Spouses wonder why they have the same argument over and over. Work colleagues finish meetings frustrated that they can’t get their work done. Customers leave service representatives astonished that, yet again, they’ve been mis-filed, mis-directed, mistaken on their transactions.
“Why can’t he ever listen to me?” “When will she stop and hear me?” It’s hard to carry on a conversation when such intensive inner interrogation is happening along the way. We look as though we’re discussing; in reality, we’re preparing arguments to justify ourselves, producing rationales and witness statements to bolster our position. Listening disappears while self-defence takes over.
We habitually, reflexively defend ourselves. It’s unremittingly human to engage each other this way without noticing. It sounds like conversation to us, while we’re walking the same worn-down stone pathways that lead nowhere.
A part of us is relieved. If we’re not really talking or listening, then we never move. We’re safe. Safe from the other. Most of all, safe from ourselves, from what we’ve done and why, and what’s going on inside us. We don our favourite cover-up clothes and prepare our dazzling distracting laser displays. Our words are there, our defensive or combative stance is there, but our true selves are nowhere to be seen. The other person doesn’t seem to notice or care that we haven’t even shown up in the discussion. We’re confirmed in the belief that the true self is better hidden away, from others, from ourselves.
And from God.
“Where are you, Adam? Where are you, Eve?” God calls out, walking in his garden in the cool of the evening, but missing his usual companions. The voice of Love floats through the trees to them, yet they don’t respond. They hide. They’ve already hidden from each other by making cover-up clothes. When their Beloved asks what’s happened, they try to distract him: Adam points to Eve, Eve points to the serpent (Genesis 3:7-13). Not me, not me; look at her, look at him.
Does our prayer sometimes sound like that?
Our dis-ease with ourselves, our shame and fear before God and each other, get so protected by our distraction devices that we hardly know we’re feeling this way. We forget our longing to be seen and known as we are. We lose sight of our true selves, and forget the way to them, thus arriving at the unhappiest of all predicaments: we don’t even know we’re ill.
Just in time, along comes the Lenten Advantage. The church has not forgotten us; it belongs, after all, to Christ whose dearest treasure we are. It opens the door to the desert, and marks out in purple the path to Silence and Surrender. By the time we get to deep Lent, we may have shed many layers of our self-defence clothing and our don’t-look-at-me distraction displays. As we come closer to silence, we can hear the babbling of our defences and blaming, and let them go. We don’t need them here in the desert, where Love has brought us. It’s the silence, not of accusation, but of utter Presence.
Here, we can hear our Beloved calling to us: “Where are you?” And the cry of our heart, bubbling up like a spring of water out of the desert sands: “I’m sad.” “I’m lonely.” “I’m hurt and afraid.” “I long for life.” “I have a love, a joy, in me that can’t get out.”
In another garden, Love himself was betrayed and captured by the descendants of Adam and Eve. On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus is seized in Gethsemane. So eager are his friends to flee that one of them, wearing only a linen cloth, breaks free and runs away naked (Mark 14:43). In a shocking reversal of Adam and Eve’s self-protective cover-up, in the darkness of the darkest night of all, this young man is stripped of defences. Sin and doubt expose his real self, and he has to run even from Jesus.
Don’t we recognize that fellow? Don’t we know there’s a part of us, too, that would abandon Jesus rather than encounter our naked self?
Travelling to Good Friday takes us beyond our well-worn defences. It strips away our covering layers. Together, freed of what imprisons our true selves, we emerge from the trees where Adam and Eve hid. We answer God in his search for us.
“I will fervently embrace Thy sacred feet . . . Thy feet at whose sound Eve hid herself for fear when she heard Thee walking in Paradise in the cool of the day,” sings an ancient Christian poem.
It’s the great risk: does judgement await, or mercy? death, or life-beyond-death? mere emptiness, or overflowing light and love?
Marrocco is a marriage and family therapist, teacher of theology, and writer, and co-ordinates St. Mary of Egypt Refuge. She can be reached at email@example.com