The dripping blood our only drink, The bloody flesh our only food: In spite of which we like to think That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood— Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
-TS Eliot, East Coker.
Good Friday saw me burned out. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, my body just ached. Not just from four days of back-breaking work on a Hurricane Katrina disaster relief trip to Biloxi, Mississippi, but from years of wear and tear that I was never meant to put on my body, compounded by a weekly emotional struggle to practice my Christian faith in a world which seems to have turned against all outward expressions of hope, faith, and compassion.
Needless to say, this was a trying Holy Week for me. Trying might actually be putting it lightly. The details aren’t necessary, but it turns out some of my fears about the mission trip came to fruition, and not even halfway through I was already questioning what kind of impact two 23-year old hands can make in our country and our world. Struggling with my faith in both the United States and its government, the experiences I was going through in Mississippi underscored a certain sense of hopelessness I sometimes give into. On top of it all, a socially disastrous trip made spending “off time” with a group of young social misfits and approaching elderly people as fun as going to a PTA function, further making me question what exactly the point in even traveling down to Mississippi was. Surely I could be doing something more useful for both myself and the world, not to mention God.
Yes, a humble, soft-spoken Vietnam veteran who was literally screwed by the government was having his home rebuilt, but a voice in the back of my head kept saying “what’s the point? The government is just going to drop funding for Christian charities in the future, and men like this — men and women who spent their entire lives building what little they have — will go on with nothing.” I felt hopeless and insignificant in any menial task I could do, and, as a town councilman told us how 100s of people In Biloxi died — some from what he described as a loss of hope – I found myself falling into a depressed state.
Try as I may, I couldn’t get these thoughts out of my head during Holy Thursday service, and I couldn’t relinquish my continued struggles with fitting in and meshing with the rest of our group members. Not afforded my comfort zone habits of control and forced to adopt a communal lifestyle for the week, I had grown anxious and on-edge by the end of the week. I had also developed a severe case of exhaustion and was yielding to a stomach virus, and when I woke up on Good Friday morning, something in me just said not to get up. And at first, I didn’t.
I need to be forthcoming. Good Friday tends to exasperate my struggle for purpose in life, and it does so because of the fasting component. As someone who has struggled – and yes, continues to struggle – with disordered eating that conforms to a lifestyle that sometimes comes down to checking off boxes, the prospect of taking food off my table – and of taking a daily check-box of tasks to do for the day out of my existence – equates to something very scary. Like a lifelong worker suddenly unemployed, I panic, and begin to feel a sense of having nothing to look forward to or accomplish in a given day. As I lay in my bed Friday morning, sick and exhausted, questioning and upset, I didn’t want to deal with these usual struggles of food and purpose, and I no longer wanted to try to give doing something good for someone else the benefit of the doubt in leading me through my daily actions.
These thoughts obviously hadn’t risen from a vacuum, and as I tried going back to sleep on Friday morning, something in me was recalling my spirit and mind to the previous night. It was Thursday night when a Holy Thursday homily from a local priest– a convert to Catholicism – had brought all my issues to a climax, and unknowingly forced a blanket of emotion upon me.
The priest, of course, had begun his Homily with familiar allusions and metaphors of the Eucharist, as well as the story of Christ washing the Apostles’ feet at the last supper. The reference made me remember the T.S. Eliot poem East Coker, in which the sharp contrast of a “Good” Friday is juxtaposed with Christ’s bloody sacrifice. It made me think about what an amazing truth dying for humanity is. Forget if you’re a Christian or not – you have to admire the idea of all all-powerful entity humbling himself to the point of allowing its creation to completely invert the master-servant relationship, and you have to find humility and love in that kind of sacrifice. It’s a reminder that the Priest built on when he talked about Jesus washing to feet of those who were his followers. Doing service, selfless service, is then the most fundamentally Christian thing we can do on Earth. It is also something that is never not productive, even when we find no apparent purpose in what may come from our interactions with others. To humble ourselves to the point of putting others before us – something that, to be honest, I almost never do in my anxiety ridden world of young adulthood – is enough. Because in this Christ-like action we give hope to others, and give people reasons to wake up each morning.
It wasn’t a cure all for my feelings about the trip, but it did give me peace of mind on Good Friday, and gave me the strength and resilience to actually get off my not-quite-as-seriously-sick-as-I-thought-ass. While I’ve already decided to forgo this particular mission trip in future years, I’m glad I had the experience. It’s opened my eyes to the call to service, and how charity is worth it. If for no other reason except to provide the all essential component of hope for a single individual, it’s that hope – whether small or great or life-sustaining – which keeps getting up every morning a possibility for billions of people in this world. That’s production. That is sustenance. Not blog posts written or calories counted. Not internet debates engaged in or job applications sent out.
And that kind of hope – hope in the future of our country, hope in knowing our neighbors care, and in my case, hope in Christ’s resurrection and the salvation offered – is what makes Friday Good, and makes Easter what it truly is.