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Maundy Thursday



If you have been reading my posts, you know most of my story. You know that during the three weeks surrounding Easter of 1981, I went from being a a wife with a husband and a young teenage daughter and living a small-town middle-class life to being a single mom living on the edge of poverty. You also know why this happened: I caught my former husband in the act of using our daughter for his own selfish sexual and self-satisfying purposes, and I reported him to the local police. Did you ever think that one phone call could bring about such a dramatic change? Believe me, in my case, it did! And I’m still reeling thirty-three years later! No doubt, my daughter is feeling the effects of my phone call, also, but I can only speak for my own response with any certainty. And sometimes I’m not even certain of own feelings.  

Today is April 17, 2014. If your daily life is guided by two calendars, the secular calendar and the ancient liturgical calendar that marks the seasons, festivals, fast days, and feasts of the church year, today is Maundy Thursday. Easter is late this year. It falls on April 20th. In 1981, Easter Sunday fell on April 19th—just one day earlier than the date this year, 2014! “So what?”, you may ask. I believe that the proximity of Easter this year to the date of Easter in 1981 partially, at least, explains the peculiar symptoms I have been having for the past few days.  

I’ve never experienced a true panic attack, the sort that mimics a heart attack, complete with chest pains and shortness of breath, but on Monday, April 14th, I came close to this experience. I felt sick to my stomach, spacey, fragmented, numb, and I wanted to run as fast as I could, to get away from danger, but no danger was present. My present living environment, unlike my living environment in 1981, is safe. Chehalis is a small town, and the local news reporters seem to go to great lengths to find evidence of any criminal activity. A gunfight in Portland, Oregon, might make the headlines; here, an elderly man clad in a bathrobe, digging through a front-porch trash bin made the headlines. I do not share my apartment with any creature other than my cat, and she poses no threat to my well-being. On Monday, then, I used my powers of reasoning to keep myself grounded in the present and simply waited, trying to use my willpower to make the feelings go away. Eventually, the acute reaction faded a bit, and I was left with the old familiar sense of panic in my gut.  

Because I had experienced this gut feeling at various intensities since I was four or five years old, I was accustomed to the feeling and able to go through Tuesday and Wednesday with close-to-normal functioning. However, for some reason, I did not connect the dots—I did not understand why I had my Monday’s experience. I also did not understand why I was more aware of my gut feelings of panic and anxiety on Tuesday and Wednesday than I normally am. But this morning, Thursday, April 17, 2014, I knew when I awoke that I had connected the dots during my sleep: My body remembers what happened those thirty-three years ago. My body is telling me something important, and I need to pay attention. My body is saying to me, “Hey, I was there, too! Don’t forget that! Everything that affected your psyche, your mind, your soul, and your heart those Eastertide weeks in 1981 affected me, too. I remember!”  

As I lay in bed this morning, pondering my new insight, I knew that an apology was in order: I felt moved to acknowledge and praise the work my body has done for me throughout my life, especially through the years of my childhood and my marriage. For all those years, my body steadfastly housed and protected the rest of me as I endured childhood abuse and neglect and, later, spousal abuse. My body faithfully saw me through a successful four years in graduate school and, later, through my community college teaching career. Now that I have been retired a while and am considered “elderly” at age seventy-five, my body is showing signs of wear and tear, but I can forgive it for that. After all, the stress of my experiences has taken a toll on my body. I consider myself to be fortunate to have been as healthy as I have been to this point.  

Thus, this morning I thanked my body for all its faithful work in sustaining me thus far. After giving thanks, I apologized to my body for past neglect and lack of appreciation and pledged to be more mindful of my body’s needs for tender care in the future. I don’t know how many more months or years I have left in this life, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I be more attentive and tuned in to my body and that I consider my body’s needs and choices when I make a decision as to what to eat or drink or how to spend my time. This will be a start, at least, in letting my body know that I appreciate it for all its faithful work in the past and that I value its contribution to my future well-being, whatever that contribution may be.  

But back to Maundy Thursday: This day during Holy Week is the day when Christ is fully aware of his fate. He knows he is going to die on the next day, Good Friday, according to the ancient liturgical calendar. He knows that one of his disciples is going to betray him, and he knows that his fate is sealed. He cannot escape his purpose and his sacrifice. And yet, despite all this, he gives the commandment that I find absolutely amazing! After he washes the feet of his disciples in preparation for the Passover meal, he commands them “to love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) Amazing!  

So what does this day, Maundy Thursday, signify for me today? And how does it relate to my insight of this morning? For one thing, on this Maundy Thursday I am acutely aware that I am mortal, and I know I am going to die. I don’t know when I will die, but I know that I will die. I am fully human, and human beings die. We mortals do not live forever. Today, on this Maundy Thursday as on every other Maundy Thursday in my life, I am more aware than usual of my mortality. 

Also, I am aware on this day that I have a choice. I can choose to die a slave to bitterness and hatred, or I can die a free person with a loving heart. Since I do not naturally seem to tend toward hatred and bitterness, I do not foresee dying enslaved by either condition. However, I can’t be sure of that unless I make an effort to increase my awareness of those two conditions and then change what I need to change to avoid being caught up in them. God knows, to anyone who examines the first forty-two years of my life, it might seem that I have good reason for bitterness and hatred! But I don’t feel bitterness toward my past situations nor do I feel hatred for those who abused me. I just don’t! I seek to understand my abusers more than I nurture hatred for them. From what little I know of hatred, I can say that hatred is a feeling that I do not want—now or ever!   No, I choose to die with a loving and peaceful heart, and I cherish the fact that I am free to make that choice.  

By the end of the winter the bird had found and given away so many crumbs of bread that they would have equaled in weight the loaf upon which little Inger had stepped to keep her fine shoes from being soiled; and when it had found and given away the last crumb, the gray wings of the bird suddenly became white and expanded.

“Look, there flies a sea swallow over the sea!” the children said as they saw the white bird. Now it seemed to dip into the water; now it rose into the bright sunshine; it gleamed in the air; it was not possible to see what became of it; they said that it flew straight into the sun.

(Excerpt from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Girl Who Trod On A Loaf.”)