The Hardest and Holiest of Weeks
The ancient Celts gave us this phrase to capture the feeling of space and time when heaven and earth are scarcely separated. My life has held a handful of these sacred moments and holy grounds. I imagine yours has, too.
I always recognized these encounters in space and time by their sheerness—the sense that I could simply reach out and touch a Presence that I did not feel elsewhere.
Where walls once stood solid and strong between here and heaven, everything collapsed for a brief, beautiful instant.
One year I suffered a deep hurt during these days and had to start a long learning of what it means to forgive. Another year someone I love came to a point of crisis in this week, and I had to witness another kind of suffering unfold too close to home.
Over time I have journeyed through these days inside and out. Trying to make sense of the stories we tell of death and resurrection. Trying to make sense of my life as it intersects with the stories.
Some years—and this is clearly one—I have been tempted to protest that the trek through the Triduum is too much. That I cannot bear to enter in when life is already so weighty and waylaid.
How wrong I am.
This week is thick with God. It is the farthest thing from thin. It plunges us into the hardest parts of human nature—betrayal, hatred, violence, revenge, death—and it drenches us in divinity that changes everything.
We cannot escape God this week. Christ waits for us around every corner.
And I need this truth now more than ever. Or I will stay stuck in death’s tomb.
. . .
When my infant daughters died, I prepared myself for a thin place. Surely this would be what it feel like to hold two lives as their souls went beyond.
Instead I was shocked to find the exact opposite.
Everything was thick. The hospital room, the NICU, our arms themselves—all of it was thick with God. Thicker than anything I have ever felt. Thicker than everyday language can convey.
It felt as if my breath, my eyes, my heart, and my whole body were covered by a layer of love that I never knew existed. As if God were above, beneath, behind, before, beside, and within us. As if everything I had lived up until this point was a pale imitation of real.
Here and now was heavy, but thick with holy.
. . .
The night before I had left for the hospital, hoping that Saturday’s surgery would succeed in severing the connected blood vessels that were making the twins so sick, I had a last-minute thought before the boys went to bed.
I grabbed a small bottle of holy water from a windowsill in our bedroom, a gift from a friend’s pilgrimage to Lourdes. I asked our sons if they wanted to do a blessing, one of their favorite practices.
We sat on the messy floor of their bedroom. All three boys jumped around in pajamaed chaos post-bath, laughing and wrestling like lion cubs.
But as soon as I opened the bottle, they scampered into a circle around me.
Each one held out his hand to press a finger to the bottle’s rim for a drop of holy water. Solemn and smiling, they traced a cross on my forehead. They asked me to bless them in turn.
Then I asked them if they wanted to bless the babies. Without hesitation, they pressed wet warm hands against my giant belly, feeling their sisters kick and squirm inside.
That moment of blessing will be forever sealed in my memory as a thin place. A shimmering flash of hope, in the face of all we feared, that stretched open my heart to let God enter in.
And if it had not been for this thin place before Maggie and Abby’s birth, I might not have grasped the overwhelming thickness of love during their deaths.
. . .
Perhaps Lent does the same for Easter.
It pulls back the veil between us and God to sear into our memories how deeply we are loved and how desperately we need this love.
It prepares us to enter into the thickest of days: the intensity of Triduum that we cannot escape.
And it blesses us, pressing the cross deep into our heart and hands, as we begin this week.
The hardest and holiest of weeks.