Bone Hill

This is a guest submission from Emily Smaldone. Emily is a French major at University of Puget Sound, and is originally from Oregon. Coastland Commons visited Lighthouse, a ministry at UPS, in April 2015.

Filling softly the air of the desert distilled
rasps the leather of feet on the bone of the hill;
my skin sweats resolve as my burning limbs climb,
the weight of my grave on the ridge of my spine.
The corpse of this tree will be draped with my own,
beneath noon’s angry sun on this bare hill of bone.

Does he not hear that step, or the rope’s groaning knots?
Does he not feel the fear in this heart that he’s wrought?
I can’t hear the voice I believe I believed;
the Help of the Helpless is silent to me.

He sent Noah the dove that would lead him to land
and Jonah the fish that spat him on the sand;
he sent Abram a ram and so spared his one child,
but what does he send his own son in the wild?
My gaze silently searches for some help bestowed,
but the world I would die for yawns empty below.
And since no human arms offer solace to me,
I’ll die cradled in limbs of this torturing tree.

The inspiration for this piece came from the Stations of the Cross service this past Good Friday. It is a response to John 19:16b-17, which narrates Jesus's walk to Golgotha. It crossed my mind that what the author states in one short sentence ("So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha") must, for Jesus, have felt like an eon. Whatever part of Jesus was human must have suffered in that moment as much as any human can suffer, from both physical pain and the emotional pain of abandonment. That eon deserves to be paused over.

The concept of Jesus's humanity gets snagged on so many other aspects of my faith that it's difficult to extract it and think about it in isolation. My understanding of Jesus's purpose in coming to earth has changed and continues to do so, but at the moment the best I can do is say that what makes the most sense to me is the idea that he came to show us what perfect love is and the violence that human fear can wreak on it. But what renders Jesus's acts of love, patience, and forgiveness truly incredible is not his divinity--the all-powerful divine can, by definition, do anything--but his humanity. At least a part of him was as human as we are, meaning that giving love--giving his life--was as difficult for him as it would be for us, and yet he did it. He showed us how to love even when love seems impossible.

What are the boundaries of Jesus's humanity? We attribute much of our confusion and doubt in the face of God to our mere humanity; if this attribution is fair, does that mean Jesus bore similar doubts, questions, and fears? Did he ever doubt his mission? His own divinity? God's existence? As a human, I so easily feel abandoned, so easily fall into loneliness and self-doubt. How much more must Jesus have felt abandoned when he found himself on a barren hillside, renounced by the man he meant to save, unaided by the god to whom he prayed for help in the garden, totally alone save for his companions in death, two thieves and three dead trees. What desperation clouded his mind before he opened his mouth and asked the question aloud: “My God, why have you forsaken me?" I don't know, but I can't get the question out of my head, and the more the Jesus's human face takes form in my mind, the easier it is for me to love him.