Memories of the Penitentes singing ancient hymns or alabados brought over from 15th century Spain are quite vivid. These hymns evoke a pleading and wailing, so much so that within the walls of a darkened church, as the verses begin – you almost instantly begin to cry as sorrow and pain converge in prayerful plainchant “a mi hijo Jesus le dio en rostro y en la Corazon a mi. “he hit my son Jesus on the face and hit me in the heart.”
I was deeply affected by one of these hymns during a velorio or wake of a young boy who died tragically. The song written about Mary, seem to apply to this grieving mother “You are left alone, what desolation, without the presence of you beautiful Son.” She wept uncontrollably, refusing to leave the casket of her son as this song was sung. She would cry out, first in anger, yelling “Dios, porque? – God why?”, and then pleading “Por favor Dios- ayudame –Please God, help me.” She eventually had to be carried out of the Church.
At that moment, her anger, grief, pain, and helplessness all made sense, they were natural. This woman’s grief had a profound impact on me, because she shared this profound pain, and her grief was a prayer, her pain was holy, it was sacred. It was as if the wailing pounded on the gates of heaven. I wondered if she would ever find peace.
As I left the church, I thought of the importance of grieving. To get angry, to cry, and then move into absolute dependence. To scream at God and then understand and allow God’s response to our pain. That may sound strange – to be angry at God, can we do this?
Today’s Gospel speaks of not only compassion, but pain. The traveler, on his way is blind-sided by life. We assume the attack was savage because it says he was left half-dead. So when he finally regains consciousness, he is in pain, tasting blood in his mouth, his vision is out of focus.
Imagine his desperation as he struggles to his feet. He falls back on the ground in pain and afraid, attempting to make sense of what just happened. All he can see is the world passing on its merry way while he is suffering. As he was lying there alone, what is he thinking?
Is he independent saying I going be tough, and avoid everyone. I do not need God or anyone else’s help. Is it, I am going to act like nothing happened, I’ll just hide until the pain passes and then go on my way. When I get my strength, I will whack the next person who comes along, take their donkey and money and then I will feel better.
Most likely through the pain and despair, he looks up to the sky and asks – why? He pounds the dirt, and screams at God “Why me? Why did I do to deserve this?” There is never a sufficient explanation for tragedy and suffering so he becomes angrier, screams, and moans. Finally, he begins to cry. He sobs in absolute helplessness until that Samaritan hears him and gently lifts him up. Lying in his pain, maybe he even whispered the same words of that grieving mother – “please, please help me Lord.”
When we read this Gospel, most assume that the traveler was robbed of his money, but the Gospel does not describe what was taken. Anyone of us can be that traveler in our Gospel, walking along in life and then our marriage is robbed of trust by an act of infidelity, or our certain future robbed by cancer or illness.
Maybe we were robbed of home or savings because of the economy. Trust and innocence stolen because of violence or abuse. It could have been a religious leader stealing the love of God from you based on their own selfishness. What if your heart was taken by the death of someone you dearly love?
In each instance, you feel beaten, powerless and bewildered. And you do not have to be by the side of the road, you can be sleepless in your bed at night, pounding the kitchen table or maybe sitting right here in this church, biting your lip to hold back the tears. Wondering silently, Why me? What have I done to deserve this?
It sounded silly for the traveler to avoid everyone, to act like nothing ever happened, or to go at it alone. But for many of us, that is how we behave. We do not want to express our anger, our doubts, and our grief. What do we do?
Do we bury it, and avoid the pain – that never works because it will eventually rise to the surface. Do we avoid God? That only isolates us from our true calling and separates us from a supportive community. For many, it is easier to bury our pain than to free your tears.
Or do you just let go, scream at God and then sob uncontrollably? When we give ourselves permission to bring our pain and loss into the light and allow it to breathe, it is there that healing begins and trust returns.
When we acknowledge our pain and suffering, that broken place allows for the peace of God to enter. For just as we cannot sufficiently explain tragedy, as St. Paul writes – we have no words for the peace of God which passes all understanding.
We are never told that we can complain to God. But as I have come to know this indescribable love of God, I began to understand that God can handle our anger, God can handle our questioning, and God can handle our pain. Because God has been there, and understands, only God can give the peace we need.
God can stand there and have you can pound on that divine chest, using the worst language possible and you will simply be loved. When we question God the most, seems to be when God is holding us the tightest. God is there, weeping with us, lying next to us when we are cursing the darkness.
This is not a new concept, nearly 1/3 of all the Psalms are about complaining to God, asking God why? Yet we avoid those Psalms. Jesus tells us in that beatitudes that weeping and mourning is a blessed state. Jesus wept openly at the grief of Martha and Mary.
We often hear many evangelical and conservative churches say that we need to have personal relationship with Christ, with God. I agree, and that includes the stuff most do not like to deal with – the pain, the anger, the helplessness, the crying. At times, yelling at God is the most honest type of prayer.
Where we surrender, when we yell God’s name, we actually show that we need God. I often wonder if Jesus prefers that we do not believe or ignore him because it makes our eventual belief all the more interesting, all the more intense. Think of it, when you look at the sky and ask “if you really exist, how can let this happen” you are communicating with God.
When God see us in pain, when we are hurting, the last thing the divine wants from us is a soppy halleluiah, or false praise. God wants an honest, true relationship and that includes loving each one of us enough to hear our pain, our doubts, our complaints, our cries. There is a speaks of this love. The words go:
God loves a lullaby, In a mothers tears in the dead of night. God loves a drunkards cry, A soldiers plea not to let him die Better than a Hallelujah sometimes. The woman holding on for dear life, The dying man giving up the fight, Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.
The tears of shame for what's been done, the silence when the words won't come. We pour out our miseries, and God just hears a melody, Beautiful the mess we are, the honest cries of breaking hearts are better than a Hallelujah.
We know Mary’s story, she lived in complete trust of God. I believe the traveler saved by the Samaritan changed hearts and lives through the same compassion he was shown. The woman who pleaded with God at her son’s funeral, she volunteers at the church, helping the needy and there she started a support group for those who have suffered loss or trauma. She often says she is blessed.
God love us intimately, and it is ok to be angry with your pain, you are allowed to cry like a baby, to grieve hopelessly, to question, to shake your fist. Nothing will change God’s love for you. God is always listening for the sound of your voice, whether angry, sad, despairing or praising, your voice will always be met with God’s song of love the gift of peace. Go ahead, cry out, you will be surprised by the response.