Guides through the Shadow (2) – Christina Rossetti’s “A Better Resurrection”
Pain has different textures: the acute suffering of being torn apart by grief or self-sacrifice, or the dull ache of anxiety or sorrow after the initial pangs have passed. And, more subtle and more terrible, the inability to feel anything at all. It is peculiarly harrowing because one is so helpless; both tears and anger can be expressed outwardly, but this particular form of pain seems intractable.
Numbness is terrifying because it paralyzes not just emotions but thoughts. Hope becomes well-nigh impossible, precisely because this form of suffering is that of being frozen, static.
That is precisely why the Resurrection matters. In every way our Lord has suffered as we, and more so: and so when we feel imprisoned by our pain, unable to do the slightest thing to change how we feel, incapable of any action that could possibly free us from the suffocating weight of anxiety – look to the Cross.
No state of helplessness is deeper than death. No condition of numbness is more complete than that of death. And so, when we are at the foot of the Cross, we should look up to Him who hangs upon it. Dead. When they took Him down, and laid Him in His mother’s arms, our Lord was utterly helpless, immobile, unable to respond – he was dead.
He knows how we feel; He experienced it, all the way to the bitter end, in the tomb.
And God raised Him, on the third day.
In “A Better Resurrection,” Christina Rossetti takes us through suffering into the experience of transformation by our Lord:
“A Better Resurrection” by Christina Rossetti
I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall–the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.
To have “no wit, no words, no tears” can be terrifying, an emotional death-in-life. In that state, we cannot revive ourselves, but can only cry out: “O Jesus, quicken me.” Yet part of the trap is that while we are in the shadow, we often cannot see even the possibility of new life: “No bud or greenness can I see.” Into this “barren” and “frozen” state, though, Rossetti recognizes that the life of Christ will rise, like sap in a tree as spring arrives.
The way of the Cross is also the way of life and peace – always, though by the very nature of it, we don’t see that at the time. What we can recognize, though, even at the foot of the Cross, is our own brokenness. We cannot mend the “broken bowl” of our own heart, and in this condition it can’t hold even “One drop of water” for our parched and needy soul. Here, in the shadow, we can see the reality of our weakness: that we must be re-made in order to be whole once more.
Yes, this will be painful: to be remade, we must be “Cast in the fire” so that the holiness of God will burn away all that is not of Him. But when it is done – when we have come through the fire – the heart is no longer just a bowl but “A royal cup for Him.” Though it is hard, perhaps impossible, to see at the moment, when we offer ourselves up to Him for healing, He not only heals, but makes us better fit to serve Him.
In her third and final call, Rossetti asks, “Jesus, drink of me.” This line, echoing the Eucharist, reminds us that it is in union with Our Lord that we will find our complete healing.