I was speeding on the subway through the stations of the cross. Every eye looking every other way, counting down ’til the pain would stop. – U2, Moment of Surrender
On this day we remember Jesus walking the Stations of the Cross, from the place of his trial to the Place of the Skull – his crucifixion. It is a solemn route, a route of salvation through the most intense suffering.
Over the last couple of years I have become more aware of what my heart really desires. In a sense I’ve always been aware of it but growth is a gradual process. It’s a very rare person who has a lightning bolt experience of revelation.
The deepest desire of my heart, and I suspect of all of our hearts, is for intimacy. We long for connection to other human beings. It is the essence of who we are. We are hard wired for relationship.
The image in the above song line is of the way we rush through life on the subway, speeding to make a living but not stopping to make a life. The Stations of the Cross are a wonderful reflection timeline, scattered along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. This Easter is the perfect time to stop and reflect as we stop for a few days from the rush of life.
In our culture we find it difficult to stop though. It’s like we are doing all we can to cover up some pain in our lives, something that is missing. As we speed through the subway, rushing through but not stopping at the stations to reflect, our eyes look the other way, not wanting to make contact with each other. We think the fact that everyone being on their devices and not connecting with each other is a new phenomenon, something that has arisen with the advent of our devices. But if you look at photos from a hundred years ago, you will see people lined up in the street reading their newspapers. Nothing has changed, just the way we don’t connect with each other.
Why are we fearful of connecting with each other while at the same time we yearn for it? Is it because we fear what we cannot control, because we have been hurt to the point that we cannot trust anymore? Why is it that every eye looks every other way, seemingly counting down until we can finally get off that train and not feel the awkwardness of being too close to others? It’s why no one looks at each other in lifts. We don’t want to be in each other’s personal zones.
Connection to each other is what we are made for. Jesus’ suffering and brutal death is a reminder of what love will do to be close to us. It is while we were still bitter enemies of him that Jesus died for humanity, to be close, to connect and to be intimate. That is what love is, and it changes the world.
Last week at church I spoke on our Mythbuster series about what our ultimate destiny is. Our ultimate destiny is not a disembodied heaven up in the sky, but right here on a renewed earth.
Humanity can live without success but we cannot live without meaning – Richard Rohr
When life hits you where it hurts, when something knocks you off your feet, pulls the rug out from under you and turns your life upside down, it is then that the things that really matter become crystal clear to you again.
It is said by wise people that love brings clarity. I have found that to be true. And something else that brings clarity is suffering. It is only through suffering that we grow, that we come to a knowing in our heart and not just intellectually that things like relationship and meaning are what really matter and that everything else is just superficial.
This is a major reason why I remain a person of Christian faith. The Christian movement was birthed in suffering; Jesus was known as a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Being Christian and seeking to grow in my faith makes sense to me when nothing else does. It allows me to have joy (not happiness) within suffering.
Our greatest lessons in life are learned in suffering. We don’t learn that in our daily interactions with our culture. Our leaders talk about being successful and winning, and our advertising is deliberately targeted to make us perpetually dissatisfied with what we have in life. But it was the Apostle Paul, writing from prison, who said that he had learned what it is to be content whatever the circumstances.
Why was it that those first followers of the man of sorrows, people like Paul, Peter and James, repeatedly talked about joy when they were beaten, lashed, imprisoned and tortured for refusing to budge from their way of life? They were people who were living in what Richard Rohr calls the second half of life. They knew through their suffering what really mattered. They were able to count it a privilege to suffer for what was called ‘The Way’. They were able to count it all joy when they faced trials of all kinds. That idea is lost on us in a society that values comfort and ease and feeling good above most everything else. But that brings its own suffering as addiction runs rampant as we want to feel all we can and are made to believe that more and better will give us what we want.
A few months ago I walked down the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. The Way of the Cross as it is called is the path that Jesus carried his cross to his crucifixion. John’s gospel says that Jesus’ crucifixion was when he was glorified. This is another idea that is lost on an affluent society. But it is the only way to life. That is why Jesus, surely knowing what lay ahead of him, said earlier in his ministry that anyone who would come after him must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. It is why Paul later said that anyone who follows Jesus will be persecuted.
Relationship and meaning in life are what ultimately matter. Suffering is the key that unlocks these truths.