I wore a terracotta skirt to the Tenabrae service. The long, flowing, Bohemian kind. The room was dark and the candles were lit and the shadows they made waltzed in the room. The people were quiet and the scriptures were read and the voices they cried were from another Garden.
A night that reminds us of a Garden where a snake slithered silkily until it crashed into the crushing, crunching, heaviness of a heel. Splat. Violence. Blood everywhere.
My little Granny on the farm used to kill those snakes with a fearless whack of a shovel. She would heave that earth mover above her 80-year-old frame and come down with a mighty thunk of metal force slicing through air. You didn’t mess with Granny Mable. She had seen enough. Lived through enough: Danish imigrant kid at the turn of the century, a couple of world wars, The Great Depression, Vietnam, kids divorced, grandkids with babies and no husbands, death. ‘Dadgum snakes,‘ she muttered to the air and the ear. Then, she would pick up the head in one hand and the still squirming body in the other and finish the tradition. Our Kansas land was squashed in the middle of a river on one side and a wheat field on the other. She let that head fly into the swirling depths of that muddy ole’ creek and watched it flow down, down, toward the Marion reservoir. Half satisfied, she hitched up her britches and walked clear across the farm, past the strawberry patch, a ways into that wheat field, and with a heavy heave and ho, pitched that body into the the midst of that grain. In her mind, she must have imagined the rats and the small varmints that lived there rushing to feast on the carcass. Violence. Blood everywhere.
She would emerge out of the field, a conquering legend still muttering about how the head and the body of a snake will find their way back to each other if you don’t finish the job properly. ‘Make sure that what is dead stays dead.‘ said Granny Mable.
The Garden we are remembering was dark like our Tenabrae service; full of dancing shadows, and betrayal, and blood when sweat turns to blood and ears gush blood, and sleep is dangerous, and flowers make the burial spices, friends betray with kisses, and the demons dance. They dance wild, chaotic, gleeful, insane, screeching steps around the firelight of our fears.
In a Tenabrae service, you sit silently in your black and gray clothes and let the solemn tones of Christ’s broken death body grip at your soul.
But I don’t like death. It’s probably the Granny Mable DNA in me but I pick up a shovel and whack at that death snake every chance I get. I choose life.
And, I sat there in the Shadow Land last night in my Bohemian skirt and imagined that the life we dance is a lot like those shadows playing across the floor; they make darkness tangible, it hovers over you, fills the space between you and the air with a heavy cloak. And I thought that I caught a glimpse of me dancing in the weak flickerings of candle light.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face …
This life that we hold onto is a dark, flickering shadow of the Eden that He created for us.
It took four birthings, four gut-exhausting, soul-wrenching, screaming, excruciating expressions of love pushing life past an impossible threshold into this world for me to get that.
I carried life inside me, created a world there where life grew and flourished and happiness was contentment. My babies were alive and healthy and happy. THAT was LIFE. And then a day came when that reality of life ended so that my babies could have life in a new way; a new life impossible to understand or imagine from within their womb-world.
In a shadow service, you wait until you feel the Lord prompts you, and then you go to the Table and you kneel, and you pray and you break some bread and you drink from a cup and you remember. God does a miracle. God did a miracle. God is doing a miracle.
I hoisted up my corral skirt and I walked through the shadows with my fear of death and I knelt at the Table. And God did a miracle for me. With my head low and the people silent and the shadows of fear and death heavy, the Holy Spirit moved his hand and the scent of bread, freshly baked, warm, good, nourishing, filled my senses. The kind of bread that Granny Mable used to make on a Saturday.
I am the bread of life
And death and shadows and violence and blood are as helpless as the snake under Granny’s shovel. ‘What’s dead stays dead.’
Until, the sun steps into the Garden and ‘shews’ away the shadows like Granny Mable did with the chickens pecking at her feet in the morning. Until the sun spills her golden glory and warms the cold, sleeping Earth. Until the sun fills the emptiness with new Life.
Because once upon a time, the Garden birthed Life from death and the shadows were broken, the snake was crushed, and ONE powerful force walked through Hell resurrected.
He crossed a threshold back into our shadow world with scars from our shovels. He broke that death-snake, flinging it as far as the East is from the West, to show us that what’s dead is dead and the Garden is still there waiting for our return. And He stayed with us for a while, so that we could pitch our fingers into the nail holes and dance with HIm.
My corral skirt rustles as I move away from the Table of remembrance. I like how the gray shadows lose their power in the colorful, Bohemian folds here in the heart of Hungary. With the fragrance of bread in my soul, I am confident that the voice which called Lazarus back from the dead has my name on his lips.
On Sunday morning, I’ll be among the women at the tomb in the Garden. You can find me there in my corral, Bohemian skirt. Dancing.