Good Friday Longings


(written early 2015)

On Good Friday of 2014, my mom and I are vacationing during my spring break in a tourist town of northern Michigan, a town where spring doesn’t arrive until May or June, thus planting us in the middle of winter during our April visit. We spend Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, in a place that isn’t my home, with churches and people I will never see again. But even though I’m losing my religion, something in me is still drawn to celebrating Easter time. So I Google search “Holy Week Anglican” and “Holy Week Episcopal,” trying to find a church that worships in a style with enough “smells and bells” to bring a touch of holy and sacred back to this holiday that is so rapidly losing its meaning for me.

So it is on Good Friday, sitting in a tiny one-room schoolhouse style church, on a hard white pew, listening to half a dozen laypeople stand up and read passages from their Holy Bibles, that I have this stark thought: “I’m not a Christian anymore…”

The words I hear that day from the other worshippers in the one-room church are dry, lifeless, containing no meaning for me. I know I should feel sad and mournful on this sacred holiday. Instead, I am devoid of emotion, thinking about how I wish I could be feeling something. Is it because this is a story I’ve heard too many times and it no longer has any impact on me? In a religion that barely touches me anymore, my hope is maybe this somber Good Friday service will put a spark in me and enliven my dry bones. But it doesn’t. Maybe the room is too light, the stubborn northern Michigan sun refusing to set on this April day to create the mood of darkness I long to feel. Maybe the selected hymns are too unfamiliar, too thin when sung by only 14 people, too shallow when accompanied by an electric piano instead of a resonant organ. Maybe my soul no longer knows how to take this seriously.

I know the real reason I am giving up my Friday evening on vacation with my mom and sitting anonymously in a church with 13 strangers who I will never see again. It is that I long for a magical moment I had almost exactly three years ago. I was living in Boston at the time, traipsing around flower-child style with my Chaco sandals and art supplies, exploring the distinguished city by foot and by the train system known as the T. Back then I knew little about Holy Week, since evangelicals in my tradition don’t celebrate such high holidays that remind us of the Catholicism we broke apart from in the 1600s. But the dignified Trinity Episcopal Church was on the route I regularly walked, and I saw a sign outside it advertising a week’s worth of “Holy Week” services around Easter. I shyly crept in at the beginning of the week, and after that first day, decided to organize the rest of my week around the other services. The church was expansive – such a contrast to this one-room schoolhouse – with dark wooden pews and tall stained glass windows. It had an organ that pounded out songs, making the body hum. It afforded a pleasant sense of anonymity, as the church welcomed tourists every day, and one could enter, pray, or sit in silence without being bothered by anyone else.

Trinity offered three hours of prayer service on Good Friday, and while I didn’t really want to commit to all 3 hours in a row, I greedily sought an emotional experience. I entered a little late and sat somewhere near the back of the room: easy in, easy out. The format of the service repeated a cycle – a Scripture reading, a short homily, a hymn, and silence – seven times. I remember very little about the service except a gradually darkening room, and approximately one line of a poem that still strikes me straight through my heart. My heart drops into my stomach; I ache at the very sight of the words.

And on the cross, he held me, and I was in the nothingness, and he held me…

The other remnants of the poem only exist because I scribbled them in my journal that afternoon, trying to savor them, their meaning, knowing how profound they were and how quickly they were slipping away from me.

Oh Jesus, don’t let your hands be bound

Your body hung taut like an arrow on the cross / your heart pierced / your body entombed

I have to, my beloved

To fling you taut like an arrow into heaven / to bleed so you may drink / to resurrect all those from the dead

I have tried to Google the rest of the poem, but to no avail. The poem is gone forever, lost in the space of time, or the imagination of the listener that day.

All I am left with now is the feeling of that afternoon, the profound images those words create. The poem asks Jesus why these things had to happen, and Jesus responds with the most beautiful yet soul-crushing answers I ever heard. Why did you have to go down into the pit, Jesus? Why did your hands have to be pierced by nails? Your side stabbed so water and blood poured forth? And in the moment I heard those words, I was touched by the answers in a way I never had been in 22 years of hearing the Easter story, over and over again.

Good Friday of 2011. The story that had always remained in my head somehow sunk down into my heart. It seemed I suddenly felt a small measure of his pain; that I could, for one brief moment, understand just how shatteringly painful the crucifixion was, not just physically but spiritually. What if… Jesus died so God could understand what it is like to be separated from God. And through it all, the line of the poem echoed:

And on the cross, he held me, and I was in the nothingness, and he held me…

I am in the nothingness, and he holds me.

I am still in the nothingness, and I know not whether I am held. I am in the nothingness every Good Friday since then, my soul dried up once more, the story that permeated my heart for one flash of a moment again escaped to my head. I seek that religious experience on occasion, hoping to feel stirred once more, wondering what it will take to get me there. But I don’t know if I will get there, and I am slowly coming to terms with that. I have mostly accepted that I can simply reminisce of a time gone by, a time when I believed in my very soul, when Jesus was so real, when the stars aligned and I could feel. That moment is gone now, and I am back in nothingness, holding on to something – nothing – or maybe, somehow, being held.

how can you long for what you already have?

Longing. Desire.

You know what I’m talking about. I know you’ve experienced it, if you’re human. And I’m not just talking about the “I want his/her hot bod next to mine” kinda feeling. I’m talking about the feeling that seems to emanate from the very core of your being,  the one that asks “what else is there?”, the one that lives for the possibility that there IS more to live for, the feeling of knowing something is lacking but being unable to express exactly what that is.

This feeling, I think, must also encompass hope. As C.S. Lewis says, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity). We hope that there is something out there that can meet our desire.

Different psychologists talk about this feeling of unmet longing in different ways. Some (Freud) say it’s just our biological drives for pleasure and aggression that provoke longing (or in his way of thinking, anxiety, when our urges go unmet as they often do).

Some (Fairbairn) think that since our parents didn’t perfectly meet our needs (physical or, just as importantly, emotional) when we were infants, we end up internalizing concepts of what we wished our parents could have been for us. It’s the infant equivalent of, “well, if you’re not ACTUALLY going to be here for me, I’ll make you be here for me in my MIND!” We idealize people as adults too. On the flip side, we can also actively reject others in a “you’re not gonna reject me because I’ll reject you first!” type of attitude. Then we go around our whole life long trying to connect with people using a mold based on those fantasy connections. No wonder we long, because we are seeking something that didn’t exist in the first place.

Some (Winnicott) say that we didn’t get a chance to let our “true self” really flourish as a child before the walls of reality came crashing down on our fantasy, egocentric ways of being: “no Mommy, I really AM Superman!!”. Yup, believe it or not, it really is important to indulge little kids’ notions of being powerful and the center of the universe (according to Winnicott, and I believe him). When we do that, we help establish a feeling of personal importance and personal meaning, which is embodied in our true self. Without this sense of meaning, we will be constrained in a false self, trying to meet the demands of the world but feeling empty inside: longing and desiring for something more.

I think these interpretations are great, and help give us a glimpse into the myriad of processes that are going on ever since we were born. However, there is one psychoanalyst who recently caught my attention, because I felt like he was describing the state of my soul. He’s French (harrharrharr, twirl your mustache), postmodernist, linguist, terribly confusing and complex and deep (good thing I just read summaries of his work in English). Jacque Lacan describes desire in this way (summarized by authors Mitchell and Black from Freud and Beyond):

“Desire, the wellspring of passion, is more encompassing than the pursuit of satisfaction and the quelling of need– it is ultimately necessarily ungratifiable. In desire, the child wishes to be totally captivating, to be everything for the (m)other. To truly be everything for the other would be to embody everything the other desires….
This [disconnection from the m(other)] gives rise to Desire… Desire is ultimately unsatiable, because desire is born of the longing to heal the gap…to attain an impossible (imaginary) recollection, to be at one with mother and nature again.”

You might have to read it a couple of times. But for whatever reason, this writing helped give words to a feeling, an idea, a longing, that before had just floated around in my soul.

It smacked me on the face because I realized: I WANT TO BE EVERYTHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE. My desire is to be all that you desire (you=my other). I want to somehow, magically, meet all your needs.

Lacan suggests this desire emerged as a baby, when in my self-centered world, I believed that I was the only thing my mother desired. And when that fantasy came crashing down, man, what a blow to the ego. It’s a painful gap that is formed… a chasm between my soul and the world that can feel interminable.

When I am all that you want, my desire is fulfilled. I am given meaning. I am worth something. Please do not suggest to me that it is not possible to be someone else’s everything, because it feels like you will destroy my sense of self. By being important – by being EVERYTHING- to you, I can believe that I AM important. To settle for less feels like settling for a cheap substitute.

Yet at the very same time, I also know that this desire is inherently unsatiable. I know that as a human, I cannot meet all of another human’s needs. I was not meant to. It’s just… part of being human. IT’S NOT MY FAULT.

(I have a tendency to self-blame and undervalue). (maybe you do too).

Well, what in the world do I do with this terrible endless not-quite-describable feeling of longing, of wishing to be something I cannot be, of trying to create meaning through what I can be for someone else?

I don’t know much about Lacan, so I don’t know if he resolved this. But for me- on my good days, when I can believe with all my heart- I know the answer.

I really, really, believe (and again, I’m not saying I feel this way all the time, but I have experienced it once and sometimes once is really enough) that we are NOT SEPARATED FROM GOD. God is not “out there” watching us, not really caring, not involved. I believe that God is inside every single one of us. Already. I don’t believe you have to ask God to come into your heart, or have a conversion experience, or be baptized. I believe God is already right here. God is part of us… but we are also part of God. What? Altogether. Collectively. God-in-us and we-in-God.

You see what happens to the gap, the chasm, the unspeakable longing?

BOOM. Gone.

God is here. God is with us. We are with God.

In the moments I know this, I don’t have to long anymore. You don’t long for something that you know you already have.

And how sweet it is.