"With.” Stoneware, Charles LaFond, Bas Relief, 2002
Finding God in the Silence of Good Friday
by Dr. Paul Ingram
Thomas Merton thought that religious practice should be about “entering the silence” because that’s where we find God. I suspect that God is found everywhere, including the noise of our lives. Merton would have probably not denied this. But most likely, it is God who find us because human beings experience God most often in silence—Jesus in the silence of the dessert for forty days, the Buddha sitting in meditation for forty-nine days (although he didn’t name what he found in his silence “God”), or in the silence of Good Friday.
I am certainly not an accomplished mystic like Merton or the Buddha or my favorite medieval Christian mystic, Margarete Porete. But like Merton, I have come to think that the silence is all there really is. It’s the alpha and Omega. It is God brooding over the face of the deep, the blended notes of ten thousand things, the whine of wings, the music of Bach and Mozart, the physics of Einstein and Bohr. We take a step in the right direction to enter this silence, where all distinctions blur and we quit our tents and begin praying without ceasing.
It was probably Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), who was one of the first scientists to realize that the current scientific picture of the universe that began emerging in the early twentieth century is that the cosmos is an unfinished narrative. The universe up to this point in space-tine fourteen billion years after the Big Bang is still in its infancy, or perhaps adolescence. Nor is the universe a fixed body of “things” created in the past, but more like an unfolding drama. Space-time is not a frozen conglomeration of spatially related objects, but rather a “genesis” of continually creating processes grounded in an unfathomable depth Teilhard called the “Omega Point”—his name for God—that like a magnet draws the entire history of the universe into a final conclusion in which everything attains completion in interrelation with everything else in God’s creative experience. The universe is “persuaded” into this ultimate state, never coerced, as Whitehead phrased it, because God is love, not a dominating engineer. Maybe this is why, as St. Paul declared, “death has lost (or is losing) its sting.”
In other words, we live in a universe which requires Christians to engage in theological pluralism. The essential difference between theological pluralism and relativism is that pluralism is based on the principle that there is an absolute truth. Persuasive ideas and values exist, so theologians and philosophers must say “no” to irrational systems and ideas, particularly to fundamentalist ideas of any sort or kind. Theological pluralists affirm absolute values but have come to know their limits. Like a Zen koan or the experience of non-saying that Christian mystics encounter in contemplative prayer, theological pluralism is a recognition of its own limitations. This is why I think pluralism names the religion experiences and insights recorded in the Tanak, the New Testament, the Qur’an, indeed, the scriptures of all the major world religions. This means there is much for contemporary persons, whether or not they identify themselves as “religious,” to consider. For far from regarding “revelation” as fixed and unchanging, some Jews, Christians, and Muslims know that “revealed truth” is symbolic, that scripture can never be interpreted literally, that sacred texts had multiple meanings that could led to entirely new insights. Revelation is not an event that happened once and for all in the distant past but is an ongoing process, a creative process that requires human response and ingenuity. The sages understood that revelation did not provide human beings with infallible information about God—or if one is Buddhist, Emptying or a Hindu, Brahman, or the Dao in Chinese religions—because God however named is beyond our capacities to fully understand. This seems to me a “scriptural” foundation for the practice of theological pluralism. For Christian theological reflection, the word “God” is elusive. Accordingly, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sages, insisted on the importance of intellectual integrity and thinking for oneself. Instead of clinging nervously to insights and past teachings and doctrines, they expected people to be inventive, fearless, and confident in their interpretation of faith. In this sense, Martin Luther did not so much “invent” the priesthood of all believers as inherit it. So where does one find God in all this pluralism. According to Luther, you don’t because God hides from human beings where they most often expect to find God—in doctrines, institutions, political systems, moral behaviorism, ritual systems deemed “holy”—anything and everything human beings have constructed as religious boundaries surrounding God’s presence. This is the message of Good Friday. God actively hides from all places human beings seek to confine God. At least this was Luther’s opinion and I agree: “this is most certainly true.”
But I disagree with Luther to this extent: to be sure, human beings find God only where and when God wishes to be found, but I suspect some of these “places” include Jews who wrestle with God like Jacob did at the river Jabbok, or in the lives of Muslims surrendering to God’s will in a mosque, or the other places where other human beings have experienced God under different names and circumstances. It’s all a matter of grace. But once grace happens, once we experience God who is beyond anything we can say or know but only “unsay,” as Margarete Porete has it, one’s life ceases to be conventional because all places become places for encountering God—or places where God encounters us—or both. Even on Good Friday.
Then, as the Quakers say, our lives become a dance.
Good Friday: A Moment without a Heartbeat
by Rev. Teri Daily
Approximately two thousand heart transplants take place each year in the United States. Traditionally, after the heart has been removed from the donor, it is perfused with a cold preservation solution and then packed in an icy, slushy mixture. The heart can usually remain viable for four to six hours before being transplanted into the recipient. Once the donor heart is placed in the recipient’s body and all the vessels have been connected, the immediate work of the transplant team is finished. Now comes that moment when they wait to see if the donor heart will begin to beat again. One transplant surgeon describes the whole event this way:
A surgeon removes a worn or damaged heart, takes a new one out of an ice bucket, places it into an empty chest cavity, sews the blood vessels together and fills the new heart with blood. Then, the moment of truth arrives. A hush will fall over the operating room, and during a minute or two that seems like an eternity, the surgical team looks down at the flaccid heart, waiting for a sign of life.
I have witnessed similar such moments. It is both an amazing and a scary thing to watch; everyone in the room holds their breath. Faith and science say that the heart will start beating again, but can we really be so sure?
In the life of the Church, Good Friday is this moment without a heartbeat—a time we all hold our breath, waiting for life to return. But there’s an uneasiness in our waiting—Jesus’ last words as he hangs on the cross in the gospel of John sound so very final: “It is finished.” But what exactly is finished? Jesus’ suffering? Yes. Jesus’ earthly life as a physical presence, as one who will teach and heal and work and love? Yes, that, too, is finished. But it seems like something more specific, more purpose-filled is meant by Jesus’ statement, “It is finished.” This “it” seems to refer to a task, a commission—to acts that will go on to give rise to many other acts throughout the centuries.
Jesus came not just to tell us about a new way of life, but to set this new life in motion. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that he ended up on a cross; real change always comes at a cost. Look at Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Oscar Romero. After all, we like to sort things into neat, rigid categories—male/female, black/white, pure/impure, powerful/powerless, sinner/righteous, guilty/innocent, Jew/Gentile, Democrat/Republican, Christian/Muslim. To move beyond such labels, judgments, and either/or answers to a new way of seeing always comes at a price. To hold these apparent contradictions without scapegoating or expelling one in favor of the other, to absorb hate without becoming hate yourself—this always involves suffering. We learn this from Jesus. Richard Rohr writes:
Jesus receives our hatred and does not return it. He suffers and does not make the other suffer. He does not look at changing others, but pays the price of change within himself. He absorbs the mystery of human sin without passing it on. He does not use his suffering and death as power over others to punish them, but as power for others to transform them.
Jesus doesn’t take the options the world offers him; he doesn’t subscribe to a system of winners and losers. Instead, he steps outside the system of his day and reveals an entirely different way of being—a way wide enough to bring everyone with him, a way of love big enough to embrace the whole world.
Perhaps this is what Jesus means when he says, “It is finished.” He has loved the world to the end—stepping forward in the garden to offer himself and save his friends, healing the ear of the slave of the high priest, giving his mother and the disciple whom he loved to one another, experiencing the cost of an all-embracing love in a world that would rather have things neatly divided. Yes, his work is done. Whatever comes next will be a different chapter in God’s relationship with the world, but at this moment the disciples have no idea what that will be. They know only that something is heartbreakingly finished.
We, too, know the pain of endings—the broken relationships that litter our lives, the illnesses that force us to live life differently, the deaths of people close to us, the failures that mark the end of our dreams. On a more global scale, we know the destruction of terrorism, the spread of Ebola and Zika viruses, and the 59.5 million displaced people in the world today. These are our Good Fridays—the times and places when life seems to come to a full-stop, and we are powerless to fix it.
Our faith, our tradition, and even our own experience tells us that God’s grace and love will meet us on the other side of these broken endings. We’re told that light shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome it, that in every end there lies a beginning. That’s absolutely true—we’ll know it when we wake up Easter morning and look back on this day, and that knowledge will give us courage to once again take the risk of love.
But today we stand at the foot of the cross and look up at the Savior of the world, beaten and bruised. With the brokenness of the world front and center, it’s hard to make sense of the words: “It is finished.” There is so much that seems unfinished, broken, and ended. On Good Friday, we honor this reality. We hold our breath, we cling in faith to the one whose love has no limits, and we wait for the heartbeat of the world to begin again.
 Bill Frist, “Transplanting in Faith,” The Episcopal Church website, http://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/article/transplanting-faith.
 Richard Rohr, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in and Age of Anxiety (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001) 31.