In our weakness God is strength

Today’s text is from 2 Corinthians 12:8-9.

09 Lent--Week 1--Prayer--Corinthians

We all have some weakness or other, some kind of ongoing suffering. It may be the physical condition that doesn’t go away, the struggle to overcome certain problems, or the various limitations in our abilities. As Christians, we believe that God loves us and showers grace on us despite these difficulties. We don’t have to be perfect in every way before God can love us.

In fact, the biblical writer above is reminding us that despite how things appear, God’s powerful love may actually be strongest when we are feeling very weak.

Don’t ask me to explain how this works, because it’s still a mystery to me. One thought I’ve had is that sometimes when I feel I just can’t manage something, I turn to God for help.  Perhaps this is part of the explanation, but I still don’t completely understand how all this works. However, I have come to believe this bible verse is  often true in my life.

Until next time, Amen! 

 

What kind of crosses are you carrying?

Today’s reflection in Liturgical Press’ Give Us This Day explores the kinds of crosses we carry–some of which are really not the cross God wills for us to have to endure. Benedictine sister Macrina Wiederkehr writes:

Many of the crosses we choose to carry are not redeeming. To name just a few: living with resentment, withholding forgiveness, needing to be in control, being unwilling to learn from others, selfishly demanding my own way, remaining imprisoned in addictive ways of living.*

Many times we don’t even realize we are carrying these types of crosses. When it comes to light that “we are carrying a cross of our creation–carved out of our own foolishness,”*  we can see it as a sign of spiritual growth. Some of the suffering in our life is not sent by God, but rather a result of our own attitudes or a natural result of our sinful choices.

On the other hand, the author also observes that some crosses we carry may have spiritual value. These crosses mysteriously participate in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. What made Christ’s suffering redemptive was not the pain or agony, but that he bore the suffering out of his great love for us.

Cruicifix--photo by Julie McCarty--Eagan MN USA. All rights reservedLent is the perfect time to ponder this question: What kind of crosses am I carrying? If you are like me, some of your personal suffering is really a result of choices you’ve made, or perhaps the attitudes you have. If I enter into a situation like a lion about to pounce, then it is likely I’m going to bring about more suffering on myself (and others!). On the other hand, if I enter a complex situation with the mind and heart of Christ, I may still suffer for speaking the truth, but what I say will be spoken with love, for the ultimate good of others.

Love sometimes involves being willing to suffer for another person’s sake, and that is the kind of suffering that mysteriously participates in the work of Christ on earth today. We may give up something we want to provide for our children. Perhaps we sacrifice a relaxing evening at home in order to pack food boxes for the hungry. We may take an unpopular stand on the job because of our commitment to Christ’s ethics of love and suffer as a result. When I think of these examples, crosses born out of love for another, I think of the words of Jesus:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matt. 16:24)

I like to paraphrase it this way:

Jesus says to us today:

If you want to be my disciple, to call yourself a Christian (“Christ-follower”), then you must be willing to set aside your self-centered self, take up your own cross, and come, follow me.

The next time you are talking a walk, journaling, praying at church, or just driving alone in your car, think about this:  What crosses are you carrying? Which ones are endured because of love and which are really due to your own self-centered choices? Would you like to lay some of them down at the foot of the Cross of Christ? Tell God in your own words whatever you think about the crosses in your life–the good, the bad, and the ugly. Don’t be afraid to be honest with God no matter what. As they say, “God’s a big man–he can take it!” 

Until next time, Amen!

* From page 153 of Feb. 2013 issue of Give Us This Day (Liturgical Press), quoted from Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr’s book Abide.

Holy Week: Meditating on Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion

White Crucifixion–1938 oil painting by Marc Chagall (click on picture to enlarge)   (more details at end of post) 

 

 As you probably know, this week is the celebration of Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week. Because of this, I wanted to do something special, so I hunted online for a work of art to use for visio divina (meditating with art, see Feb. 24, 2011 post). As a Christian, I was looking for an image of Christ on the cross, and ended up being drawn to a 20th century painting called White Crucifixion by the famous Russian and Jewish artist Marc Chagall.

People have highly individualized reactions to art and I want to state up front that this post is not a historic analysis, an art critic’s review, or even a theological examination of the White Crucifixion. This post is simply my own personal feelings, thoughts, and prayer reactions after spending several days pondering the work. I respect that there are many ways to view the White Crucifixion, and I believe the artist himself would be the first to acknowledge that.

Many of Chagall’s paintings could be described as lively, romantic, humorous, imaginative, and filled with brilliant colors, but the White Crucifixion is largely drained of color. Chagall painted it in 1938 while living in Paris, in response to the horrifying events of Kristallnacht,  the “Night of Broken Glass,” when Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues throughout Germany were systematically vandalized or destroyed, and thousands of Jewish men were carted off to concentration camps.

In White Crucifixion, Chagall arranges various scenes of this Jewish suffering around the crucifix, much like an altar screen adorned with biblical scenes around the perimeter. In the upper left, Russian soldiers turn Jewish homes upside down and set them ablaze. In the upper right, Nazi soldiers throw sacred objects from a burning synagogue out into the streets.

Below, a Jewish man is fleeing with a bag of belongings on his back, while another stands ready to sprint away, the sacred Torah firmly clasped in his arms. A woman holds her child in a protective stance; an old bearded man stands with a sign around his neck, his hands open, as if to ask “Why?”; refugees on an overloaded boat look as if about to die of hunger; a sacred scroll in the lower left corner is rolling on the ground, about to disappear from our sight; and the ghosts of Jewish rabbis and ancestors float above the scene, some covering their eyes or looking away—the sight is too horrendous to behold.

In the middle of all this, a Jewish man hangs on a cross, his only clothes a simple head covering and a tallith, a Jewish prayer shawl, to hide his nakedness. The words above him identify him as “King of the Jews.” With his hands and feet nailed to the cross he cannot move to stop the chaos and suffering all around him. He, too, suffers with all those others suffering. He bows his head in silence, as if in prayer or mourning. A light shines from above, while silent candles (a menorah turned sideways?) hold vigil at the base of the cross.

If the picture makes you feel uncomfortable, as it did me, I suggest you stay with that feeling for awhile. I did. I pondered the many evil things people have done, supposedly in the name of Christianity or other religions. I thought of all the times we think of Jesus as a blue-eyed, blond-haired little baby in a manger and how wrong it is that so often Christians have stripped Jesus of his Jewish heritage—and, much worse, committed heinous crimes against his younger, modern-day nieces and nephews.

The White Crucifixion reminds me that the observance of Good Friday ought not only to be about remembering the sacrifice of Christ, but also of the suffering that is going on all around the world today. Even as you read this, someone somewhere is being tortured, unjustly imprisoned, raped, kidnapped, enslaved, or murdered. Do we pray for these unseen, silent victims?

This Good Friday, let those of us who dare to call ourselves Christians take a good hard look at how we treat people who are seemingly “different.” Let us meditate long on the words Jesus said: “. . . love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . .” (Luke 6:27) May we respect life in all its forms, treating every human with the same dignity we would treat Christ.  After all, it was Jesus who said [in the words of the song based on Matt. 25:40], “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”

 

 

Notes:  Image of the painting above was copied from Wikipedia under the creative commons agreement. To view a larger image, visit the Art Institute of Chicago website, http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/59426.

Other resources consulted: Marc Chagall and the Lost Jewish World by Benjamin Harshav (Rizzoli); Chagall by Jacob Baal-Teshuva (Taschen); and Marc Chagall by Jonathon Wilson (Nextbook-Schoken).