March 30, 2018. Good Friday.
As a Christian, Good Friday is a day I celebrate the death of my Savior. Strange, huh? Said better, I celebrate the Way Jesus died for me and for the sins of the world. Good Friday reveals humanity at our worst — betrayal, false arrest, phony trial, mob mentality, torture, execution. Yet Good Friday also demonstrates humanity as we were designed to be — faithful, sacrificial, loving to the end.
March 30, 2018.
World Bipolar Day recognizes the almost 6 million persons who live with this mental illness that can be both animating and debilitating. Persons with bipolar are often counting as some of the most creative, inspired, intellectual people past and present. But the ravages of the brain disease often lead to destructive behavior, even death.
Today I reflect on this special day for my faith and my mental health from the friendly womb of my basement apartment. I’m listening to the smooth rhythmic jazz of Marcalis plays Monk, drinking a mug of Seattle’s Best 6th Avenue Bistro, leaning back in my leather high-back chair as I ponder the freedom of my expression.
It was very different on Good Friday, 2008.
I spent Holy Week that year on the psych unit of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. I was very disoriented. Not only was my mind naturally disjointed from the lack of chemical balance in my brain; but I had also served nearly two decades in pastoral ministry. Holy Week was the busiest week in the busiest season in an already busy profession. This year I was confined to a place where all I could do was think, and I couldn’t do that very well.
But God is never far from us, even in the outer reaches of a 9th floor psych ward. I asked for a chaplain to visit. I can picture him today. A thin Korean-American man in a black suit with a large cross necklace neatly tucked in his breast pocket. He carried a thin Bible in his right hand.
He invited me to sit in a quiet corner of the lounge and asked for my story. I told him of my faith, my family, my ministry. I told him I had tried to end my life and I didn’t know why. He listened, commenting little. His nurturing tone and kind expression put me at ease.
He asked if I might like to attend a Good Friday service. He said we would have to get permission, that I would need to be accompanied by a staff person, but he thought it could be arranged. I said I would like that very much. He placed his hand on mine and prayed words I don’t remember but desperately needed.
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The hospital chapel was cavernous. Cold. Dank. Lovely. Less than a dozen of us gathered there to remember the death of our Savior until he comes again. The sound of the celebrant reading Scripture sparked memories for me of words prayerfully spoken, words that cut to the heart, words that cut through the lies we tell ourselves and those we tell about others. The last words of Jesus cried out on the cross show his unparalleled divine compassion:
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“Behold your son: behold your mother…”
They also show his desperate humanity:
“My God, why have you forsaken me.”
And finally, relief mixed with amazing dedication:
It is finished. …
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
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No one has suffered quite like Jesus, a totally innocent man executed for the crimes of others. Many, however, bear crosses put upon them by a culture fearful of what can not be known and controlled. People converting from other religions are being threatened and tortured for their faith. Persons with mental illness are thrown into soul-stealing prisons rather than rehabilitating hospitals. In the Spirit of Christ, we can speak the Truth that nothing, not even the threat of arrest, torture. even death, will separate us from God’s love.