“Among her research subjects, those who were most in touch with the fact that they could be hurt – could lose, could get it wrong – but went ahead seeking connection anyway were more likely to be happier, to have more satisfying relationships and a higher sense of self-worth.”
(Ayanna Johnson Watkins quoting the research of Brene Brown.)
The mid-March edition of “The Christian Century” is filled with reflections on the theme of vulnerability. That is by design, no doubt. As we come upon Holy Week and Easter our reflections on the theme naturally intensify. What does it mean to have a savior who suffers and dies? What kind of salvation is it that comes through the vulnerability of the cross?
Another author in the same issue writes, “I picture Jesus on the cross, and I feel very little. The crucifixion has become so sanitized in my mind, so normalized and familiar, that thinking of it does not really produce much reaction at all.” Instead, she reads Isaiah 42:14, “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” She thinks of God gasping and panting, physically investing in the new life of redemption, feeling the cost and pain of new creation. Like a woman giving birth God risks God’s life, and rather than fight the pain, God works from inside it to give us life. (Lauren F. Winner)
That’s a different kind of strength than the heroic strength that we sometimes idolize and seek. It is strength of character, strength of devotion, strength of love. It is a strength that produces something other than answers, or our own way, or solutions to our problems. Rather, it offers intimacy. It offers enduring presence in the midst of all that is fleeting in this world. It offers peace and a sense of worth that function well beyond the level of our successes and failures. It offers meaning beyond our own agendas by tying us to the life of a God who is at once intimate and yet always and utterly more than we can imagine.
Easter without Holy Week unites us with the wrong kind of resurrection, the wrong kind of victory. It is wrong because it doesn’t exist. God’s strength is revealed through vulnerability; it is expressed through what the world might call weakness. Like us all, I am still in the process of learning exactly what this means. But, I know that in part it is a call to risk vulnerability myself. It is a call to seek what God offers and not what I want. It is a call to cling less tightly to myself so that I’m free to join hands with Christ. It is a call to rethink words like power and authority so that my understandings and my relationships are shaped by the kind of power that emerges from compassion, authenticity, sacrifice, and love.
I hope that collectively we’ll grow in our ability to answer that call. In a sense, this might become the very heart of our mission. Places wherein this kind of power resides are sacred places; they change lives because in their vulnerability they make room for the risen savior.