I was ‘skyping’ with my sister this week for a ‘catch-up’. During the course of conversation she said to me “You know, Good Friday is my day in the garden, pruning. I dig out the weeds, and prune the trees. I ask “What is the dead wood that I need to get rid of in my life? “She went on with words to the effect of “Then I thought of some of the lenses through which I view the events of my life. They are like coloured glass that is negative, and as soon as something happens, I over-react. Some of the attitudes that I have rejected and thought that I had moved on from are still there, and I react when I see them in others.”
My thoughts went to our own Good Friday obesrvances. There we have the opportunity to do the same thing. We come to the big cross that we have laid out in the Church, and place around it the pieces of paper on which we have written down our ‘dead wood’, which we ask God to take away.
The first thing that comes to me about these stories, is that the ‘cutting out of the dead wood’ is a painful part of becoming holy. What is more, becoming aware of the wood that is ‘dead’ is the first painful step in this ourney to holiness. The technical term for this is ‘being convicted of sin’ (sounds tough, doesn’t it?) by the holy Spirit, in order that we are actually able to repent.
This was the job of the prophets in the days before Jesus. Jeremiah’s call story actually has in it the command to ‘tear up and pull down’ before he ‘builds and plants.’
But then what? How is the dead wood cut out? This image is one that conveys surgery and removal of the ‘enemy’ part. I think about an alcoholic who tries by a force of will to give it up. But the AA people say that the first step to staying sober is that one acknowledges that one has no power over alcohol, and one needs to give one’s self over to a ‘higher power.’
Or, when I was giving up smoking, it was the external conditions that had changed, that made ”smoking’ no longer a part of the identity that I wanted. I used to be one of the ‘sitting down the back, criticizing the leadership’ type smokers. But then I moved into leadership roles, and got to sit ‘down-the-front’ making a contribution that was valued from there. So I could the more easily ‘give up’ being a ‘down-the-back smoker.’
Carl Jung says ‘So what if the enemy that I have to love is myself?” This points me in the direction that says ‘to cut out the dead wood’ is not to do violence to myself in the ‘cutting’ but in discovering, like the smoking, that I don’t need it any more. Or, on the other hand, I can ask this piece of ‘dead wood’ to speak! I can ask it to say “Why do you need to hang around making me miserable? What are the dynamics, what are the things in my life that you serve that I want to get rid of, at one level, and yet keep at another?’
This is maybe what ‘loving my enemy’ means. This is for me the picture of the Pieta. Mary holds the dead Jesus. In embracing him, not fleeing from the ‘dead parts’ but in holding them, the process of letting them go (not ‘clinging to them’ as Jesus says to Mary Magdalene) can begin. This strikes me as a bit gentler a way of dealing with the ‘dead wood’ and weeds.
And this is, for me what prayer is. In ‘coming into contact with my deepest self’, including those parts of me that confront me and accuse me and make me become what I don’t want to be, in coming into contact with this self, yet in the company of God, I am genuinely praying.
A lot of prayer seems to be asking God to ‘do things for us’. But I think that this is just a linguistic trick. In asking God to ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ I think that what is really going on is that we are looking for ways of ‘making contact’ with those things in my life that I hope for. It is daring, in public sometimes, to acknowledge these hopes and fears, and in acknowledging them, before God, being able to tell the truth of ourselves to God. This is an absolute privilege.
The other thing that came to me about my sister’s Good Friday activity, is that it was like an ‘extended sacrament’. Jung spoke too of the alchemists. They were preoccupied in the ‘outer world’ with how to turn base metals into gold. But Jung saw this as a projection of the inner world. By the alchemical processes of ‘dissolution’ and ‘separation’ and ‘conjunction’ and ‘fermentation’ and so on, the alchemists were looking for their own ways of transforming their own ‘base self’ into ‘gold.’
This is what I see my sister doing. There is a unity between the ‘physicality’ of weeding and ‘pruning’ and the inner processes of transformation. It is this same process that the Church keeps alive Sunday by Sunday, in the celebration of the sacrament of our ‘transformation’ from people full of ‘dead wood’ into people who look like Jesus. This is what this meal is about, and as I’ve written many times in this reflection, what is on offer on a Sunday morning, if those who come, bring themselves into the circle of God’s company when they come. It is what turns a ‘nice service’ into a sacrament of transformation.
The Church at one level is very much an earthen vessel that holds this treasure. There is so much else that covers over this treasure. There is just so much that prevents us form really being good ‘demonstration events’ of what the words that we say actually mean, and promise. But, despite all that, without their being some one who, however haltingly passes on to me this story, and invites me to come to experience it regularly, then there is no one to make the connection between the story of ‘weeding’ and the story of Jesus. In doing this now, I hope it is helpful. All that remains is for it to continue in me, knowing how often I fail at ‘letting be done to me’ according to God’s Word.