A student whom I was supervising in a course on pastoral care told me this story. He said “ I was playing football once, and not doing very well. The coach said to me “Listen young man, pull your socks up!” So I reached down, and pulled up my footy socks which at that stage were around my ankles. This literal interpretation and misunderstanding of my coach’s wishes only served to make him think that I was mocking him, and made him angrier. I was even more hurt at his anger, because I was emotionally innocent.
Now this student was a grown man. But at the time he told me the story, he was in touch with something from his youth. He was in touch with a self which is vulnerable; a self which was wanting to please, a self which was misunderstood.
I tell this story because I have remembered it this Holy Week.
Fist of all, I remember it because Holy Week brings out in me the same kind of self: ‘Child Self as’ Eric Berne might have called it. Holy Week touches on my most fervent desire to love God. It brings back into existence that five year old boy who in 1957 took his grandmother’s hand and ‘went forward’ at the Billy Graham Crusade at our Show Grounds.
It brings me into the company of Brother Charles de Foucauld who prayed
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.
This is what I want to do this Holy Week. The ‘Child Self’ is often denigrated in favour of the ‘Adult Self’ but it seems to me that a the Child is that part of us which is without distance from their love. This is the self that is activated for me in Holy Week.
This is the first Easter that I will spend in retirement. Normally, I would be channelling my devotion into preparing the Church for Maundy Thursday and the days that follow: gathering the right vessels, preparing the garden for the Watch of the Passion, getting ready for the Easter Vigil. This year another priest has the governance of these celebrations, and they are not the same as I would have done them.
This year I will not be presiding over the Great Three Days. Instead, I have been asked to cook the fish at the breakfast.
This is part of the grief which is associated with retirement, which touches my deep self too. My first impulse was to say “ I have been a priest for 36 years, and what am I doing on Easter Day? Cooking a BBQ!
But then during Monday, this song crept into my awareness.
“God make my life a little light
within the world to glow
a little light that burneth bright
wherever I may go
God make my life a little flower
That giveth joy to all
Content to bloom in native bower
Although the place be small”
The singing of this song comes from the same person who ‘went forward’ at the Billy Graham rally. This song comes from the same place in me that during Holy Week wants to pray Charles de Foucauld’s prayer of abandonment. It is teaching me, yet again of the necessary humility that goes with retirement. The experience of this week is about a redirecting of my devotion: I do not have the power to direct the way the Easter Mysteries will go as an expression of what it means to me to be a Christian, but I can do the simple things that are asked of me.
So this week touches my deepest and truest desires, and teaches me what it means to be a follower o Jesus, but in ways that I have not expected, or find comfortable.
But Holy Week, as reflected in this student’s story, also reminds me of how easy it is to be misunderstood. It reminds me of how ‘the system’ can ignore an individual’s desire to do their best but instead, reacts in self protective ways that roll over the truth of an individuals intention.
I have been on the receiving end of this. I know a friend of mine who at this very moment has for ‘institutional’ reasons been placed in a precarious situation regarding their employment: despite this person’s obvious gifts.
There are no prizes for guessing who went there first! It’s just that it is not easy to ‘rejoice in our sufferings’ when one’s income depends upon maintaining the good will of those who have institutional power.
All of this suffering, and more: all of this humility: and more, Jesus took onto himself and showed forth in his person. Why? To be the New Adam: to be the first human being since the Fall to be truly free of the power of those things that are death dealing, that do have power over us. In my case, it was the power of pride that had to be conquered, and the power that institutional misunderstanding has over otherwise good intentions. Thank you to my student for telling this story, and helping me to come to Holy Week in a new way.