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“Get ready! Get set! Go!” yelled our high school coach, its fierceness goaded my heavy legs to run the perimeter of the hockey field with my gym class. Instead, a swish of dark tunics whizzed by me like wild ducks fleeing from hunters-on-the-kill. Alone, my lungs heaving, I gazed at the stillness of the surrounding fields, their wild grasses shriveled by the summer’s sun, with crows cawing and clowning around. But I was ready, I said to myself as I collapsed on the dusty ground and prepared to receive the coach’s caustic comments. I always got them.

It was always about readiness, a discipline of mind-body in the present moment. But I preferred fantasy to the rough edges of the real world: rather than play field hockey, I fancied the sun-sky above me, its thready clouds tossed by humorous winds.

Only much later, in the work world, did readiness’s importance flare into practice. I had no choice, but I still pocketed fantasy in other areas of my life—when no one was around. 

And then I learned of the bible’s use of the word ready—Over five hundred times, in both testaments. That fact cast a different light upon those ancient people and their responses to the revelations of the living God. Fully conscious, they were persons of action. For many, their physical survival depended upon it.

And centuries later, Jesus came out of this tradition of readiness. He taught in the gospel of Luke, “You too must stand ready, because the Son of man is coming at an hour when you do not expect.” Never has my readiness been more critical than in my present circumstances. This attitude also finds expression in Step Six’s AA: “Became entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.”

I’m deeply gratefully to have learned about being ready this late in life. I still have significant helpers.

Jesus of Nazareth

I still remember the massive bells tolling from the towers of the St. Louis Cathedral as the remains of my paternal grandparents were rolled through massive doors into the sanctuary for the Requiem Mass. Oatmeal skies, hundreds of mourners in black, long lines of police escort, soggy handkerchiefs—incised their dread upon my psyche. It was my first funeral.

Yesterday’s wake at Donnelly’s was another first, with Mother at my side commenting in hushed tones. It was 1947. It felt more like a cocktail party, similar to ones hosted by our parents in the living room.

Over the years, the culture of death and burial seeped into my experience: family, extended family members, friends, teachers, classmates, co-workers, my former husband, my AA buddies, neighbors, other dignitaries. I learned both Gregorian chant and English for the liturgies and appropriate behavior around the grieving.

 But these “time-outs” from the ordinary were for others. Never, until now, did I consider my mortality—always imagined my transition would be quick like several members of our family. This is not the case.

With my denial decomposing like a minstrel’s tasseled-red jacket in an abandoned wardrobe, I’m slowly learning to befriend the death of my body; only then will it bring surcease to the pesky symptoms hampering my breathing and wasting my body.

I had believed that completing my final arrangements and studying the theology, psychology, and physiology of dying and death would give me a leg up when my time came around, but this is not the case. Expert materials abound on these subjects, but none describe the experience of death itself.

So, prayer for deeper surrender to Creator God twits the terror from death’s edges. This is working out … and the St. Louis Cathedral still stands, though now a Basilica.

As Holy Week begins, many search the scriptures for glimpses of Jesus of Nazareth through prayer and ritual enactment of His passion, death, and resurrection. Both Testaments reference God’s salvation mysteries, a response to the woeful circumstances that we have created for themselves. One of the most powerful images comes from the Old Testament, and still sparks fire in my psyche and reduces me to silence.

The image of an enigmatic suffering servant emerges in four songs, found in the Book of Consolation, attributed to Isaiah’s prophetic school, the Book of Consolation, in the sixth century, BCE.   

In the First Servant Song, Yahweh speaks of taking his beloved’s hand and forming Him, endowing Him with the spirit of prophets, gentleness, and soft-spokeness. As servant, His mandate is to serve the cause of right, to be a covenant of His people, and to free the blind and imprisoned.

To his former gifts, the Servant in the Second Song acknowledges his former gifts, adding his tongue like a sharp sword or arrow for disputes, and his light a beacon for all nations. Salvation is world-wide.

The gift of listening enables the Third Servant, with Yahweh’s help, to maneuver the courts; opposition will be devoured “like moths.” Critical, above all, is to lean upon God in the midst of darkness. The first reference to “plucking beards,” to “whippings” occurs in this Song.

But in The Fourth Song, the suffering servant bears the full brunt of unspeakable cruelties, many of which are identical with Jesus’s passion narrative in the gospels. These atrocities, silently borne, address the global sin that still persists.

So, superimposing these vignettes atop each other, reveal another way of viewing Jesus that still silences me, especially Jesus in His suffering members in Ukraine. There, fires still burn.

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