Maundy Thursday is the only day in the year that my heart, soul, and mind know how to hold pain.
I am a person who feels pain deeply. Some of this is depression. Some of it is living as a queer, disabled person in a capitalist, ableist, queerphobic world. A lot of it is loving people who are disabled, queer, trans, black and brown, or in other ways marginalized and under threat.
Some of it is just being human.
Most days of the year, I don't know how to hold my pain, or even how to feel it. I try to avoid it. I throw myself into service for others, or I sequester myself with my books and my computer games. Sometimes I straight up dissociate. I hide in other worlds that hurt less until the pain goes away. I do this because when I don't, the pain feels so overwhelming that I fear I will never stop feeling it. I have sobbed in my room for what felt like hours, knowing deep in my soul that if I don't do something, I will simply never stop crying.
I don't think I'm alone in this.
Years of therapy have taught me what I ought to do with pain: talk to others, create art, and above all else feel it. Yes, there are times and places when it is genuinely not safe to feel all of your pain, but when we keep from feeling it at all, it only grows stronger, working its way subtly in our bodies, poisoning us. I know I need to acknowledge and feel my pain, and yet I still push it away, because 364 days a year, it has no container. If it has no container, it has no end, and if it has no end, it will consume me.
This problem is both better and worse in the time of coronavirus. On the one hand, the pain seems to come out more frequently. I cry more often now. I speak to the people I love about my grief and pain and fear. On the other hand, this is mostly because I, like most of us, have more pain right now. For every time I have let myself cry or reach out these past weeks, there are a dozen where I have pushed the pain away, put on a funny podcast, indulged in a mindless videogame. Some of this has been healthy and necessary; some of it has been bad for me. Some of it still comes from the fear that if I cry an hour, an hour will turn into two, will turn into a day, will turn into the rest of my life. There still is no container.
I didn't expect tonight to be any different. Maundy Thursday has always been the most meaningful night of the church year for me, but I don't think I understood why until this year. Last year, I would have told you it was because it holds the heart of pain that allows us to get to Easter. If we don't feel the betrayal, the denial, the love, and the death of Jesus, then what does Easter really mean?
This year, I didn't think I needed that. Aren't I feeling enough grief? Don't I know fear, loneliness, and death well enough? I was prepared to phone it in (literally and figuratively) to my church's online Maundy Thursday service, then go back to eating chocolate and listening to a book that has nothing to do with pandemics.
But what I learned tonight about Maundy Thursday is this: the scriptures and songs of this Holy Week don't just bring us to a place of pain and sorrow; they hold it for us. They create a container. I found that I could cry for Jesus—betrayed, forsaken, beaten, condemned, and killed—in a way I could not cry for myself or even my loved ones in the present. I could feel the pain, knowing it is shared not just by my friends or family or community, but by Christians around the world. I could feel all the pain I had for Jesus, and for the world, and for myself, and it wasn't exactly that I stopped thinking the pain would never end; it was that it became okay if it didn't. It wasn't that I knew Easter and resurrection would come in a matter of days; I didn't think of Easter at all. It was that pain was simply the proper thing to feel right now, and now was a timeless moment. Now could extend indefinitely, and it would still be now, and I would still be in pain—but most importantly, my church community, and God, and Jesus, would still be in pain with me. We would all be in pain together until the time for pain had passed.
I don't know if this is the right way to say what I am feeling tonight. I don't know if it is helpful to others, or simply sounds as if I am glorifying pain. What I do know is this: living a life where I fear to feel pain has harmed me; worshiping in a way that allows me to feel that pain safely helps me. Helps me in a way that all the therapy and supportive listening spaces in the world cannot. Those are invaluable tools, and I would not be who or where I am without them. But just as much, I would not be who or where I am without hymns, prayers, the story of the Passion, and candles being blown out, one by one. Ritual has the power to hold my pain, to transform it. Ritual is what I need in this time of near constant pain.
I participated online in one Maundy Thursday service with the church I work for right now. Then, without even thinking about it, I went and found the stream for my home church. Then I texted one of my pastors. Then I called a dear friend from my home church. Then I sat down to write this piece. Off and on, I cried. Throughout, I felt pain. It has now been nearly two and a half hours since the beginning of this journey. I am tired. I am still feeling pain, but less pain than I was two and a half hours ago. I cannot remember the last time I sat with pain for two and a half hours. I am not afraid. I think this is what healing feels like.