  While we put off situations like these, to move on into fuller life we must be prepared to enter those situations where we shall inevitably experience loneliness and desolation.  It is at these moments that we will experience conquest – victory.

I believe that loneliness is a necessary condition for understanding ourselves, because all of us are lonely. Experience has led me to understand that it is only in the deep experiences of being alone, of loneliness, of despair and emptiness, and staying there with it, that I have discovered the depths of myself and know that I do not stand alone.  It is then that I can meet others with intimacy and compassion.  Taking the space of loneliness to discover myself and who I am … or as the poem by J Lynch “This Little While” puts it about Jesus … that He still must seek and make His own It is necessary for self-understanding, and for reaching out to others in confidence and love.

To say that it is good to feel lonely and abandoned, to be totally unvisited, unknown, and without nearness: perhaps these are words that we do not like to hear, words that scare us because we do not understand them.  But rather than be afraid of this subject, loneliness – real deep aloneness – I think we can all admit that we have known it.  These fourth words from the Cross My God My God why have you forsaken me – are spoken as a healing leaf of love in its demonstration of the extremity to which love goes in order to be a part of the deep relationship we are offered by the unconditional love and companionship God holds out to us.

Loss of hope and trust is easy, everyday brings some new horror to the world that can make us forget to pray or even to breathe!  Our impulse is to try to bury our head in the sand, to try to ignore and forget.  Everyday our experiences dish out situations that seem unfair or unkind.  Despair comes from the inside out and belongs to the owner.  When we ignore or suppress anger and cynicism it can overcome our humanity.  When we crouch in the darkness of loneliness and alienation unwilling to take our hands off our ears or to lower the blankets we’ve pulled over our heads, we inflict such a silence of unreality that we cannot hear God through it.

It is in these moments of feeling forsaken – that the cry, “my God, my God” becomes the means of healing.  We need to remember that God is always holding us.  God, who is my hope, hoped!  God who is my safety, keeps me safe.  It can be hard work living with this paradox – that abandonment and trust can co-exist.

How does this 4th word touch you in your life now?  How does this 4th word touch the world in which we live now?