The Path of Descent
Have you noticed how biblical narratives always say that everyone is going “up to Jerusalem?” I remember being curious about that in my teen years. Like most of us who were trained using conventional maps (obviously made by people north of the equator), I was taught to think that “up” is north. So as a kid, I came to believe that Jerusalem was north of everything … maybe at the “top of the world.”
The ancients, however, had no concept like that. Because they primarily walked everywhere they went, there were only three ways they went: up, down, or flat. Jerusalem is located on the top of Mount Zion (one of seven hills that form Jerusalem), so anyone going to the Holy City was always going up.
We like up. Have you noticed that? We love to think about soaring. A beautiful sunlit day invariably brings our attention (not to mention our mood) upward. We love upward mobility, and many of my own generation were labeled as “Yuppies” for their own self-description as “young urban professionals” or “young upwardly-mobile professionals.”
We think “up” is success, and we think of “down” is failure.
Perhaps that’s what makes following our theme of brokenness through Lent so difficult. We have had enough downward spiraling in a year fraught with pandemic, racism, and violence. We have experienced isolation … fear … trauma … and we just really don’t want to look farther into this darkness.
Yet that is exactly what Jesus does. Fr. Richard Rohr talks about the seven themes of the Alternative Orthodoxy (found in his book of daily meditations, Yes, And …), and the 6th theme is stated as follows:
The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.
Jesus, having gone up to Jerusalem, is now going down to the place of death. If we dare to follow him this week … while not moving too quickly to Easter … we will discover far deeper learnings than we might have thought possible. Here we will learn:
- what it is to stand in solidarity with those whose worlds are darkened by poverty, hunger, and homelessness
- what it is to stand in solidarity with all who are marginalized for nothing more than being the people God created them to be
- how to experience violence without the need to act violently toward others
- how to see brokenness and death as a pathway to wholeness and resurrection
The thing I have learned is that Jesus isn’t “upwardly mobile,” as we think about success and prosperity. Jesus doesn’t call us to go upward. He invites us to go downward to the place of death. Ultimately, Jesus calls us to journey forward to the cross and what lies beyond.
Lord God, be with us on the journey. Amen.