Fighting not to forget the reality of Good Friday and the power of Easter in the fog of our distracted, detached lives.
Each year, InSpero invites people to create through Lent and provides a retreat featuring a lectio divina (meditative reading of a portion of Scripture). This year, I didn't think I'd be able to participate. My father's death in January opened side doors of regrets and losses I thought I had locked tight. All I wanted to do was re-shut my doors and hide. But I was the one scheduled to lead the retreat. Could God be giving me a path to grieve well and reactivate my soul?
I’ve been wading in “the gray afternoon of the soul.” It’s not as dramatic as St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul.” It’s like being stuck in a thick fog with no light cutting through to show the way back to sunshine and simplicity. It’s been a season of aching over brokenness—my own, others, our polarized country and churches, and the horrors flashing on the nightly news. A season of questions and confusion. My head knows good theology and tells me this season will pass. But my heart’s tired of waiting. I long for a renewed close connection with Christ.
So I prayed the other retreat participants could benefit from what I needed. We meditated on Isaiah 53 focusing on the suffering, silent servant, acquainted with grief, whom we “esteemed not.” The man who carried our sorrows and was crushed for our sins, by whose wounds we are healed and given peace. This verse reverberated with me:
Out of the anguish of his soul, he shall see and be satisfied. Isaiah 53:11
What started dissolving the “gray jello” I’ve been in was a"throw-away" crucifix and the hymn O Sacred Head Now Wounded. A worn-out wooden cross with peeling paint hanging on a wall in a back room of a no-longer-used Catholic church in New Orleans. A relic that wouldn’t make it out of a garage sale. There was no beauty or majesty in it to draw my attention. But it resonated deep to my Catholic roots where Jesus Christ is shown on the crucifix. Protestant churches often display a “body-less” cross to emphasize that it is finished. But I needed this season to turn my eyes to Jesus and look full into his wonderful—and suffering—face to cut through my fog.
Tradition says Bernard of Clairvoux penned O Sacred Head Now Wounded and it was made into a hymn by German Lutheran pastor, Paul Gerhardt, and is sung every day of Holy Week in some churches.
Gerhardt was a man acquainted with grief. He grew up during the horrific Thirty Year War and was removed from his pastoral position after trying to resolve differences between the Calvinists and Lutherans. He married at 48, and four of his five children died young, and his wife also died, partially from grief. One of Germany’s most beloved hymn writers, this is written under a life-size painting honoring him: Theologus in cribro Satanae versatus (“A theologian sifted in Satan’s sieve.”)
I pray the close-up images of this 12-inch cross from St. Alphonsus Church along with the music and words from this hymn will reactivate your soul as well. To listen, click on Fernando Ortega's version below.
O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down;
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call thee mine.
What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners' gain:
Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Saviour! 'Tis I deserve thy place;
Look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.
What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest Friend,
For this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
O make me thine for ever; and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.
Be near when I am dying, o show thy cross to me;
And for my succor flying, come, Lord, to set me free:
These eyes, new faith receiving, from Jesus shall not move;
For he who dies believing, dies safely, through thy love.
So it is the “visio divina” of the images of this paint-chipped cross and other crosses, Isaiah 53, and this brutally beautiful hymn which is reconnecting my heart and lightening the fog to see that He sees and is satisfied. Even with me.
As I gaze on this cross, I not only see his suffering, but also his sacrificial love. As we move from Good Friday to Easter Sunday to Pentecost, I'm thankful the cross and tomb are both empty.
He is risen and he will return as the light cutting through the darkness of this foggy world.
Nancy W. Carroll is a writer, speaker/teacher, and "soul-tender" from Birmingham, AL who blogs at Really Late Bloomer. She serves as president of InSpero, Inc., a 501c3 believing in the power of creative community to bring hope and healing to our city and churches.