Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Within Thy wounds, hide me

A NON-BELIEVING PHYSICIAN WAS WORKING IN A CATHOLIC HOSPITAL and one night ventured into the hospital's chapel to look around. He evidently had seen the Stations of the Cross on the walls, telling me, "How ridiculous, a god who suffers and dies."

I can only imagine he didn't know the story doesn't end with the sealed tomb, but an Easter morning Resurrection. But it also occurred to me as strange that a doctor, who ought to be searching everywhere for meaning in suffering, would so readily dismiss this story that has endured and encouraged people for over two thousand years. It is the story of God, who rather than watch us from a distance, perhaps even laughing at us, has chosen to join us in our own human story so filled with self and communal rejection, sadness and loss. That Jesus has gone through the death, the doctor saw depicted, to the other side, where we discover the promise that death, which claims us all, has been defeated and that we can wait in joyful hope, for the full realization of the victory Christ shares.

Within Thy wounds, hide me

Hiding can be of different kinds. We play hiding games when we are little. Children squeal with delight over things hidden and then suddenly found. But as we age, we start to hide ourselves or the evidence which will land us in trouble: too much spending, a ticket for speeding, a failed test, a poor report card, drug paraphernalia, something stolen, a dirty book or DVD, forbidden cigarettes, alcohol or drugs.

For some the hiding becomes a lifestyle: the person who is unfaithful to a spouse, the teenager who won't come out of his/her room, the person who is cutting or throwing up food, the addict who keeps saying, "I'm just tired" when asked about drug use. Criminals hide money and weapons. They even speak of their hideout.

Very religious or pious people can hide in religion. Sometimes religion is called a vaccination against the real thing. These people live in a world of religious teachings, vocabulary, morality, worship and said prayers. And like a vaccination, it keeps them from experiencing the real thing - the little bit that prevents them from the transforming, freeing, joyful relationship with a living God. They seldom know how deep their hiding is. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. said, "I would have considered a vocation to the ministry if the clergy didn't so much resemble the undertaker."  And it is known that Gandhi was never baptized because, while he was fascinated with the person of Jesus Christ and his teachings, he never met a Christian who he felt was authentic.

Animals hide by their camouflage and people do too: dressing, talking, acting, walking, laughing, posturing so as to blend in and belong to the group. It's ultimately a way of hiding; were they to be themselves they might wind up being rejected, tormented or hurt.

But there is also a kind of holy hiding. Here is a Carthusian hermit- monk wearing his cowl up. He's kind of hiding, but so that he won't be noticed by the other monks who might think: Oh, there's Brother Stephen; he's so holy, so devout, such a good monk. The monk kind of hides in the room he creates with the hood around his face, so to be alone with God.

There are other monks who live in caves and on the tops of plateaus and mountains. Their food is pulled up in a basket by ropes. As the world goes, there are very few who live this kind of life, but some men and women do indeed choose to hide in God this deeply. When the rest of us are asleep or going about the busy-ness of the day or even being very sinful or silly, they pray for our weary world in all of its troubles.

Psalms are the poem-prayers of ancient Israel. Psalm 17:8 prays to God: "Hide me in the shelter of your wings." This is a very intense image. In desert climates a mother bird will stand the better part of the day with her wings open wide, umbrella-like, over her chicks hiding them  from the sun's heat. And after a great California  fire, which incinerated miles of forest, a group of fire fighters was walking through, putting out the last of the hot spots, when one of them kicked over a totally charred and blackened bird with its wings outstretched. As he did so, six agitated chicks came out from under their mother and scampered down the hillside. She hid them from death.

And in Matthew 23:37 Jesus likens himself to a mother hen, eager to gather her chicks around herself. An Ohio farmer told me that at the first sign of a vulture or hawk in the sky, the mother collects the chicks, hiding them under herself until the coast is clear.

When human mothers nurse their babies, often they cover them with a soft blanket, perhaps not so much for modesty but so to create a place of  safe intimacy, comfort, rest and calm. Hiding in Christ's wounds might be like that. But they are not raw,  bloody wounds. While they are real: Jesus showed and even invited the apostles to touch them (Luke 24:39,40)  they are now the transfigured signs of victory - heaven's signposts of life and love around which we can gather, all of us, finding ourselves and one-another as accepted and loved.

Father James Janda has written a great gift of a poem titled: Russian Easter. It appeared in America Magazine in April of 1997. I'd invite us to use it as an Easter time prayer, paying careful attention to the lines about Christ's Easter wounds.

Russian Easter

Gold onion
above the
snow in


above the

the gold

and in dark
the silver wolf

and in the
with snow the
rabbit chews


and in the
church icons
glow in candle

and opening
the air and


the icon of
the Mother
holding the
Child whose
unloosed running


the priest
the penitent
that sins are seeds

which flowers
may grow

but only after
are buried

in Christ
our earth

whose wounds
the Resurrection
not disappear

but shone
than rubies
on a stole

or flowers
in snow

gold onion
above the
snow in
under the

the snow

can look
lavender blue

1 comment:

  1. The imagery is profound, powerful, striking and moving. As the babies get older and interested in shays going on around them the covering is for their life so they would drink most especially if the mother was engorged. It was a dual process. That's powerful if that's how it is with God. I hear God does not need us but we need Him. Not sure how thorough a teaching or explanation that is.