Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Thorny Crown

John 19:2-7, 16-22

Padre suffered from severe headaches for at least the last third of his life. I don’t know the cause of his headaches. Since I suffer from severe sinus headaches, this seems a probable source for his as well.

I have found a sort of cocktail – pseudoephedrine and ibuprofen — which reduces the pain enough that I am functional. Padre took aspirin, which reportedly did not help very much. In fact, he eventually became an aspirin addict, which almost lead to an overdose — as I have previously described.

In the years following his retirement, he would often say that the pain was so bad that he was tempted to put a gun to his head. Whether this was an appropriate thing to say to your 19 year-old son is debatable. I suppose the combined pain of the headache and his despair was sufficient that he did not consider the impact of those words on me.

I have been known to make similar statements, in jest. Yes, I know it’s a curious sort of jest, given Padre’s history, but there you go. No doubt some deep dark Freudian stuff going on there.

My last severe headache occurred a little over a month ago. I had hints of it prior to going to church one Sunday, but thought I could get by without taking my "cocktail". As it turned out, I was very mistaken. It got worse during service; worse yet during Sunday School; and was barely able to concentrate well enough to get home safely. I spent the bulk of that day in bed with a cold compress on my forehead. Moral: take the cocktail at the first sign of pain.

It’s difficult to describe the pain, but imagine a heated metal band tightening around your head, at about the level of your temple. Now, imagine knitting needles boring into your brows. At a certain point, nausea joins the mix.

As bad as all that is, it’s nothing compared to a crown of thorns.
Most artists depict as a neat circle about the head. Others believe it was more of a thorny cap. Would have hurt either way. The thorns would not have been dainty rose thorns, which would be bad enough, but major brambles measuring a half-inch to an inch long. And these thorns would have been digging into Jesus’ head, drawing blood.

The Roman Empire did not have to worry about a prisoner abuse scandal. It’s fair to say the Roman soldiers behaved like a bunch of bullies. Being a sensitive child, I have some experience with bullies.
I’m no anthropologist, but I have come to see bullying as a perversion of the survival instinct. When the group senses a weak member, it attacks. Either the weak member becomes stronger or is destroyed; either way, the group (or species) benefits.

This makes a certain type of sense in the school yard, but doesn’t for adult groups, in which social norms discourage extreme violence. However, these norms do not apply to any people seen as outsiders or "less than" — enemies, prisoners, and foreigners.

There’s two ways to contemplate the events commemorated as "Sorrowful Mysteries". One is to see them as "things Jesus did for me". While this reflects traditional thinking, it’s not a view with which I’m comfortable (I hope to go into more detail by Friday). Another way is to honestly appraise the dark corners of your personality to see if you are capable of such acts.

I don’t want to believe that I could be among the bullying Roman soldiers. I want to believe I would not have shouted "Crucify Him!" with the rest of the crowd. But I have to admit either as a possibility.

I believe this to be a matter of constant diligence – what our Buddhist friends would call mindfulness – of my motives and the possible consequences of my actions. Another Buddhist principle speaks of Right Action; in this case, right action would seem to be an application of the Golden Rule:

As I would not want to be hurt, so I shall strive not to hurt others.

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