lenten journal: hanging by a thread


    Over the past couple of weeks, Ginger and I have had a couple of movie dates over breakfast. Both our schedules have pulled us out of the house in the evening, so we have fed our film habit in the mornings. This morning we watched an amazing piece of art and prophecy: Children of Men.

    The story is set in 2027 and presents a frighteningly plausible vision of the future. There are no flying cars or laser toys, nobody dodging bullets like The Matrix, just a world that appears to be the result of things we have set in motion now: global warming, terrorism and the politics of fear, the flu pandemic. The human race has become infertile and the world is made more tenuous when the youngest person on the planet, “Baby Diego,” dies – he is eighteen. Theo, the main character played by Clive Owen, begins the movie as one who copes with all the pain and horror by disengaging from life. Part of the story is his waking up to the pain, as well as to the possibility of hope.

    The movie echoes one of the crucial themes of Holy Week: our enduring hope often comes down to holding on by a thread. When John wrote, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it,” I imagine he was thinking of a small single oil lamp that continued to burn rather than a giant bonfire. If the light were going to remain, it was up to that one small flame. Today is the anniversary of a day when hope took a severe hit as Martin Luther King, Jr. fell to an assasin’s bullet on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel and the thread was not broken. My friend Billy and I wrote a song about it called “Down with the Ship.”

    martin was ahead of his time
    time was so far behind

    he had no eye for an eye
    in his point of view
    what he could see

    it was a beautiful dream

    the trouble with dreaming things

    is seeing them come true

    when you’re sailing on the high sea

    when you set out on a hope trip

    sometimes you get to your bright tomorrow

    sometimes you’ve got to go down with the ship

    martin had the fight of his life

    stared right into the enemies’ eyes

    tried to wake them from their comfortable lies

    that’s how ships go down

    he wasn’t praying for a long white robe

    prayed for strong hearts and hands to hold

    for people right here to sing and know

    that we shall overcome

    when you’re sailing on the high sea
    when you set out on a hope trip
    sometimes you get to your bright tomorrow

    sometimes you’ve got to keep sailing on the high sea

    believing love has got a firm grip

    and you’ll get to your bright tomorrow

    sometimes you’ve got to go down with the ship

    the truth won’t die just because your hero falls

    someday all flesh will stand to see it all

    and we’ll go sailing on the high sea

    and we’ll set out on a hope trip

    put our eyes on a new horizon

    and don’t look back

    we’ll go sailing on a high sea

    believing love has got a firm grip

    set our eyes on a new tomorrow

    set our hearts to go down with the ship

    sometimes you’ve got to go down with the ship

    When you read King’s sermons, you can sense he knew he wasn’t going to be around to see his dreamcome true. The night before he died he even said, “I may not get there with you . . .” And he finished his sermon, checked into the motel, and got up the next morning. As we relive this week, it seems obvious that Jesus knew those whom he had counted on to stand with him were falling away. He told Peter he would deny him. He told Judas to go and do what he needed to do. The disciples didn’t come through. When Jesus prayed, “If there’s any other way,” part of his anguish must have come from a profound sense of loneliness and desertion. If the light were not going to go out, it would be because Jesus moved beyond death and anger and indignation and betrayal to forgiveness.

    If there is no forgiveness, there are no stories, there is no life. The light goes out.

    This afternoon, I found this poem in my email from Ken, my spiritual director. It was written by John Shea (I think this is him here).

    Prayer for the Lady Who Forgave Us

    There is a long-suffering lady with thin hands

    who stand on the corner of Delphia and Lawrence

    and forgives you.

    “You are forgiven,” she smiles.

    The neighborhood is embarrassed.

    It is sure it has done nothing wrong

    yet, every day, in a small voice

    it is forgiven.

    On the way to the Jewel Food Store

    housewives pass her with hard looks

    then whisper in the cereal section.

    Stan Dumke asked her right out

    what she was up to

    and she forgave him.

    A group who care about the neighborhood

    agree that if she was old it would be harmless

    or if she were religious it would be understandable

    but as it is…they asked her to move on.

    Like all things with eternal purposes

    she stayed.

    And she was informed upon.

    On a most unforgiving day of snow and slush

    while she was reconciling a reluctant passerby

    the State people

    whose business is sanity,

    persuaded her into a car.

    She is gone.

    We are reduced to forgetting.

    Hope is not sane or safe, and is often scarce when compared to fear or cynicism or despair, or even sin. On any given night, the darkness is larger than the flickering flame. When the nay sayers confronted Jesus about forgiving a man’s sins, Jesus asked, “Which is easier: to forgive his sins or to heal him?” Jesus did both. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy, whether we are the forgiver or the forgivee, but it is the fuel that keeps the light burning.

    I was reminded again today it will not go out.



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