Spirituality of the Readings
The Fury of Love
How sweet of old earth to rain down abundance so fiercely.
I sit on a screened-in porch in Wisconsin, during my yearly retreat. I listen to the delicious, drenching sounds of the huge rain, splattering and slapping the earth.
Is it friend or foe? For sure such a storm could beat us down if we were silly enough to go outside. It’s violence is caused mainly by the need to bring water out of the skies and into the earth as fast as possible. No intention of harming anything. Still I feel a twinge of fright.
The rain ignores me. In fact it redoubles its efforts. Its huge sound gets more huge, like a swell of applause.
I know it carries goodness for the tender, tough earth. Comfort sighs deep within the rough pounding. Huge branches bow their heads to receive their cleansing and their nourishment.
But why is this love so furious? It is sweetly intended but so able to hurt. Maybe “tough love” is what keeps our planet in bloom?
Hopkins addressed God as
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending
and most art merciful then.
Jesus heads into the “dark descending” in this Sunday’s Gospel. He is going to Jerusalem. He loves her and her people, and he wants to shower abundance upon them, even as the rain does tonight. But he knows with increasing certainty that Jerusalem will place him—not merely down a cistern as soldiers did Jeremiah, not just outside the gates and walls—but right straight into the jaws of death. It is a baptism, he says, and he wants it. He shouts to his disciples that he has come to set the earth on fire, blazing like lightning. “How great is my anguish until it is accomplished,” he says.
Is Jesus the storm or the stormed upon? Both. He is filled with the Spirit of God and he cannot wait to let it flow. But at the same time he must stand in the horrible downpour. He will not run away. He walks relentlessly into a storm that has by no means reached its peak.
No wonder he is distraught. Love, rather than being just sweetness and light, consists also of the dark and pounding rain of people’s “no” as well.
I think of the First Reading. There, Jeremiah is literally “stuck in the mud.” He had foretold things too truly and too many times. They threw him into an empty cistern with just enough mud for him to sink into. How could he prophesy from there?
And how could Jesus speak God’s Word from a criminal’s cross?
Down the rain rains. Suddenly I see a single lamp across the lake, shining through it all. A porch-light of welcome! My soul finds some relief. But as I concentrate, the lamp surrenders itself as just an old, white piece of leaf that has caught itself in my screen. Its light comes from my lamp. So I play a game. I shift my eyes up and it is a lantern. I look down and it is a remnant of leaf-life. Back, forth. Which is it really?
Take comfort, since, of course, it is both. Christ makes a home of both.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University