“he threw himself on the ground and prayed” – Matthew
“I am deeply grieved” – Mark
“In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” – Luke
“Jesus began to weep.” – John
I had never used the word ‘heartbreak’ to describe what pain Jesus of Nazareth endured, never until that is, my own heart was deeply broken. It was heartbreak with its myriad layers of indefinable emotion that summoned me to look again at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in a new way. Not for an answer for there are none, nor for a hidden meaning shrouded in my pain, but for something that would assure me that God knew what I came to know – the pain of love lost, the weeping of the soul, and the rupturing of the heart – as well as dreams, one’s home and one’s imagined (read idealized) future. That is what love gives to us. The possibility to dream in tandem with other hearts joined mysteriously to our own. That Jesus was never knowingly ‘in love’ says nothing about what heartbreak he did or did not know. And this is the gravest of the world’s lies – that the only love of worth, or of value, the only love that can be acceptably grieved deeply – is the romantic love elevated for us in its heteronormative scaffolding which has failed to hold up so few crumbling edifices. Perhaps the world might admit the love a parent has for a dead child. But that grief too will be managed and carefully handled by those who wish to master grief around the heartbroken. Love is where love is. It cannot be defined, or manufactured, or contained. It will always transgress whatever boundaries people try to put around it – just like the love of God, coming all the way down from heaven to touch the dusty world – that was not how God was meant to be God in the minds of many.
One’s only way into the Passion of Jesus Christ - that great drama of suffering, betrayal and love, is through hearts that, through some real often visceral experience, have come to know what love is, and found that love is not a pretty thing. Sentimentality has no place in the passion narrative. The cross – its weight and cruelty does not allow itself to be known from any secure distance, and there is no way to get beyond Calvary except through Calvary. For some, the Passion is an invitation into the bitter and unjust anguish of God’s Son... a questionable place for God to find himself by any standards but there are always others in this regularly callous world, who, against their will and in their own despair, find themselves not just witnesses but main actors consigned to a Golgotha of their very own, and not of their making. Crucified without caress. Poised on the precipice of obliteration, wedged between death and despair – where a surrender, rarely voluntary, to the utter meaninglessness of a pain that is so personally ‘ours’, seems inevitable. And it is here, in the world of
turned seminary of the soul
that we are challenged by
the grief of the Son of God whose humanity and vulnerability is so rarely appreciated or praised, or attended to. All at great cost to us and our hearts.
And still, it is in our own experiences of betrayal, of abandonment, of heartbreak - in the very places where we are disavowed of all our illusions, exhausted of all our reserves and disabused of all false comforts that we happen upon, through a sometime grace, a profound and deeper light which shows us where to place our next step... just at the moment when ‘our’ suffering begins to propose itself as a, or the only, viable way of life. For many it is only in the sight of God that it is safe for us to remember all we know of what we have witnessed, as we bear all to a God who experienced through becoming human all that suffering and death and heartbreak means. Perhaps it is here, on our own personal Calvary, that we offer up all created loves, all imagined futures, to the Creator – which seems so foolish, and spiritually dangerous - and yet to spiritualise suffering is wildly, perhaps, the only true earthly refuge from it.
I remember, with a certain kind of spiritual volatility, questioning as I do what can only seem a divine act of cruelty being born at a time and into a world where one’s love is in one way or the other, menaced – despised, even worthy of death. To love and lose love in secret is a particularly unjust destiny and this has so often been the experience of many who love beyond heteronormativity – knowing a love that dare not, in too many places, speak its name. When one adds to this the ways, myriad ways, in which the Christian Church, which I have loved too much, has tied us, all of us, into this web of unreality where we feign the true shape of our existence, the cruelty of truth’s denial can seem like the greatest evil. The denial that love has been put on hold, the denial that lives have been lost, the denial that truth has been suppressed and falsehood exalted... and all in the name of a God who spoke of a truth which sets us captives free. I think if I am honest, this is something I will never forgive the Church for: the almost second-nature way in which I deny my own gut, silencing the truths I know but which my mind calls me to question – and it is strange that I should give this ‘faith’, that I have so rarely seen lived out by those who persecute me, such power, because my body has never lied to me and so many Christians have. Losing love has brought me to the place that one might call an emotional hell. It would not be false to say that I have known the deepest love and the deepest heartache and the struggle it seems is to go through hell and yet remain pliable... to keep on loving, despite the cost... to be like Christ. I am not at all convinced that Tennyson really knew what he was saying when he wrote that ‘’Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all’. But he is right, and telling the truth, which poets do not have to do, when he says that Love is the only Gold. To suddenly lose the gold in your life, is like the sudden and total eclipse of the Son – God creeps out of the room, and you are totally alone, and as God creeps out so does Love and its reassurances along with all of the sanest parts of you, as you search in vain, like a mother hen in search of a young one lost in a storm once again, looking everywhere for that pearl of great price which you know you once so firmly held in the palm of your hand. And are there others, can there be? Or will you search, eternally, for what you held and could hold only once.
All this leads me to reflect on the possessiveness of love and how so often we see our lovers as ‘ours’. The Song of Solomon is guilty of this:
‘when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go’
It implies that love can be found and kept, treasured and secured, all by the quality of one’s hold on the object of love. Yet, for anyone who has had their heart broken, the idea that love sticks around simply because we hold it tight doesn’t bear true. One can love with all one’s being and still find the love flows in one direction. Sometimes heartbreak is just the dawning awareness that no matter how tightly one might hold the object of all our desire, it yet – of its own will – still slips away. For many of us, the hardest part of romantic separation and the severing of ties is the sense that the one whom we would normally seek for solace, refuge, reassurance, the one who would normally soothe our pain and quiet our souls is suddenly the source of our pain and the origin of our hurt. And in the face of this, the world goes on. As it always does. With so few sanctioned public forms of grief and loss. Where would a queer Black priest go to grieve the love he once found and has now lost? Maybe to the other side of death. And down here St Paul thunders: “suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not let us down” but it has let us down, Paul... so now what? Heaven falls silent.
Perhaps it isn’t entirely wrong to see the Passion as what it is – the greatest tale of unrequited love in the history of humanity. And how peculiar, at least to me, that this faith which has Christ’s blood as her dowry, has never fully realized any real theological grammar to articulate anything of value to the romantically broken-hearted? Like Christ, our heartbreak reveals that true love involves all the terrors of life and all the terrors of death. One never acclimatises to abandonment or betrayal if Gethsemane or Calvary capture the truth of the moment. Christ is still wounded, right now. Bleeding from five different places from the hurt the world caused him. Jesus loved his friends such that he shared every petty facet of their small and insignificant lives, and he loved with a love which cost the world nothing but cost an innocent man his life. God wept. God died. God sucked at Mary’s breast. Yet, however we look at it, Christ’s love was matched in so many ways by the strength of the disciples betrayal and the weakness of their initial commitment. Our own betrayals, our own loves, draw us into a new relationship with all we thought our hearts capable of – discovering about ourselves only what is true for every other human being, but which we were too often afraid to admit. That we, all of us, hurt.
‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.’
Perhaps the only motive to go on loving,
having been loved less than we hoped for in this life, is imagining –
that Jesus, one day, will gather all the fragments of
all the fractured hearts of this world, in his wounded hands...
maybe he, holding the sore and broken parts of us,
looks into our eyes – and whispers
first made itself known
to him -
in its uniqueness.
Maybe Jesus will tell us
how our private pain
took up residence
in his heart,
and broke it, first.
Maybe when Jesus
‘it is finished’,
he not only lifted his
soul to heaven,
he was making a vow –
to each of us.
that one day,
all our shattered hearts will heal,
like the wounds still on his body,
will heal too.
‘He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up all their wounds.’
...God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and weeping and heartache will be no more, for these things have all been left behind... .
All scripture citations from The New Oxford Annotated Bible’ 5th ed. New Revised Standard Version.
Luke 22: 44
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’, 1850.
The Song of Solomon 3:4
Psalm 147: 3
*The NRSV reads: ‘he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’
J.A. Robinson-Brown can be found online at: https://jarelrobinsonbrown.com/