4 April 2010 Easter Sunday
Acts 10, 34-43; Psalm 118; Col 3, 1-4 or 1 Cor 5, 6-8; John 20, 1-9/ Luke 24, 1-12/ Luke 24, 13-25
I want to be naked. I want to strip off my garments and dance spontaneously at the altar of the Lord like King David. This free and spontaneous expression of joy may be frowned upon by the prudish like Michal, the daughter of Saul. But in Scripture, God sided with David and in fact appreciated this carefree abandon.
I will not be surprised if you are scandalized by the first paragraph. If you are, then good. You can hear me laughing.
Nonetheless, I am serious. I wear different clothes. I am a man of the cloth. I bear an image of what priests are expected to be. I also carry the weight of being a Jesuit. People do have expectations of what we are. And it is not easy to be a representative of the Church — or of God. It is harder to become an alter Christus and act in persona Christi. How, in our wildest imagination, can we come even closer to what and who God is? Cmon, you self-righteous, you who say, “But I HAVE to be.” Let me tell you this: “Woe, to you, Pharisees! You hyprocrites!”
Well, I have a secret, concealed under my clothes: I find it difficult even to pray. Now the truth is out.
When I pray, I squat on the floor, sitting with my knees bent and my buttocks touching my heels. Like Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi. I like to lean on the wall to support my back. I rest my hands on my knees, do breathing exercises to relax, and remember I am always in the presence of God. And then I pick up the matter for prayer. And often, my prayer is not inspiring. There are more times when it is dry and desolate. Like waiting for an hour without a cellphone to know “wer u?” and until it dawns on you, he’ll never come.
Aside from the “Our Father” He taught us, I know Jesus said that praying is hard. We have to knock, and knock, and knock. And then, when no one opens the door, we have to try harder and thus, we hammer it repeatedly. And when there’s no one on the other side prying into the locks, but we know someone’s there, we pound on it with all our might, until we hear the begrudging sound of someone dragging his feet to the door. The door is suddenly opened only after great persistence.
It is therefore a major thing when one prays. And because it is challenging, hard and difficult, praying sometimes becomes a planning session.
I find myself meditating on what to do during the day, what requests to grant, appointments to take. It also becomes an emotional event: licking the wounds of yesterdays, imagining talking to a significant other/s like a scene in a cheesy movie. There are more temptations to abandon the meditation and revert to just reading the breviary, telling myself: “at least it’s just 15 minutes of my time” and I can speed it up by doing sight reading which I do when engaging a novel. A quarter of an hour is far better controlled than waiting for an hour, uncertain of what will come.
That’s why I don’t envy the soldiers who guarded Jesus’ tomb. After the rock has been rolled, the tomb has been closed, these centurions stood guard, not knowing what will happen. But at least, something has happened to them when Jesus rose from the dead.
On hindsight, I realized why the older folks, formed in the old school, are more at ease with praying. They never had cellphones, they trusted on each other’s words, and they know what it means to wait. Unfortunately, for an ultra-urban man as I, waiting is a waste of time. Not that waiting is bad. Self-help books said that you can turn waiting into an opportunity. Do something. Be productive. Take out a book. Or out with your cellphone: jot down notes, work virtually, or upload a picture in Facebook. What I do often is to log on to Twitter. By doing so, I add another outfit: I have a virtual personality!
The layered outfit, though fashionable these days, can get too uncomfortable for some time. I just want to take single item out. I want to get naked. The more clothes I wear, the more difficult it is to be vulnerable to God.
Sometimes even the Church’s book of prayers, can prevent you from being stark naked. Most of us are never at ease being vulnerable. So you take it, and mumble the words. But there is something about this book of prayers. If I take the breviary, I honestly skip some parts of the psalms that talks about violence. The psalms have a certain rawness; a certain honesty that is repulsive and at the same time attractive.
Repulsive because if we focus and read them, we encounter the psalmist who acts like a wimpy kid telling God to kill his enemies, to crush the heads of their children to the wall. Psalm 27 says, “Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” How violent can the psalmist get! Can we ever imagine telling God to behead the children of our enemies? Can we even imagine telling God that we’re angry at Him because He did not grant our prayers despite the constant pounding on His door? Many of us even confess how we hate themselves for just being angry! We can’t bring ourselves and be blunt to tell God, that we have been religious and faithful, and granting a little favor is nothing compared to the millions we donated and services we rendered.
But that rawness is attractive because the psalmist — often believed to be King David, or whoever — is so very, very honest to God. Naked. Nude. Without clothes. He can tell God what he wants to say, without the fear of being judged. He can be brutal, gritty, unvarnished and graphic. He can be undisguised, intense, passionate, and unconcealed before the presence of God. Remember Adam and Eve who walked and conversed with God before the Fall? They were great friends; there were no communication barriers. But it all ended when they noticed they were naked, and so they put on leaves to cover their nakedness. So, to pray to God is to bring back the spontaneity of David and the nakedness of our first parents.
If they were able to do that, so could we. And so can I. If there is one place where we can be who we are, it is in God’s presence. And if a chapel, a prayer corner or a church is the area we designate for the sacred, then it is during worship, whether private or public, can we be uninhibited and unrestrained with the naked truth.
As a priest, I have to pray. If I say the Eucharistic Prayer, I lift my arms towards God. I do not pray to the congregation (though some priests do). I pray because I lift up to God the raw desires of my people. I can do that because that is the privilege of my vocation: people uncover their hearts to me.
In prayer, I can be fervent and feverish, valuable and violent, meek and monstrous.
In prayer, I face the greatest freedom. Like being without clothes. It is no accident that the Easter proof of the Resurrection are the clothes laid on the tomb, an empty tomb. Thus, when Christ resurrected, He was naked. Jesus returned to His Father just as He is. The Son is at home.
Job once cried, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again… Blessed be the name of the LORD!” (Job 1, 21). At Easter, I want to be naked. I want to be home. Isn’t this what Jesus did when we rose from the dead? He brought us home.
And at home, I am simply Jboy. No one else.