I learned the value of repetition from my college chaplain. Granted, I knew repetition had its uses in grammar and math classes, and in practicing music (how else is one to memorize the multiplication tables, or the proper conjugation of the verb “to be,” or to learn the really rough spots of Chopin?). But it hadn’t quite sunk in that our hearts learn the same way–they take things in only after weeks, months, years of repetition. Why? Maybe at least in part because constant repetition allows you to turn off your mind at a certain point, so you can take the thing in on a deeper level. As long as the conscious mind is engaged in a thing, it holds it out–away from the self, if you will–in order to scrutinize it and understand it. But once the mind gets turned off, the thing can take root in you, because you’re no longer keeping it at arm’s length.
Again, our school chaplain taught me this, not directly–but just by repeating certain things over and over and over again during the almost four years he served our spiritual needs on campus. Sometimes then I would think, “Okay, Father, we get it…you’ve said this like a million times before.”
But now I couldn’t forget if I wanted to, because so many of his repeated lessons sank in, and are still sinking in, and will probably continue to sink in for the rest of my life.
I’ve been reflecting on one of those lessons for the past couple weeks, as the Church has readied itself for Passion Week and (soon!) Easter. Father talked about Our Lord’s vulnerability, and the meaning of “vulnerability”–literally, the ability to be wounded. Christ is the exemplar of vulnerability, and in his Passion he says to each of us, “I wish to be able to be wounded by you.” He became man precisely in order to be vulnerable.
And I do not understand this. Why does the human heart require that a thing be vulnerable in order to love it? Why did God have to come down from heaven and become infant/child/man/condemned prisoner…and now bread…to teach us how to love him? And it’s not only love of God, but love of one another: love (real love) doesn’t happen between people until each becomes vulnerable in some way to the other. I know this; I have seen it in my own life and in the lives of those closest to me; and I don’t get it.
“I wish to be able to be wounded by you.”
I’m so glad to have that phrase to accompany me as we move into the celebration of the Passion. And of course, one of the greatest fruits of this reflection (thus far) has been my own humbling…as always. Without fail Holy Week presents a great opportunity to come nose-to-nose with my many imperfections. This Holy Week I’m having to face down a particularly nasty one: that in the face of this need to be vulnerable, my initial reaction has always been the cowardly one. I’d rather not love than face the possibility of being hurt. If the cross, with all the blood and horror that accompany it, presents a true portrait of love, maybe it’s better to do without.
As a single person, it’s particularly tempting to reject the whole concept of vulnerability. My state in life doesn’t necessarily require it of me; the world around me encourages me to be strong, impervious, aloof; and being a “career woman” actually flies in the face of vulnerability. We’re supposed to display our strengths and spin our weaknesses to sound like strengths. To be vulnerable can even be dangerous, depending on how ambitious you may be in your field.
Besides, aren’t I getting along just fine without love? I’m comfortable. I have friends and a busy life. I enjoy my work. I find fulfillment in this project, that service opportunity, in travel, in hobbies, in long walks by myself and in bike rides. I’m continuing to grow in my spiritual life–and wouldn’t human love take me away from my carefully ordered prayer routine? Might it not tempt me to love someone else as much as (or more) than Christ?
With these and a thousand other excuses I shield myself from vulnerability. I wear all sorts of armor, to cover up my weakest spots.
And tomorrow is Good Friday. We will stand and watch as Our Lord has even the clothes on his back stripped from him, as he opens his hands to the soldiers’ nails, as he hangs subject to the taunts and stares of an angry crowd, as he dies. I think there may be only one way to start peeling off that armor we create for ourselves: we have to repeat those words to him: we have to stand at the foot of the cross and say to him, “I wish to be able to be wounded by you.”
Teach me, Lord–teach us–how to be vulnerable as you were vulnerable…as you continue to be vulnerable, even in your triumph.