Every Palm Sunday for a few years now, I’ve been moved to tears when we sing “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” It brings to mind my father and his faith. His faith was simpler than mine; where he had absolute faith in the sacred powers of the world around him, I only had fear; where he believed in the living divinity of Jesus Christ, I could only question; and where I found judgment and rejection, he found only trust and love.
Like my mother, he practiced and had belief in both traditional Wolakota practices and Christianity, though he thought combining them was disrespectful to both. What I remember most about him were his hands. They were amazing, strong but hewn by hard work and full of veins and scars. Those scars included corresponding marks on his palms and the back of his hands. He told me he was born with them and he thought that in a life before, he was one of the criminals crucified with Jesus. I never knew if he was trying to pull one over on me or if he did have them from birth.
He would say that he was probably Gestas (the criminal that Christian tradition tells us mocked Jesus). But the way he lived his faith and in his later years, when heart attacks, arthritis and other infirmities humbled his bravado, I thought of him more as Dismas (the one who repents and asks Jesus to remember him).
As my spiritual director advised me, I have begun deepening my relationship with Christ. I scarcely know how to achieve such a thing outside the confines of directed prayer (Mass, confession, the Rosary, Morning Prayer and meditation, etc.). That’s not because I don’t have faith I don’t believe, but because in hearing Christ’s message (as I understand it), I try to live the set of values that drive what I do, as outlined by Christ: justice, mercy, compassion and love.
All the objective arguments go through my head whenever I consider Jesus Christ. There are no surviving Roman records of a radical rabbi put to death in that time frame. And, even if there were, we might not ever truly know more than what that record might show. Many regional, ancient cultures had similar mythology of a human savior born of a god, delivered by a virgin. And of course, the gospels were recorded centuries after the noted events in the life of Christ. All those things are true and correct. So what good is my faith in Christ if it is born of dubious origins and has been used by flawed, power-crazed human beings to oppress the vulnerable?
It’s the message of Christ is what my religious relationship is founded on, not the human messengers and human institutions of Christ. Humans are flawed, humans are faulty, and humans get things wrong, even when it comes from a place of love.
The love from the divine is perfect and eternal. It’s not simply a nice fairytale we tell ourselves to be comforted in hard times, it’s experiential and subjective to be sure, but it has lit the way for millions of human beings from the beginning of our sentience, perhaps even before. Love from the divine asks nothing but gives everything, including what we as human beings are unable or unwilling to give because of our own hurt, distrust and character defects. It offers us eternity.
What we build as human beings crumbles. In the fullness of time, we are forgotten as societies rise and fall again. Most of us will be forgotten by our own as they pass on. As my parents’ contemporaries grow older and as some have passed on, I find myself understanding more the working aspect of the divine. Whereas when I was younger, angry and petulant, I thought that since god did not conform to my expectations and my will, there was no god. Then, I became a nihilist, not only rejecting the value of god, of self, but rejecting the value of others. Thankfully, in surviving addiction, depression and suicide, I’ve come to understand that light exists in the world and while I may not always understand it, I don’t have to.
I’ve come to think of the people in my life as stars in my own universe. Sometimes, they burn brightly and are momentary, sometimes they shine long enough for me to find my way and very few times, they hold me in their orbit long enough for me rely on them and they replenish my spirit. When I lose someone I care about or love, I commend them to the care of god. God’s ability to care and love them beyond my meager ability is absolute and unceasing. They become stars in god’s universe, each perfect and long-lasting with god’s care.
From age to age, god never ceases to gather a people to itself (or so the Eucharistic prayer goes). What that helps me to understand is that the greatest ideals of humanity are embodied in the divine from one era to another. There is a reason why mercy, compassion, justice and love continue to be themes throughout human existence, because it’s to what we aspire, even in the fullness of our own inhumanity.
So as my Lenten reflections focused on the absence of people and things in my life, I’ve come to respect and cherish the gifts that god gives, whether they’re a phone call, a text message or a good conversation with someone I care about. Those moments will live forever in the mystery of god and they will be a guide post for me to deepen my relationship with Christ as I remember all those who go into His kingdom.