Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 60, “Gethsemane”

Dear friend,

As I write this post, five days ahead of my self-imposed deadline, Hurricane Sandy is blowing in. The wind outside my window reminds me of the Gethsemane scene in “The Passion of the Christ.” Mel Gibson’s film sets it in a full, dark, blasting gale.

The coming hurricane reminds me of another 27 years ago. On the New England coast, we were all taping our windows in anticipation of Gloria, who didn’t fizzle out like most over-forecasted nor’easters but was a Category 4 storm—though much diminished by the time it hit the Massachusetts coast.

I remember Gloria because at the time Katie was carrying Martha. That is, my wife was pregnant with our first child. Together we went walking along the beach as the storm blew in. It was a sweet moment of both threat and promise.

That was true in Gethsemane too. Strange associations indeed.

In his chapter on Christ’s agony in the garden, Romano Guardini once again reasserts that these Bible scenes happened. He does so by painting the scene with vivid details. After the Last Supper, “the little group walked down the hill and out of the city.” They “descended to the brook Cedron and crossed it”; they “walked up the valley until they came to a farm called Gethsemane.” Such real-life itineraries are elided in a film like “The Passion” and usually ignored in our readings of the Bible. But God lived in history—this is the recurring point of The Lord. 

And because Jesus was God, Guardini goes on, “This is no place for psychology.” As we contemplate this strange moment when Christ, as both God and man, knows what lies ahead and accepts it—yet asks that the cup be taken away—the usual tools of analysis don’t boot. “When guided by reverence and warmed by generosity,” he writes beautifully, “psychology is an excellent thing, doing much to help one human understand another. Here though it must fail . . . ”

We must approach scenes like Gethsemane with “living faith,” Guardini writes, and “no mere passive acceptance of facts. We participate in this mystery only when we realize and admit that its content is our sin.” Beside this line, I have written the margin note “Wow!”

“What does faith tell us?” RG asks. “Before all else who this man is there on his knees—the Son of God in the simplest sense of the word. For that reason he sees existence in its ultimate reality.” What Jesus sees and feels, according to Guardini, is not so much the suffering that awaits him but his terrible suffering at the fallen state of man—his compatriots and coreligionists especially who have persisted in their blind and deaf rejection of his message.

To conclude: “No one has ever seen existence as Jesus saw it; neither before nor after. In that hour when his human heart lifted the world from its vapors of deception, he beheld it as otherwise only God beholds it—in all its hideous nakedness. What happened was truth realized in charity. And we are given the standpoint from which we too can see through and reject deception. For that is the meaning of salvation: seeing the world as Christ saw it and experiencing his repulsion of sin.”

Your devoted schoolmate,

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord continues here with chapter 61.

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