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.

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.


I walked in as normal, being greeted with a few hellos and the characteristic, “What are you reading today?”

I carry a book everywhere, even if I can’t read over lunch. My habit is acknowledged at my Thai spot around the office corner.

Usually I don’t take a menu because I order from a list of six things. I get the question what will it be unless I bring students or friends, and then the menus come for them. That day it was the steamed vegetables without rice.

My server brought my dish and a set of chopsticks. In four years, I’ve never eaten with them. They asked at first and I declined. I did this for a few visits. They stopped bringing them.

I looked at them and accepted them, saw them as an invitation. I was up for it, but the change of ritual stuck out.

I ate my lunch. I thought how glad I was that I didn’t order rice. I know how to eat with chopsticks but I’ve never learned how.

The difference for me is that you know how to eat with chopsticks when you can navigate broccoli florets and bell peppers cut in squares the size of your thumb. You’ve been taught, tutored, and educated–you’ve learned–when you can navigate rice.

I know how to eat the plate of vegetables. Four of six of my personal menu, I can eat with chopsticks. I pulled it off and had a pleasing, nourishing plate. But the educator in me thought of all the people who have tried to teach me how to use those sticks and how I couldn’t learn from them.

They were patient people, gracious people, kind people. Vivian, Gerald, Peter, Angela, Grace, and a server at a spot in the great Chinatown restaurant that Monica and Conway sent me to around the time they were wedded.

I thought about the first Chinese (not Thai) restaurant I went to with Bishop and Laurice for Laurice’s birthday, when I was introduced to hot mustard and to Chinatown and when we saw Cage. Gosh, was I ten? Did Reese turn nine then?

There are some things you’ll do without truly being educated. You can get by. You can pass. You can eat. But you’ll know that the nuances are lost on you. You’ll know that, in a different deep way, you have failed. And you’ll be okay with that failure. You’ll be okay with getting by.

Because next to you, at your left, as is on all the tables of your Thai spot, is a fork wrapped in napkin for people who have never learned how to eat rice with chopsticks.

Sit With It

When I was in a committee meeting a little more than a year ago in Atlanta, a colleague challenged me to sit with my feelings. The meeting was an hour and a half appointment, and we were twelve minutes in. That wasn’t a great sign, his kind challenge.

It was a terrible meeting in select ways which would take months of posts to unfurl. The committee’s evaluation of me would either keep me in what ACPE calls supervisory education or the result would change my status so that I could offer clinical pastoral supervision as an independent educator. I’d be done with the learning process officially.

I was less concerned about the result for that reason actually. My job was supportive, my manager understanding. Of course, I had conceptualized a dozen directions after having thought through a list of if/then possibilities. That’s the kind of planner I am.

There was something beyond the result about that meeting. Opening to me was, in my work and in the rest of my life, something significant. I knew in my soul that what they said mattered. I had grown to trust the people I met in my process to that point.

I knew that their critique of me, their feedback for me, and their way of being with me were all represented by every previous encounter I had with supervisors and mentors through my process.

I knew that the kind challenge to sit with their feedback and to what it was doing to me was an invitation to some kind of good. I was angry about things in that meeting. I was uplifted by things in that meeting. I was exhilarated when I passed. Surprised too at first.

I celebrated and having finished the process completely one year later, the next November in the same city, Atlanta is still a second home in good ways.

So his challenge was an opening. I didn’t know then that sitting with things and then responding would be a new way for me to step forward as a pastoral educator and person. I have practiced parts of that my nature of my personality, and the committee’s work enriched that part of me. It’s really re-making me and how re-making how I’m trying to be.