Once More to Dark Gethsemane

Failure is okay. It’s human and it’s healthy, and I think about it a lot.

I think about gathering darkness in which friends gathered together and ate a little supper and drank a little wine and talked about big ideas, like how love could be infinite even though their time together was finite. They probably failed to see just how finite that time really was, I’m sure. But that’s human.

Time was getting short.

Time for me feels like water in a bathtub—maybe you know that tired cliché or maybe you feel it, too. I try to remember to stay emotionally awake the whole time, to appreciate and participate in the things going on around me. But I fail, because one of my greatest failings is having enough energy for people around me. As time wares down, that water of my life seems to spin fastest near the drain. That’s when I sometimes find my second wind, once the end is in sight and I’m filled with remorse and with some fear. Sometimes I am suddenly less Thomas with his doubts and less Peter with his denials and more John the Baptist with his vigor and his madness. I wish I wasn’t emotionally so tired the rest of the time, but I don’t know yet how to fix that. I can’t seem to stay awake for very long.

That night, in the gathering darkness, twelve friends also couldn’t stay awake even though they’d been asked to. For one hour—as long as it to debate and accept one’s end—they all slept. Water swirled around that drain and still they all slept.

I would have slept, too. I am sleeping now, probably. There are things around me that might be gone tomorrow or sooner and instead of being with them wholeheartedly, I sleep. I think about that in the gathering darkness.

I might have been eleven years old the first time I gathered with my Dad in the back of the sanctuary, ready to drape one by one all the sacred objects at the front of the church in black cloth. It was a solemn, dramatic service, and I didn’t know why this job fell to us, but I loved it and I was glad. Pastor Dennis read passages about light and about darkness, about the choice between the two. After each passage, after each metaphorical choice to turn away from light, we draped another thing in darkness until finally there was nothing left but the cross, and as people asked through song to be remembered when he came into his kingdom we draped that, too.

It felt heavy to have failed to do the two impossible things asked of us all that night—to stay awake and to love each other. When I was in high school, I was in a youth group Passion Play that traveled around to area churches. We sang those heightened hymns of Lent and told the story of the arrest, trial, and painful end, and after so many of those services we would hold each other and sob. We would just melt together, comforting each other and taking comfort that these heaving cries would kind of rebuild us. I don’t know. The weight of Lent is hard to describe. A cathartic cry? An ownership of our faults, of all the times we doubted, denied, betrayed people we loved?

Do you know the moment when you’ve finally opened yourself to someone with all your vulnerability and you lay it all out there for them to take or to leave, and you can actually see them make the choice to take it? Do you know the relief that washes over you as you feel them scoop up your messy life tenderly? Do you know that look before you two hug it out, while you maybe laugh through tears? Do you know that miracle? Maybe that’s Lent. Maybe that’s Maundy Thursday.

This is Maundy Thursday. Though my spiritual year waxes and wanes, sometimes going for long, forgotten stretches, I try to bring it home on this night. The looming tragedy and the looming miracles are still some distance away, but for an hour tonight I will try so, so hard to be awake and think about leaving behind the swords, about taking someone’s hand, about washing tired feet, about breaking bread and about how love is infinite but failure can be finite.



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