While we enter this time with a basic plan, we are ever listening to the call for shifts toward new intensities. On Wednesday morning’s worship, we heard Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese. When I heard the line, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves,” I knew without a shadow of doubt that the relationship of conscious love between Jesus and Mary Magdalene had to be explored through the “soft animal of our bodies.” I invited Deborah Welsh to display this relationship through a semi-spontaneous dance between the two of us. With this notion arose a piece of music that could be used to carry the movements—“A Sympathy Pathetique” by A Winged Victory for the Sullen. With less than 15 minutes of conversation and planning the night before, we surrendered to this dance Friday morning.I had voices of warning in my head that it might be too contrived or too sentimental, and, of course, it could have been. But something else took over—something that flowed up from the deep well of what Holy Week offers and from the container that had been build over several days’ time. Both Deborah and I were taken over by a power both beyond us and deep inside us. It was no longer the two of us; but I am at a loss for words to explain who or what took over. But there was a shift that took place, like a crevice that opened us and swallowed us up.
Would that I had left a more generous cushion of time—perhaps 10 or 15 minutes, maybe even more—that would have allowed us to more deeply savor the point to which this had delivered us, but my own self-consciousness took back over and led me to push ahead too quickly. I regret that. And yet, what had been done could not be taken back. It became a pivot point around which our continuing work turned.
Our evening liturgies launched us into the downward trajectory of Holy Week. Tuesday night was a tender Poetry Liturgy with spaces of silence and chant that allowed us to hold the words in our mouth for a generous time before they were swallowed. In Wednesday’s Anointing Liturgy we were touched with oil and blessed for the passageway ahead. Holy Thursday’s Liturgy gathered us around Jesus for the foot washing and the recitation of his Farewell Discourse before we solemnly walked up into the chapel. There a sparse and simple Eucharist gathered us with the Master one last time.
On Good Friday Skip reverently laid the corpus on the altar at the conclusion of our porous liturgy. He tenderly wrapped the hanging strips of cloth over the body and kissed its feet. Many of us, one by one, did something similar. Devastated, we remained a long time in earnest vigil.
Right on cue, our Easter Vigil was a horse of a different color. The expectation of our celebration was as high as the previous night’s mourning had been low. Nothing could dampen our spirits—even the collapse of our new fire and the filling of the retreat house with smoke. The Bishop’s cheap little grill bit the dust as a gust of wind caught the open lid and tipped the whole thing over, setting the table it was on afire. Quick action and a ready fire extinguisher saved the day. (Although we did muse after the service that the arrival of the Syracuse Fire Department could have boosted our attendance…) Undaunted, the celebration continued with deep and authentic joy bubbling up through the hearts of all. “All Shall Be Well” closed the circle with harmonies, clasped hands, and broad smiles. Our week was complete and we were full. But we were full because we had been hollowed out by our passageway through the eye of the needle. Hearts emptied and then filled to overflowing spilled over with love and gratitude.
There is a tremendous amount of work for us to put together a Holy Week retreat like this one. That is true mostly because we are dealing with many moving parts and uncertainties regarding numbers, meals, etc. But never were there any moments of stress or division. It was a wonderful team effort. And the participants brought a heartfelt intention that steered our trajectory deeper. Not surprisingly, we ended with new thoughts and ideas about Holy Week 2016!