New light on green

by Ellen Dauwer


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We have returned to "ordinary time" after living the days of the Lenten and Easter seasons for almost a quarter of the year. Yet I find that the hue of ordinary green has a new sheen for me as I re-enter this time. It wasn't the purple of Lent or the white of Easter; rather it was the red of Good Friday that opened a new space in my soul.

It began with dissonant music that made its way into my heart, lodged there, and invited me to new life. I had journeyed into New York City to pray with the group gathered for the Good Friday service at St. Francis Xavier Church. The cantor, accompanied by a clarinet, intoned the psalm response to the first reading: "O God, I put my life in your hands" (Psalm 31). With each verse I found myself being pulled deeper and deeper into the jarring accompaniment that seemed to oppose the cantor. And, as the music journeyed inward, it set the stage and opened my soul for the readings, homily, and prayers that followed. 

Now, I'm not necessarily a fan of dissonant music. I tend to thrive on melody and harmony, symmetry and balance, and rhythm and order. I have an academic background in fields such as mathematics, information systems, and quantitative research. I took refuge in the clarity and predictability of math while in high school in the turbulent 1970s. Yet, even in mathematics there is chaos theory, imaginary numbers, and uncertain probabilities. 

Good Friday was an unlikely day for me to be so moved by its music. It had never been one of my favorite days growing up. I found my mother's silence between noon and three hard to comprehend. The service at three o'clock was filled with a multipage passion reading, lots of standing and kneeling, and processions for both veneration of the cross and Communion that seemed to be interminably long. As an adult, though, I discovered new meaning for the day in the Pax Christi Stations of the Cross in New York City. 

This year I was particularly dreading  Good Friday as I had lost my mother six months earlier. I feared that the rituals, readings, and music would set off another round of tears. But it was the unexpected that caught me off guard and transformed the liturgy, the day, and those that have followed. 

Each time I sang, "O God, I put my life in your hands," I found I meant what I sang. Each time I put a bit more of my life into God's hands.  Each time a bit more of me opened up. Then, as the liturgy moved into the singing of the passion, the homily, the veneration of the cross, and the prayers of petition, I found a new questions welling up within me. What would it be like, I wondered, to put my mother in God's hands, to give my mother over to God on this Good Friday? Stunned at the thought, doubts flooded in. Was I holding on to her? Was I clutching? Was I not letting her go? And wasn't she in God's hands already?

The invitation, though, was compelling: Give her to God and let her rise within you. It was that simple, yet that profound. A handing over in death that there may be life; life in the full. So, I acquiesced and accepted. I gave my mother over to God during the Good Friday service. And very gently I felt my shoulders drop a bit and loosen. 

When I returned to work a few days later and people asked me if I had a good Easter, I longed to tell them about the dissonant music and how the notes entered my soul with a surprise invitation. I wanted to say that I had an amazing Good Friday, but it was so hard to explain. Instead I smiled and said, "Yes!" while inside my heart did a bit of a flutter. 

My heart has found its regular beat now in ordinary time but there is new freedom in the open space created within me through the handing over process. Will this new space be swallowed up like a vacuum that seeks equilibrium? Will another worry or pain or loss takes its place? Or will the open place in me seek Light and shine new rays in this time of green?

[Ellen Dauwer is a Sister of Charity of Saint Elizabeth of Convent Station, New Jersey, currently living in Newark. She spent 20 years in higher education, teaching educational technology and serving in administration. She recently completed eight years in congregational leadership and began as executive director of the Religious Formation Conference in January.]