Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Shrove Tuesday: Good Morning, Heartache
I have been one acquainted with the night. -- Robert Frost
Hello darkness, my old friend. -- Paul Simon
Today, as I learned from Elena Maria Vidal, is the Feast of the Holy Face of Jesus. instituted in 1958 by Pope Pius XII. One of the Mass readings for this feast is Isaiah 53:3, the prophecy of Christ as the Suffering Servant. Reading it today, I was struck by the words:
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
These words are deeply familiar to me not only as a Christian, but also as a mezzo-soprano, and yet I felt today as if I were reading them for the first time.
Like Charlotte Hellekant's interpretation above of the Handel aria, Isaiah's description of Christ as "acquainted with grief" is delicate and restrained, and at the same time arresting and almost startling. It occurred to me, reading the familiar text today, that Isaiah is making obvious reference not only to Christ's suffering in the Passion, but to something else beside -- to a profound, protracted intimacy with grief, with loneliness, with humiliation, with what Richard Wilbur calls "the punctual rape of every blessèd day." Suffering -- the long, broad, dull, leaden waves of it that break on our hearts, eroding them, in the midst of the rush of life -- was His familiar. Perhaps He even regarded His grief tenderly, with a kind of resigned affection, in the way that Billie Holiday conveys so touchingly in the song "Good Morning, Heartache."
Perhaps Our Lord's acquaintance with grief was more than that; was, in fact, more of a friendship with grief. Not only was He despised and rejected, after all; He loved those who were despised and rejected too, sought them out like a suitor would. Why would He then seek to avoid the grief of daily life, His grief infinitely compounded by the long griefs of those He loved and still continues to love?