Wednesday, April 25, 2012
The Stations of the Cross: How they helped me battle demons
Holy Week this yeas was a revelation for me. As far as mental struggles go, I was probably at my weakest... weaker than I would like to admit and fighting all sorts of demons. But it was reading through a Stations of the Cross reflection with one my classes during this year's Holy Week that gave me hope and the strength to fight this thing out, whatever it was. I immediately thought of Christ's redemptive suffering and how, a mere man, could be inspired by what Christ went through for the sake of our very souls. I decided to pen my thoughts with each station and this is what I had by the end of it:
First Station: Jesus is condemned to death
Jesus stood there in silence and received his death sentence. How many times have I been accused of something and often very arrogantly denied the accusations and refused my own sentence? Be they big things or small, I was proud... to proud to fathom the fact that I may have been wrong. Christ accepted his sentence although he was innocent, and I often stand there violently denying it despite my guilt. Lord, help me to be quiet and humble as you are.
Second Station: Jesus carries his cross
I carry my burden and often I cry out for it to be gone from me. Too soon I grow weak from trying to carry it and the more thought of it makes me want to give up immediately. I have too far to go and too much to carry with me... why can't I just leave it behind me? And then I realise that Christ's cross, as it belonged to him so too does mine belong to me. It is mine; I must carry it.
Third Station: Jesus falls the first time
It hurts and it's all too much. What ever strength I mustered when I was first given this burden I now have to try muster again all the way from the beginning. I am trying so hard not to let those around me see or realise that I am weak and can't handle this burden. Again the sin of pride fills my heart and mind so I look once more at my burden and again realise that it is mine for me to carry. Mea culpa, mea culpa! I push on, but I don't know how much more strength I have left in me.
Fourth Station: Jesus meets his mother
Mothers know when their children are hurting. Too many times have I closed up and refused to speak to my mother about my thoughts and feelings because I don't want her to worry. Often I am rude and defensive when I speak with her. I am ashamed of time. I think of the times I could be a better son. I carry this burden and my mother looks into my eyes. I cannot hide the pain from her because she knows it's there anyway. My mother used to nurse the wounds inflicted on me in my younger years and she sees that I am hurting now, but she knows that this burden is mine. Helplessly she looks on wanting to do something... anything.
Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross
Help comes from the most unlikely of places. I recall being in a class during this Holy Week and one of my students asking my while he and his classmates were doing some quiet work. He walked up to my desk and expecting him to ask a question about the work I began by asking him, "How can I help you, mate?" to which he replied, "I was just wondering if you were okay, sir. You look stressed". The first thought that came to my head was, "Who does this punk the he is trying to help me? What could he possibly do?" and again pride fills my heart and mind. Did my Lord tell the guards to stop when Simon of Cyrene was being picked from the crowd? Just knowing that there was a veritable stranger out there aware of my suffering and concerned for my well being was help enough, so I replied to him, "I'm fine, buddy, but thank you very much for you concern; it is appreciated".
Sixth Station: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
I returned to my car after work one afternoon feeling just about ready to punch a hole through the dashboard. As I closed the car door, a holy card which I had slotted into a pocket of the top visor fell down into my lap. It was a holy card with a picture of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Like Veronica, how many times his Mother Teresa wipe the faces of the poor, destitute, and dying in the streets of Calcutta? I wondered how many times her face was the last that others saw before they passed away. Thoughts of suicide were in my head. I thought about the times those close to me - not even strangers - would come close to me and try to offer aid and how I pushed them away. Perhaps if I let them - as Veronica wiped Jesus' face - do the very little they could to ease my suffering, if by only providing a scintilla of relief.
Seventh Station: Jesus falls the second time
Jesus was severely beaten before he began carrying his cross. Me? I was completely fine before I started carrying mine and yet I fall just as he did and I want to give up. I could ask to be killed or take my own life at that point then and there. I know these stations and I know that Christ gets up again and carries on, but as I'm reading through this reflection with my students, the words for some reason today have more meaning. I am inspired to get up again and not think about how long I have to go or how much strength I have left. I feel something inside of my glow... it is my spirit. I know that my spirit alone is what will keep me going. Is there a hope left?
Eighth Station: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
I frequently felt alone in this battle. I imagined what it would be like to be the only soldier left on the field after watching your comrades drop their arms and abandon their posts. To fight alone; to be the only one to fight despite not having the strength but with only the weakened resolve to accomplish this mission. I then think of what I am fighting for and for whom I am fighting. They pray for me and hope I return from this battle safely. I want to be well again for them. This suffering is not in vain; something will come of it, I'm sure of it! I must be strong for their sake; I must share the hope I have in me with them. It is not fair to make them suffer as I do.
Ninth Station: Jesus falls a third time
I've come a long way and it crushes my spirit to fall yet again. The end is in sight but it can go only two ways: I give up, or I finish. I want to finish but I feel as though every force out there is working against me. It is only the forces within keeping me going. The spirit is truly willing, but the flesh is weak. This has made me think of the times I have started something and never finished. There have been too many of these things. I decide that if I go through with this until the end, then I finish all that start. There's no turning back and there's not starting things over. What's done is done, and the steps that I have taken are what has gotten me here. I walk on; I walk forward.
Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped of his garments
A colleague approaches me and asks casually in conversation, "How are you?" Such a simple question but like a massive crane attached to a floating glacier, when lifting it it reveals the concealed 80 per cent below the water's surface. I feel exposed and I hate it. I've made a habit this year of holding a hand close to my chest or intentionally being vague in personal conversation with some people so as not to reveal my vulnerabilities. Some have noticed this distance I keep from them and others but I lie and dismiss it as a misread of body language and non-verbal queues. But now I am exposed and I feel as though I'm being judged; I'm afraid that others may notice. There is, however, something liberating in being this vulnerable. If my wounds are visible, others know where I need healing.
Eleventh Station: Jesus is nailed to the Cross
I begin to talk about some of my problems with some of those close to me and some colleagues at work. I talk about my failings, my worries, my fears, my insecurities, my inadequacies, and it begins to hurt. It hurts reliving and rethinking each moment of fear and failure. It is nothing compared to having nails driven through flesh and muscle as what Our Lord endured, but isn't this why I sometimes bottle up these sorts of feelings? Because talking about them or dealing with them is only going to make them hurt more. The journey is not yet complete; I burn and feel as a marathon runner does on the last leg of the race. The time is now; it is almost accomplished.
Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross
I know what it is that makes me feel this hopeless and lost; my sins, my pride, and my wrong doings brought me here... ultimately I am at fault. How selfish I have been for contemplating suicide and wiping my own existence from this world by my own hand. In order to heal, there must be wounding; I see the redemption in suffering now and I see now where my sins have led me. My friends see first hand my suffering and want to do more for me, but this I can only do alone. It is accomplished.
Thirteenth Station: The body of Jesus is taken down from the Cross
From beginning to this end, I have endured the most anguish I have ever in my entire life. When I needed them most, my friends and loved ones were there to both to lift me up and now they help bring my tired self down to rest. I feel peace. There is no more pain, no anguish, and no more hurt. Even though I didn't know it, these friends that now carry me were the ones that were with me from the beginning. Although at times I felt abandoned, they were there.
Fourteenth Station: Jesus is laid in the tomb
Rest. Finally. "What happens next?" I ask myself, and this I'm sure my friends and loved ones have asked too. There is peace in dark, quiet places, where I don't have to worry about the battles going on beyond that stone door. I am alone with my thoughts and I look back to where I began. I was sick and needed help. I wonder now why I didn't call out for help sooner; why I let my pride get the better of me and hold to my inhibitions. I realise now more than ever that I - still to a point - weak and this is why I need God; I do things by the grace of God; I live because of His grace and the good that I do is because of His grace. I can do nothing, and it for this reason I am free.
I am a resurrected soul; lost but found again by the Good Shepherd and lifted high by angels watching over me. Can there be a promise that I will never suffer as I did again? No, but this I do know: one of the most repeated phrases in the Holy Scriptures is "fear not", and it was by pondering this year on Christ's death and resurrection that I learned to place my troubles at his feet and be not afraid. For now I wear the full armour of God (Ephesians 6) and I am prepared and I remain vigilant. Try as he may, the devil may send his demons to taunt and disturb me, and they may sway my balance from time to time and make me struggle, but I have overcome this evil before and I will, by the grace of God will do so again.
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." - Proverbs 3:5-6