lenten journal: much like any other day


    Today is a day much like any other day.

    In the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, this is the day in the middle. Most stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Our Easter story goes the opposite direction, in a way, starting with the ending and then moving to beginning again. Either way, Saturday is the day in the middle. Much like any other day.

    This morning, I sat around a table at church with ten Pilgrims (as we call ourselves) who had come to walk the Stations of the Cross set up in our sanctuary by our wonderful pastoral intern, Kyle. The stations were both thoughtful and tactile, involving a number of our senses to get the full picture. Before we gathered to eat, we gathered in the sanctuary for prayer and Ginger asked me to sing “Were You There?” Our connection to the song goes back to our days in Winchester, Massachusetts when Jim, a wonderful man with an amazing voice used to close the Maundy Thursday service with the first two verses of the song (as I sang them this morning):

    were you there when they crucified my lord?
    were you there when they crucified my lord?
    oh – sometimes it causes me to tremble tremble tremble
    were you there when they crucified my lord?

    were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
    were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
    oh – sometimes it causes me to tremble tremble tremble . . .

    He always stopped short of finishing the last verse and we left the service in darkness to go and wait for the ending to come. The question in the song is interesting because it begs to be answered. I don’t hear it as rhetorical. And the answer is, “No. I wasn’t there.” I try to get close, to learn, and to remember what has been passed down, but I was not there.

    I am here in the in-between of Saturday afternoon, a day much like any other day.

    And much like any other day, I have been mining for poems, which I believe to be why God created the Internet. I was looking for poems that spoke to the middle, to the unfinished, to living in the everyday. (I am also quoting excerpts; please follow the links to read them in their entirety.) I went first to an old friend, Stanley Kunitz. I actually met him at the one Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival I have been able to attend. It was a year or so before he died. “The Layers” is one of my favorite poems. The last part of it reads:

    Oh, I have made myself a tribe
    out of my true affections,
    and my tribe is scattered!
    How shall the heart be reconciled
    to its feast of losses?
    In a rising wind
    the manic dust of my friends,
    those who fell along the way,
    bitterly stings my face,
    Yet I turn, I turn,
    exulting somewhat,
    with my will intact to go
    wherever I need to go,
    and every stone on the road
    precious to me.
    In my darkest night,
    when the moon was covered
    and I roamed through wreckage,
    a nimbus-clouded voice
    directed me:
    “Live in the layers,
    not on the litter.”
    Though I lack the art
    to decipher it,
    no doubt the next chapter
    in my book of transformations
    is already written.
    I am not done with my changes.

    In the wreckage of the Crucifixion, I love the call to live in the layers of grief and hope and not on the litter of what might have been. We are not yet done. As I continued mining, I found another Kunitz poem that was new to me called “Passing Through.” The closing lines read:

    Maybe it’s time for me to practice
    growing old. The way I look
    at it, I’m passing through a phase:
    gradually I’m changing to a word.
    Whatever you choose to claim
    of me is always yours;
    nothing is truly mine
    except my name. I only
    borrowed this dust.

    At the Waco Mammoth Site the other day we learned there were layers of mammoth bones, each one from a different cataclysmic flood event that drowned and buried the animals. The dust we borrow for our days has been handed down. Though we weren’t there when they crucified Jesus, those who walked with him have been turned into words that have resonated down the days through the passing of the Bread and the Cup, through the telling of the story, through the living of these days that are one much like the other. And so at breakfast this morning one of the women at the table began talking about the “Mary Magdalene Moments” she had had during the day, things that had made her stop and wonder, “I wonder if this is how Mary felt?”

    We may not have been there, but we can find the feelings, the resonance, the continuity in the layers of life than make up our faith. One more poetic gem. James Galvin end his poem, “The Story of the End of the Story,” with these two lines:

    Real events don’t have endings,
    Only the stories about them do.

    We are five days away from marking six months since Reuben, my father-in-law, died yet his story is not over any more than our grief is complete. Though many years separate me from my days in Lusaka or Nairobi or Fort Worth or Boston or Winchester or Marshfield those stories don’t feel finished either. There have been endings, yes – and changes. And losses. Plenty of losses. But looking back on those days is more than an archaeological dig through bones of days gone by. Something still lives in those layers, something that gives greater significance to these days much like any other day, these days in the middle between endings and beginnings and beginnings again. I was not there when they crucified Jesus, or laid him in the tomb, or even when he rose up from the grave.

    But I am here on this day, much like any other day.


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