Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Tag: Atonement

The Hole in the Heart of God

Good Friday, 2014

I
There is a hole in the heart of God.

In the beginning, the rabbis say, God
the Infinite One resolves to create the finite.
So, it is said, the Infinite One contracts,
accommodates in infinity all
that is not infinite.
Tzimsum, they call it. The hole in the heart of God.
God makes a hole in the very being of God,
so that all that is not God can come into being.
Galaxies and gastropods, oaks and otters, parrots and paramecia—
every thing exists because the God of every thing
chooses to make room for any thing.
Even things like us.
God makes a hole in the heart of God.
The hole is grace,
love for those who know
hardly how to love ourselves,
let alone to love the God who is Love.
The hole is safe, beautiful, a joyful place, where
order holds back the surge of chaos
and light pierces the black maw
of primordial darkness.
In the beginning, it was a small hole—just large enough
for a sun and a moon,
a sea and a dry land,
a garden and a tree,
for a man and a woman and a snake.
But the hole has been growing.

 II
There is a hole in the heart of God.

The oldest of stories tells us that, in the course of things,
the man and the woman
think more highly of their own judgment
than of the wisdom of God,
and so the first consequence follows the first sin,
even as darkness follows daylight.
Joy drains from the garden, the entrance barred by flaming sword.
And the hole grows dark,
misanthropic and misunderstanding,
fratricidal,
stained with blood on the ground.
The world floods and ebbs, but the waters
do not wash away the birthmark of self-deceit;
once soiled, we do not quite come clean.
We clench our eyelids against the sight of our own nakedness,
stagger toward a place called Wandering,
blind fingers groping along bright walls.
We seem to ourselves imprisoned, too blind to see
that this place we call our prison
is the place God gives us to be free.
And the hole grows larger.

III
There is a hole in the heart of God.

Here is a marvel: the Infinite One,
never closes the hole,
never fills the grave wherein is buried
so much beauty and so much pain.
Would God not prefer the perfect serenity of solitude
to the irritation of our resistance,
the stone in God’s shoe?
But, no.
God chooses another way,
striking the divine spark in the darkness,
kindling the occasional soul,
and in the unsteady flickering of prophetic phrases
we see the shadows of the shape of God’s intent.
A way higher than our way,
thoughts loftier than our thoughts.
A mountain where lions and lambs lie together,
where ends the endless hungering hurt.
They tell us of their dream of a day
when all shall live in peace.
And we listen—for a while—
while beating plowshares into spears
and enriching uranium for impoverished purposes.
entertaining the faint and fading memory
that the way things are is not
the way things are supposed to be.
But sooner or later, we weary of the dissonance
between their dreams and our reality,
and so we snuff them out, these kindled souls,
preferring our familiar darkness
to the lights of stars and angels.
And the hole keeps growing.

IV
There is a hole in the heart of God.

And so it goes, until in the fullness of things
God makes an end of things
by making a new beginning.
Or so it seems.
But here and there are signs that this has been the plan all along.
In the inscrutable logic of God, God tears God’s very self asunder.
Deep in the divine mystery, Infinite One becomes one of the finite ones.
God becomes one of the not-God ones.
Love decides to be unloved,
so that the unlovely can know Love.
Life decides to die,
so that those who know only how to die can learn to live.
The hole in the heart of God is a self-inflicted wound,
and in the darkness
shines a single eastern star.
And the hole grows large enough for a manger … and a cross.

V
There is a hole in the heart of God.

We come at length to this place, this good day, this dark hour, where
the hammer pounds the nails through the flesh to the rhythm
of the theocidal pulse in our veins…
the wood is hoisted crudely aloft, rooted in the dirt of the hill,
rough tree to bear such fair fruit.
the cry of the Dying One—he who once, beside the well,
promised us water gushing up to eternal life—
whispers in our arid ears: “I thirst! I thirst!”
God’s grim irony is lost on us.
We have prevailed, have we not?
Have wrested some bloody victory from heaven’s grasp,
have snuffed out the light, made the darkness complete?
Have we not extinguished the Life of God?
Ah, but more is afoot here than we comprehend.
At this final moment, this hill, this cross,
the drama is no longer ours to direct,
if indeed it ever was.

The hammer is taken from our hands, and held in God’s grip.
The wooden cross is not planted on a hilltop, but borne up in God’s hands.
The nails that fix him in place, a butterfly pinned in this ghastly, beautiful diorama of dying,
are forged not in the furnaces of hell but in the purifying fires that burn beneath
the very throne of God.

We do not take this Life. God gives it.

Silence falls—on the crucified and the crucifiers—falls like rain
that sprinkles us, immerses us,
washes us cleaner than mere water has ever made us.

Darkness falls. Not the familiar darkness of the dying day,
but a strange new darkness, nighttime at noon,
the darkness of the inside of God’s womb
before the birth of the world.

Then slowly, the light from before creation’s dawning
breaks over the horizons of our awareness,
until we can see the truth that is older
than creation—as old, in fact, as God:

The hole in the heart of God
has the shape of a cross.
Its upright descends from the heights of God’s throne to the depths of our despair.
Its beam sweeps wide …like the embrace of God, an embrace so unspeakably vast
that it gathers up
all the pride, all the pain,
all the rage, all the despair,
all the dented dreams,
all the chastened hopes,
all the lostness and the loneliness,
all the longing for
what is not and will not be,
all the bitter concoction mixed from
streams of sorrow, sin, shame…
The Dying One gathers us,
takes us in his widespread arms—
sinner and saint,
harried and hopeful,
living and dead—
gathers us at long, long last
into the fellowship of Father and Son,
the fellowship formed of the Spirit’s
Love.

It is finished.

VI
There is a hole in the heart of God.

Atonement

Atonement

 

Detroit

June 2014

 

The body and blood, he says, and holds aloft the bread and cup.

Broken for sin, poured out in forgiveness,

God’s gifts, he says, for God’s people.

Come, for all things are ready—

Broken for us.

 

We come as is our wont, a thousand in disciplined lines,

Hands prepared to receive the sacred sacrifice.

I join a line, far back, shuffling slowly,

In penitential pilgrimage toward

The elements of grace.

 

Ahead, a woman holds the paten, laden with the broken bread—

Not a loaf, whence I might wrench a ragged piece,

Tangible symbol of God’s own self-rending—

But careful cubes, as if to manage mystery

In respectable geometry.

 

Closer now, the crowd parts, and I see her face, smiling, nodding

To each one as we approach, receiving from her hand

Forgiveness expressed in grain and yeast.

Stunned, recognition dawns. She is

Mother of my former wife.

 

The line becomes a litany of ancient aches, shallow-buried grievance,

A quarter-century’s unspoken words, or words that ought

Not have been the burden of wounded tongue or pen.

Relationships broken, wrenched asunder,

Hard-restored, still uncertain.

 

How can I, who make my sad contribution to that liturgy,

Whose steps yet tread the perilous path, take from her

This packaged pardon, cut by other hands than ours,

We, who must forgive and be forgiven,

Yet have not words to say?

 

I am not ready. Too soon I stand before her, hands empty for the gift

I have no right to offer or receive. She looks aside, still

Speaking to one already gone. She turns,

And for the first time sees my face.

Her eyes ignite with joy.

 

She raises her free arm, unburdened by the paten, and wraps it

Round me, drawing me in, inhaling her delight, exhaling

Welcome in a ragged sigh. She releases me at last.

Forgiveness in her eyes, and tears in mine.

I cannot see

 

Congregation, penitent line, veined hand bearing the morsel—

All things become one thing, and the one thing is the bread.

She offers me a plateful of brokenness—hers, mine, ours

Christ’s body, she says, broken for you.

Broken for us.