Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Packing, sorting, throwing, boxing, taping—taping in particular my thumbs and forefingers, which have cracked from contact with fabric, cardboard, tape, plastic bins, books, papers, grime—making lists upon lists.

If Holy Week is about stripping, then I've had six weeks of Holy Week. Good Friday was crucifying, but not in the way you might think. There's a new priest in town, someone who purportedly knows something about liturgy. He was scheduled for the Good Friday service, so I went, longing to lose myself in the great silences of the liturgy.

It was not as advertised.

Instead, it was the person who drove me from the church in Alaska in the first place, a perfectly nice man who has been in Alaska forever but rigid, formulaic, cannot deal with silence or death or imagine that a layperson would ever be able to find a page by themselves much less understand the simplest bible story or fact of life.

The service (if you want to call it that—it certainly wasn't the Good Friday liturgy in the 1979 BCP reproduced on the leaflet) was all yakkity, yakkity yak. The presider clearly didn't like the Good Friday Liturgy, strolled in, began by preaching a 20 minute sermon composed of strung-together platitudes about the resurrection, ignored all the opening silences which would by then have anyway been pointless after that shattering, meaningless monologue, ignored the silences between the collects, skipped the prayer for the dead, preached again about the resurrection, told stories between the veneration prayers instead of having the veneration of the cross (or even a suitable substitute), and when it was finally all over and he mercifully (but much too late) shut up, the shocked silence of even this usually noisy congregation said it all.

A friend on the opposite coast sent me a list of ersatz liturgies about bunnies and the like to help lift my spirits. Perhaps we need to add a few more: one for Good Friday that ignores Good Friday, one for those who want the crown without the cross, one for those who hate silence and are afraid of death, who want to talking about rising again without having ever died. Didn't Usula le Guin write about this in "The Farthest Shore?"

When Sunday came I was still juddering from the Good Friday assault, so immersed myself in absence and silence, and endless packing.

About 11 AM a phone call from Seattle, my friend having just returned from Easter church, nearly weeping, saying "God is dead and the church has killed him."

A couple of hours later another, this time from the UK saying the same, only worse: blatant institutional guilt-exploiting, crucifying young men on cathedral greens, marching through the town accusing people of being guilty sinners, condemning them to hellfire, while all day a gruesome, grotesque, bloody projection of the details of crucifixion were projected on a giant screen at the west end of the cathedral where even little children (not to mention horses) would be frightened.

At her parish church, my English friend said, the New Fire wouldn't light at the beginning but for some reason it was at the end burning brightly unattended; so she sat and contemplated it while the dawn broke.

People keep asking me if I had a Good Easter. Some kind friends fed me a lovely meal that was all too brief; I shall miss them. But that's not, I think, what the question means. While I deal with the million problems attending on a swift exit, and stare down the black hole of wondering where I will end up, I've been asking myself, just exactly what makes a "Good Easter?"

Actually I think I've just had one.

All my expectations turned upside down; not having a clue what's going to happen next, meanwhile watching the ancient cycle of life renewing itself as the first chartreuse tips of skunk cabbage poke above the muck and crocuses turn their faces to the sun. The first warm day arrives, sun glinting off the marzipan mountains as I fly around the house, up and down the stairs inside and out, doing things as I think of them while pretending to be systematic.

The people involved in the first Easter had been stripped too. The crucifixion was crucifying, not liturgical. They looked down the black hole of the tomb, and then . . . .

What does resurrection mean? Are you ready for it? Don't believe it for a moment . . . .


Blogger Sukie Curtis said...

I hardly dare comment, as almost anything I could write or say risks banality.

In my mind it takes A LOT of silence to get me through that Good Friday liturgy--too wordy for me already. I always wish we could just sit somehow in the presence of Jesus' death, maybe weep, but mostly just sit there. Be numb and dumb. That might be enough.

I heard my first spring peepers Good Friday evening and sat in the car by the road with the windows down and took it their sirening racket.

And on Easter-- what is resurrection anyway? I haven't got a clue, at least not a verbal one.

Thank you.

3:35 pm, April 16, 2009  
Blogger Rev. Carol said...

I wonder if anyone can do justice to Good Friday. Which is not to excuse what sounds like a painful experience. Talk is a time-honored white culture way of drowning out guilt. I've been to few liturgies that really embrace the experience of Good Friday; one was three hours of total silence. Another used music and meditation as a powerful vigil of lamentation.

Although we both love silence, even silence can be suspect on Good Friday. Is it the silence of respect, of listening for God, or is it the silence of compliance?

Meanwhile, here in California, we're having the usual technicolor spring.


7:56 pm, April 17, 2009  
Blogger pat hobson said...

Martha, My sister Susan, who gets to experience more "interesting" liturgies as a singer, almost lost any semblance of self-control during a Holy Thursday service at a Lutheran church that shall otherwise be unidentified. A litany of sorts had been written by several members, who presented it in the context of a multi-media event, complete with huge screen and what appeared to be a slideshow. There turned out to be only 2 slides, while the litany was endlessly, uselessly inventive. When one participant intoned solemnly (stained glass voices are, sadly, not confined to the ordained), "The church is one great washcloth..." Susan was done for and had to excuse herself.

Oy! I can get a washcloth anywhere, but where can I find silence?

9:50 am, August 18, 2009  

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