Lenten Observance: Day 39

Good Friday — I have to say that Good Friday was one of my favorite days as a Catholic kid growing up, and remained so even into adulthood.  I don’t do much in the way of observing Good Friday any more, not so much because I am no longer a practising Catholic, but because I’m generally working on Good Friday, and so don’t have the opportunity to go to a Good Friday service (in my experience, they are usually around 3 in the afternoon).  Still, Good Friday has some power for me, just as Extreme Unction still has power as a sacrament.  For many, Good Friday is the downer prelude to the greatest of holidays, Easter Sunday.  I remember watching The Passion of the Christ and being most struck by the “Easter” moment in that film.  At the end of the film (maybe after the credits — I don’t recall), we have a muscular Jesus get up from his tomb and walk offscreen to the right.  It didn’t look like the Jesus I’d imagined, all bright and shiny and loving, but rather like an action hero getting up for Round II — “this time, it’s personal!”  But I digress.  On Good Friday and Extreme Unction — what was most comforting to me as a kid was the idea that at the end, when feeling the most alone, there would be someone there for me was powerful and it made Extreme Unction my # 2 sacrament (after Confession).  And on Good Friday, we see what that lonely death looks like in its starkest form.  A prophet speaking out in contradiction to the state and religious authority’s power is silenced.  And because we all have a strong self-preservation instinct, his disciples ran away to save themselves.  And yet, as an audience hearing that story, we are there with Jesus, and that moment of death and loss is a powerful one.  In a way, as sympathetic listeners to the story, or as one of the people enacting the narrative (Good Friday services would generally be performed by the priest and some members of the parish — the congregation gets to be the crowd — “Crucify him!” is our big line), that scene can have tremendous effect.  It can help one notice someone who is alone, and gently reminding that person that you see him/her.  It can lead to the courage of someone like Oscar Romero, archibshop of San Salvador, who was gunned down in church by government thugs.  It can lead to the sentiment expressed by Karl Malden‘s character in On the Waterfront, as he speaks a few words over a man who was killed because he spoke to authorities, that Jesus is down here with the guys in the hold, and that the killing of Dugan “was a crucifixion.” 

Tao 77 & 78:

77: The Tao as a force keeping everything in balance.  The metaphor of a bow that bends at both ends is used, but the line “They take from those who don’t have enough and give to those who have far too much,” in talking about those who fight against the Tao, I found most powerful.  It sounds like a call for economic justice, but it can be a form of any sort of justice, arguing for affirmative action, and for being on the lookout against racial profiling.  If we are wealthy in this country, we have certain advantages that the poor do not have, and if we are part of the dominant culture, we may go through life without some of the suspicions that are leveled against people of color.  Correcting those imbalances seems the right thing to do, but acknowledging the problem here is the least we can do. 

78: “True words seem paradoxical.”  This whole chapter is another variation on the softness of water, but how it can chip away at the hard rocks.  This metaphor is a common one (the ancient Greeks and Romans use it as well), but sometimes I wonder of the effect.  True, the Chinese autocratic government cannot crush the spirit of the Dalai Lama, but they do make life miserable for many Tibetans who have lost the leader they feel has legitimate position.  And we may sympathize with the Dalai Lama and let his wisdom wash over us, but it seems that passive resistance alone has little effect on what a powerful adversary can do.   According to theTao, it can work, but at times I wonder how.  As to words being paradoxical — words are slippery things;  they change meaning over time and have meaning only in the context of other words (sort of like Tofu, they take on the flavors around them).  And so that makes me wonder what “absolute” truth we can hold and put into words.  Of course, this goes back to the opening chapter — the Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.

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