Friday, March 29

Posted by Laurel Garver on Friday, March 29, 2013 4 comments
Good Friday is an odd holiday. It asks us to contemplate how truly broken humanity is. For when God deigns to walk among us, our instinct is always to reject, torture, annihilate.  For today, we must stay here in the deepest dark. Any shining, triumphant reversals to come are thin and pale unless this bleak day is truly lived.  If you want to understand "the dark night of the soul" that has become part of every Western narrative story arc, you have to face this battered figure, shamed.

What's so special about this dusty Nazarene from centuries ago? Poet Denise Levertov (1923-1997) asks just that, and unpacks what's astonishingly hopeful about his agonizing death.

On a Theme from Julian’s Chapter XX
by Denise Levertov

Six hours outstretched in the sun, yes,
hot wood, the nails, blood trickling
into the eyes, yes 
but the thieves on their neighbor crosses
survived till after the soldiers
had come to fracture their legs, or longer.
Why single out the agony? What's
a mere six hours?
Torture then, torture now,
the same, the pain's the same,
immemorial branding iron,
electric prod.
Hasn’t a child
dazed in the hospital ward they reserve
for the most abused, known worse?
The air we're breathing,
these very clouds, ephemeral billows
languid upon the sky's
moody ocean, we share
with women and men who've held out
days and weeks on the rack 
and in the ancient dust of the world
what particles
of the long tormented,
what ashes.

But Julian's lucid spirit leapt
to the difference:
perceived why no awe could measure
that brief day's endless length,
why among all the tortured
One only is "King of Grief."
The oneing, she saw, the oneing
with the Godhead opened him utterly
to the pain of all minds, all bodies
 sands of the sea, of the desert 
from first beginning
to last day. The great wonder is
that the human cells of His flesh and bone
didn't explode
when utmost imagination rose
in that flood of knowledge. Unique
in agony, Infinite strength, Incarnate,
empowered Him to endure
inside of history,
through those hours when he took to Himself
the sum total of anguish and drank
even the lees of that cup:

within the mesh of the web, Himself
woven within it, yet seeing it,
seeing it whole. Every sorrow and desolation
He saw, and sorrowed in kinship.

From Breathing the Water by Denise Levertov (New York: New Directions Press, 1987).

Wishing you a blessed Good Friday. 


  1. Replies
    1. You're welcome. Hope you had a lovely Easter.

  2. Thank you for sharing Levertov's poem. To feel the pain of the darkness of humanity all at once . . . I'm thankful that Jesus could bear it. I know that I couldn't, even though I've felt bits of it in snatches now and then.

    1. Because he bore our sorrows, we never have to do so alone. Hope you had a blessed Easter!