Each day during Holy Week I will be sharing poems, prayers, and visual art for meditation, in hopes of helping us make space for the Passion Narrative in a new way.
If you’re anything like me, this story is one you have heard many times. Once I had a conductor who used to say every Christmas when the orchestra was weary from playing the nineteenth Nutcracker Ballet of the season, “Put your heart and soul into each and every show, because this may be someone’s first time hearing it or their last.” My hope is that God will speak to our hearts, to move us deeply, whether this story is new or old to us, to remind us to be present in heart, soul, and mind this week.
Art has been a surefire way for me to feel God’s presence over the years. I have felt my heart burn within me as I listened to or played music, read poetry, or stood before a beautiful painting. And so I pray you’ll meet me here each day to seek God, the Artist behind all the beauty we see, to behold the Passion of Christ with new eyes.
Below is a poem by St. John of the Cross, a Spanish saint of the sixteenth century. I’ve included it in it’s original Spanish with an English translation.
Soneto a Cristo crucificado
No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte
el cielo que me tienes prometido,
ni me mueve el infierno tan temido
para dejar por eso de ofenderte.
¡Tú me mueves, Señor! Muéveme el verte
clavado en una cruz y escarnecido;
muéveme ver tu cuerpo tan herido;
muévenme tus afrentas y tu muerte.
Muéveme en fin, tu amor, y en tal manera
que aunque no hubiera cielo, yo te amara,
y aunque no hubiera infierno, te temiera.
No me tienes que dar porque te quiera,
pues aunque lo que espero no esperara,
lo mismo que te quiero te quisiera.
—St. John of the Cross
Sonnet to Christ Crucified
Heaven that you have promised me, my God,
Does not move me to love you.
Nor does hell so dreadful move me
To leave all that offends you.
You move me, Lord. It moves me to see you
Mocked, nailed to that cross.
It moves me to see your body so wounded.
Your dishonour moves me, and your death.
You move me to your love in such a way
That —even if there were no heaven— I would love you;
And —even if there were no hell— I would fear you.
You do not have to give to gain my love;
For —even if what I hope for becomes hopeless—
In the same way I love you, I would love you still.
—Translated by Stacy Shoop, 1996
We bought my dad a t-shirt with the above image as a joke for Father’s Day. I remember him wearing it throughout our vacation to Florida one year, and getting laughs all over Disney World. When I think about all the ways my dad and the rest of my family have provided for me over the years, I can’t believe it: they sustained my life from infancy to adulthood, paid for my education, gave me food and shelter, etc. etc. And they didn’t just give me the things I needed, but most of the things I wanted, too. And yet, it was not all the things he gave me that made me love my dad. I loved him whether he bought me the new bike or not.
This Tax Day, Monday of Holy Week, upon reading this beautiful poem of St. John of the Cross, it got me thinking about why we love God. Do we love God because we are promised heaven? Because we are afraid of hell? Do we seek to love God because of what God can do for us, because God can give us happiness, peace, joy, freedom? Is our relationship with God like a bank: do we believe we can earn credit by being righteous, expecting a pay out when we find ourselves in need? Or do we love God no matter the circumstances of our lives?
I want to love God for the right reasons, to have a relationship that is not a transactional one. Like the poet says, I want to look to what God did in Jesus—his death and resurrection— I want to find that beautiful, lovely, life-changing.
Prayer: Lord, help me “even when what I hope for becomes hopeless” to love you still, to look to the cross and let it transform my heart. Draw me closer to you this week. Amen.