Tag Archives: Taize

Leaving my losses at the foot of the cross

Jesus-sorrows-healing

In the early 1980’s. while working at University Lutheran Church at the University of Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to go on a Palm Sunday weekend retreat with the Taize brothers from Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. I felt privileged to be among this group of pilgrims preparing for Holy Week. The retreat house was in rural Maryland, and signs of spring were all around us.

The small chapel where the brothers led us in Taize prayer services was dominated by a large wooden cross, and we were invited to meditate on the cross.

I remember sitting in front of the cross on Saturday afternoon and imagining the scene on the day Jesus died. I imagined Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalen (my patron saint) at the foot of the cross, overcome with sorrow, crying out in anguish. In my imagination, I joined them at the foot of the cross and looked up at the dying Jesus. I gasped at the sight of Jesus in agony.

As I sat with Mary and Mary Magdalen, I joined in their questioning the scene before them. Poor Mary, recalling the prophesy of Simeon that her heart would be pierced. How right he had been!

Poor Mary Magdalen, losing the only man she truly loved, the man who had given her hope and loved her into wholeness.

How could this be? Where was God in all this? How could God abandon Jesus and us?

Even though Jesus had suggested bad things would happen in Jerusalem, we had no idea he meant this bad. I wondered how I had missed the signs, how I had misinterpreted what Jesus had been saying. How blind I had been, how comfortable in my denial.

As we watched Jesus dying and heard him cry out to God in his abandonment, my heart broke, and I wept along with Mary and Mary Magdalen.

Tears streamed down my face as I thought of the losses in my own life, of times when things did not go as I had hoped, of unmet expectations and crushed dreams. I joined Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalen in the depths of despair. I questioned God’s love and care for me.

And then, one of the Taize brothers approached me and gently invited me to lay my burdens at the foot of the cross. “Lay them down,” he said, “and walk away.” He told me to trust that Jesus would take up whatever was weighing me down.

What? Just let go of the hurts I had been carrying around for so long? Let go of those losses that had shaped me? Those painful events that I had survived and carried as a badge of honor?

The brother sensed my hesitancy, my resistance, and reminded me of the resurrection. God did come through. God is faithful.

By the time we left that retreat house on Sunday afternoon, I felt ready to enter Holy Week, believing that God’s love would transform my sorrow into resurrection joy.

Originally published in Manresa Matters, Spring 2022.

On Retreat with the Taize Brothers

“…and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”

(Numbers 21:9).

We celebrated the Exaltation of the Cross at Mass last Sunday, and I was assigned to read from Chapter 21 of the Book of Numbers. During the days leading up to Mass, I prayed with the reading, preparing to be the lector, and I was reminded of a retreat I had attended about thirty years ago.

At the time, I was working at a Lutheran Church in Philadelphia. One of the parishioners had visited the Taize community in France and when he returned to the States, he had connected with the Taize brothers living in New York City. He arranged for the brothers to lead a Palm Sunday weekend retreat at a retreat center in rural Maryland.

I had been to Taize prayer services in Philadelphia—one hour, once a week—and looked forward to spending an extended time in prayer with the brothers. It was a unique opportunity to spend three days with these prayerful men, and I was deeply grateful.

On Palm Sunday, we listened to the Passion of Jesus and then spent some time in prayer at the foot of a large, wooden cross. Each of us was then invited to approach and lay our burdens at the foot of the cross. We each had a symbol which represented our hurts, sins, regrets—whatever it was that kept us from responding to the love Jesus showed by dying on the cross—and we were to place that token at the foot of the cross.

We had no time constraints and were free to approach the cross when we were ready and in whatever way was comfortable for us. Some hugged the cross, some sat and cried. It was a compelling sight—these people I knew humbling themselves at the foot of the cross.

I, too, approached the cross and imagined myself leaving my burdens with Jesus, wanting to believe that he would pick them up and carry them for me.

The very act of laying down what had held power over me and then turning my back on it reminded me that I have a choice—I can continue to hold onto something, let it control me, or I can just drop it at Jesus’ feet and walk away.

The idea was freeing, and the action helped me experience that freedom.

That image has stayed with me, and at different times over the years, I have visualized myself leaving my burdens at the foot of the cross. Each time, I grow in trust that Jesus accepts them and accepts me.