Seventh Station: Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross

April 2, 2015 § 1 Comment

Artist, Simon Carr Photography by Cristina Balloffet Carr

Artist, Simon Carr Photography by Cristina Balloffet Carr

There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. (John 19:18)

Nailed, between them. How often have I felt precisely that – nailed, between them? What does it mean for you to be “nailed”? For me, I imagine it as that inescapable suffering or fear or preoccupation that pins me down with no hope of escape. It’s not like death, it is death.

And what is this experience for you of being nailed, between them? In John, Jesus in nailed between two thieves, one in despair and one in hope. For me, my experience of fear, loneliness, suffering – death experiences – often feels like I am being nailed between despair and hope.

It’s easy to want to alleviate the pain, which seems so all consuming, reducing me to what feels like nothingness.  There is the old familiar struggle. I feel pain, so I despair, thinking nothing will ever be good again. But how I miss what was good, so I look to find hope, a way out. Hope is elusive, at least the nostalgic hope or the false hope I want desperately, and so I despair in its emptiness. So then I need to get rid of the pain, and I seek out ways to give me temporary false hope again, maybe even a little hit of cheap grace dispensed by comfortable, old ways.

Pema Chödrön has used the image of a child with scabies who feels the itch to scratch, but the more the child scratches the more the child bleeds, spreading the scabies disease.  She identifies three ways we try to scratch our itch – numbing, fighting, and craving. It gives us temporary relief, she points out, but the itch comes back and eventually we scratch ourselves bloody. C.S. Lewis puts it in his way in A Grief Observed: “The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just that time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.”

We are all accustomed to try to rid ourselves of the pain, grief, loneliness, and all the death experiences we encounter. Frank Sinatra once famously was quoted as saying, “I’m for whatever gets you through the night.” I think we all seem resonate with doing whatever it takes to get us through these dark nights. And yet, I think the hard lesson that Jesus is modeling is that instead of pushing away death and coming down from the cross is that we need to exactly stay with death. It’s exactly in staying present to death that we open ourselves for the space of God to break through out of death. We want to hurry on to the resurrection bits, but Jesus reminds us that we need to stay present in the death experiences first.

Thomas Merton’s poem, “The Night of Destiny” puts this beautifully:

See! See!

My love is darkness!

Only in the Void

Are all ways one:

Only in the night

Are all the lost


In my ending is my meaning.

I think we want to get past the ending anyway we can to get through the night to find our meaning, but Merton is rightfully pointing out that in the ending – the death – is the meaning. That is not to say that death has the last word or that death itself is the meaning, but rather that the staying present to experiences of death is the meaning of resurrection we seek, because in those wounds God breaks through to us. We begin to lose that false hope and all those false selves that lie to us to keep us small. Instead of struggling to rid ourselves of the pain, we exactly lean into the pain so that the pain and death no longer has some sort of power over us.

Maybe it looks like for you what it looks like for me when God breaks through by leaning into death. For me, the shame voices start to shed themselves, the ones that might say, “You aren’t good enough. You kind of suck. Why are you so stupid?” We all have some variant of those voices that keep us small. And yet, if I stay present to what is causing me suffering and lean in, I find myself being gentler with myself and with my wounds. I start to realize that God is breaking through in and through my wounds.

As we enter into this sacred Triduum, I invite you to acknowledge your wounds and to stay with them. Let yourself be nailed. Lean into the death. Stay with it along with Jesus so that we might give the space to let the light of the resurrection break free in our wonderfully created beings.

– Nicole Hanley

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