A deep stillness descended over the woods as I walked, its peacefulness gradually permeating my spirit. My black lab, Poco, ran on ahead, nose to the ground, snuffling in the unexpected February snow. A loud crackling and crashing in the underbrush to the right of the path broke the silence. I stopped. Leashing the dog, I listened, peering intently into the thicket from which the sound originated. It sounded like something big. Was it a deer? Perhaps a fox? Poco strained against the leash. A flash of red, a hint of gray—and a fat robin hopped out of the bushes, looked at me quizzically, and continued making a lot of racket in his search for something to eat. Definitely not what I’d expected. I smiled, said hello, and raised my eyes to walk on, only to have my gaze arrested by the large and luminous eyes of a doe.
She stood, still as a statue, maybe twenty feet away, her tawny coat blending perfectly into the brown and gray backdrop of beech trees and bare brush. Surrounded by mist rising from the melting snow, she appeared otherworldly. Only her eyes, wide and watching, witnessed to her lifeblood and vitality. Her beauty took my breath away.
A gift, freely given during this chance encounter in the woods. I’d gone for a walk because I couldn’t get my mind around the concepts in an article I was working on, entitled “Embracing our Brokenness.” Suddenly, my jumbled thoughts fell into place. The suffering and pain that enters our lives is like the crashing and thrashing of that robin in the underbrush. It is the noise that stops us in our tracks. Pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, sends a loud message: Slow down! Pay attention! We’re forced to put everything else aside in our attempt to decipher the source of the noise; in our endeavor to make sense out of seemingly senseless suffering.
At first, our attention is focused on the brokenness. Where did it come from? Who is causing it? Why me? Why my loved one? How do I get rid of it? Gradually, when we stop struggling to find an answer, when we simply accept the fact that this broken place is now a part of our lives, we begin to sense a presence. Like the doe encountered on my walk, it is a presence of great calm, great beauty, great power and great mystery. Although we sense the presence, in order to see it we must turn our full attention; heart, soul, and mind; toward it. When we do so, we discover that it is Christ himself, waiting in the midst of our brokenness
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the forty days of Lent. Some of us will use this time to reflect on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and what they mean for us personally. But many of us, in our rush to get to Easter, will dash past Good Friday and the image of Christ dying on the cross. After all, we think, we are a resurrection people. We want beautiful crosses; empty crosses of gold, burnished copper, polished walnut. We shield our eyes and spirits from the gruesome details of death by crucifixion.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Our God is a suffering God.” Jesus’ suffering on the cross is central to understanding the character of God. A God who never gives up on us; who loves us, broken, disobedient and sinful people that we are. A God who loves us enough to send his Son into the world as a living, breathing, human being; a man who, although fully divine, experiences all that it means to be human, including the capacity to suffer. A God whose power is displayed through weakness.
In the words of Paul , “…We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Cor. 1:23-24). It is through Christ’s suffering and death on the cross that we can be assured not only that we lived as a redeemed people, but that our God stands with us, cries with us, and suffers with us in the broken places of our lives.
Each Lenten season we are given a new opportunity to meet Christ at the cross. Find a regular time to sit in silence. Contemplate the suffering He took on for you. Share your broken places with Him. Cry out to Him. Cry with Him. Allow yourself to simply wait with open hands.
The Lord has a gift for you. He stands in the shadows. Do you see Him? His beauty will take your breath away. He is speaking through the pain. Will you take time to listen?