Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Luigi Santucci on the agony of Jesus in the Garden.

Here is Luigi Santucci’s meditation on Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane (From Wrestling with Christ, pages 166-168) 


He began to be frightened and sad.

That night in the garden he asked for something for the first time. He asked the three dearest to him to ‘Stay and keep awake with me’. That small thing was enough - that Peter, John and James should stay there silently sitting on the roots of an old olive tree and bear a little of the night’s vapours with him while he prayed. It didn’t matter if they didn’t pray because it was cold. Just to know that they were a few feet away, and awake. ‘Keep awake with me . . .’

The response to this request - all that his friends could offer him - was silence interrupted by a faint snore. They had removed themselves in the only way they could without actually fleeing - in the cowardly and innocent way of sleep. If those three had stayed awake with him - composing as they did the last threads Jesus held to prevent him sinking into horror - he would have been spared the most terrifying part of the passion; it would have been enough to hear them breathing, clearing their throats from time to time, or rubbing their sandals on the ground. Or perhaps he would have talked again, as in the cenacle, and the living forest of words would have acted as a screen against the image of death. But sleep cut off the three last threads that bound Christ to the land of his earthly brothers.

Then he called on the Father: ‘Father, if it be possible, take this cup away from me.’ Three times he made this appeal. Of course it was still possible. It was at the very last moment that the Father had stayed the knife held over the boy Isaac and opened the door to a happy ending for Abraham, as in a fairy story. And he was appealing to the Father after thirty years’ experience of fathers and sons on earth, of their love for each other and of their wanting each other to live. But on this night the Father’s silence was smooth and dense like the very essence of the world. The Father had answered his prayer at the tomb of Lazarus and raised a man who’d been dead four days. For the first time the silence was a surprise even to Jesus.

We’re all aware of that final silence that lies at the bottom of our prayers, when we’ve made an invocation and then we hold our breath and listen . . . and there’s nothing. There follows, as it did for you, the desire to annihilate ourselves. He threw himself down with his face to the ground. The ground, the black or grey ground that holds us up is the drum on which we clamour for help, the mother in whom we’re swallowed up so as to rush back to our origins as animals crouching in a belly. But the ground against which Christ pressed his face had no maternal complicity with him. It was just a stretch of garden, clay and little ferns brown in the dusk and some nocturnal insect flying about. The ground was his last frontier now that he couldn’t see houses or trees or other tall things; but a frontier that would remain closed, even if he called on it to open and become nothingness. No, alas, nothingness doesn’t exist, Lord; your Father couldn’t create it; only a man like me or you - at an hour like this - longs for it and adores it with his desperate imagination. Nothingness is the paradise forbidden to us.

And this was your passion, Christ, when with your face against the roots you went through the metaphysical anguish of us all. Here your soul was on the cross like that of all our brothers who on some night or other lose their faith. With their twisted arms the olive trees of Gethsemane became fantastic monsters, symbols of all that is for ever foreign to us; yet at the same time they suddenly become confessors of our new sin - the sin of fear and boredom and the disheartened acceptance that everything finishes with death. In their neutral existence, do trees know? And is it possible that from their bark the oracle can emerge that may solve the enigma? 

His face, as the evangelist puts it, was covered with a sweat like drops of blood, and Christ finally wept between two longings. There was the life within himself and around himself that he would have liked to make lasting because as a man he had tasted its delights - he knew now that everything in it was sweet, even the persecution of the Pharisees - whereas soon they would wrest life from his body and his glassy eyes would no longer see the hills or the clouds or the spear with which Longinus would pierce his heart. And then there was his other longing, heaven, the Father: but what if in the meanwhile his Father had died? . . .

So his hour went on, eternal in the shadows of the garden and swinging between the two fateful silences. That of men (‘Why are you asleep? Couldn’t you have stayed awake with me for an hour?’ Then he went back again to the disciples and found them again asleep . . . and they couldn’t even answer him). And that of the Father (‘. . . for you everything is possible!), who was now hiding only in the little trembling fern and in the insect nestling among the blades of grass.


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