Easter Triduum Reflection Part 1 of 3: The Wound
The next three blogs will be a series where I will reflect on the significance of the wound and the cross in the spiritual life, culminating with a reflection on the wound redeemed through the cross. Thought it too broad a concept to jam into one blog. I’ll be releasing each part throughout Holy Week, culminating on Easter Vigil. So without further ado…
Living in Light or in Spite of the Wound
There are many people who pass out at the sight of blood. Could be just a drop, theirs or someone else’s, and the color suddenly runs from their face. In the Marine Corps, during the vast array of in-your-face graphic photos of our combat life-saving presentations, you were bound to lose at least two out of 300 students to some extreme sort of involuntary response of repulsion, be it fainting or vomiting. The rest winced. Nobody smiled.
There is a natural human aversion to a wound. We don’t have photos of our compound fractures or appendectomies hanging on the wall along the staircase. We keep those images hidden, locked away. If they get stuck in our mind we need an immediate distraction. It’s unnatural to gaze at a wound and even our nation’s bravest need to be conditioned not to shut down or turn away.
So what is the message of the wound that our human condition finds so repulsive?
Dr. Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery states that all human fear can be reduced to the fear of death. There is no human phenomenon more certain than this, yet none more repugnant and denied. Our most traumatic experiences in life are ones that involve some encounter with death. It could be a physical death, like the loss of a loved one, a near fatal car accident, or helplessly witnessing the pain and suffering of a wounded friend. It could be a moral death, such as the loss of one’s innocence in a rape or witnessing a child’s death due to poverty. It could be a social death through a reputation wounded by slander or gossip, or the end of a relationship in divorce. Regardless of the medium, all wounds communicate the same sad message; we are in a sinful world, and we are going to die.
That message is enough to cause anyone to wince or pass out.
The natural human response is to run from this painful message of mortality, as we choose to live in spite of the wound. We live to keep our wounds and insecurities in the dark and invincible to others and ourselves. In that darkness, ignored and unattended, those wounds fester and go septic, inevitably impacting all aspects of our lives. Our aim is to forget, yet in the darkness these wounds seem to cry out all the more, necessitating more distractions, more coping mechanisms, and more powerful drugs and numbing agents. We all know people who have run this course to the extreme. It is a race that ends sadly in despair where the wound becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Living in light of the wound is different. Choosing through God’s grace to acknowledge our pains, trials, and struggles, and live with full knowledge of their promise of death transforms our life all the more into a hopeful and inspiring defiance of the wound’s mortal message. The stories we find most inspiring in life are of those who have overcome great adversity, especially when they had full knowledge of what they were up against. In full self-awareness, these people look death in the face through their wound, hear the message clearly, then resolve to live their lives. Where living in spite of the wound leads to a life of running from its mortal message, living by God’s grace in light of the wound changes the language of the wound entirely to one of hope and victory. Why else would the risen Christ still bear His wounds?
Living in such a paradox, life in light of death, appears to be the epitome of ignorance. Only in light of the Christian story of salvation, a story where death is defeated and eternal life is bestowed upon the faithful, can a person truly and peacefully live in the tension of these opposites. Indeed, our wounds proclaim death, but through the cross, and only through the cross, can they proclaim a triumphant exultation of life in abundance, exclaiming “Where O death is your sting? Where is your victory (1 Cor 15:55)?” Though our wounds will inevitably send us to the grave, it will not be our final resting place. In fact, the point of death in the Christian life becomes our greatest witness to Christ’s triumph.
We live to defy death. Indeed, our created nature was never meant to experience it. Though we cannot escape the reality that “sin entered into the world, and death by sin (Rom 5:12),” every beat of our heart sets the cadence in our continued struggle to live out the victory won by Christ. Yet, we only share in the victory of Christ to the extent that we share in His cross. Please join me tomorrow for Part 2 of this reflection as we enter this painful and beautiful reality together, where I will discuss the role of the cross in this victory.
Light up the darkness!