Jesus on the Hill, on the Tree

I’ve been sitting with the image and thought of Jesus being abandoned by the Father on Calvary. It’s been with me since I read a letter from a friend almost two years ago. It returned to me, this image and thought, in explicit form when someone else sent a text about the man of sorrows last fall.

I’ve turned to this basic question: when did the Father betray the Son? When did God abandon or forsake Jesus? Can we know the moment? Is it possible to distinguish that deep isolation within the Trinitarian community?

According to our sacred text, Jesus raises the question about abandonment while he’s dying. It is among the most sobering of sentences in the Bible.

It’s not sobering because he’s quoting it, though that incorporation of Israel’s material at that terminal time is meaningful. I’m struck by the soberness of it for its timing.

Jesus is dying. At the moments when he needs whatever this Father brings, Jesus is forsaken, abandoned, left. Whenever it happened, the chill of it crossed the chasm to make Jesus’s suffering special and intense.

Rather than be surrounded at death, he felt a startling aloneness. And as the song says, he would not come down. He did not call back that fatherly member by refusing to go forward. He kept at dying, even though the (literally) unthinkable had happened.

With Jesus on the hill and on the tree, it wasn’t his death that was incredible, though I respect the long evangelical stream that accents the dismal moment and its consequences. It really was that the Father had abandoned the Son.

What was unthinkable is that God could actually do that, enact that bruising isolation upon a part of God’s own self.

Push, Press, Shove

Sometimes I listen to what people say in the elevators at the hospital where I work. Sometimes I secretly write these things down. Sometimes I just remember.

I didn’t write this down but I remember the other day when I was in the elevator with a group of three physicians, a resident (the one with the most authority in the circle) and two interns (two student physicians, if you will).

The resident was asking the interns questions. From what I could tell, they were heading to see a patient whose procedure they were discussing. The resident listened to the intern’s answer to his first question, which was something like, “What are you going to do?”

The intern was answering, and the resident asked again, “What are you going to do?” It was light-hearted; they were comfortable with each other. Still, the resident asked the same question in a different way the third time. “How are you going to do it?”

The intern improvised, gestured like he was pushing a tube up his own noise. And to the how are you going to do it question, he added a description until his mentor was satisfied.

He grasped something about his imagination, his hands, and his intent and how they communicated to his teacher that he’d both get the procedure accomplished but in a way that was not harmful.

Knowing what you’ll do gets you part of the way. Sometimes it helps to use your own noise to imagine a push from a press from a shove.

One Brief Thing About Pain

I’m thinking about spiritual pain, the inside pain not the outside pain.

I’ve said this to students and to patients, and it’s been said to me. Those pains don’t leave you. They’re there.

In a class with Dr. Butler the other week he said it, which made me write it up and throw it onto the blog. He was telling us that what happens to us, by virtue of it happening, never goes away.

Pastoral care as an effort is about learning how to recognize the pain, integrate the pain, and maybe, live with the pain. But it’s there.

You can hold it in a new way, but you won’t rid yourself of it. Of course, it may go away, and if it does, celebrate.

If it lingers, recognize it, pour a cup of tea.