They came to a piece of land whose name was Gethsemanae and he said to his disciples "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John with him and began to be deeply appalled and harrowed so he said to them "My soul is anguished to death. Stay here and watch." Going on a little he fell on the ground and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might turn away and he said "Abba, Father, everything is possible to You. Take this cup from me - still not what I want but You."
- Mark's gospel
I believe this paragraph, from David James Duncan's My Story As Told By Water, accurately describes what Christ was experiencing on the piece of land whose name was Gethsemanae:
"Wonder is anything closed, suddenly opening...Grateful as I am for this condition, wonder has - like everything on Earth - a dark side. Heartbreak, grief, and suffering rend openings in us through which the dark kind of wonder pours. I have so far found it impossible to feel spontaneously grateful for these violent openings. But when, after struggle, I've been able to turn a corner and at least accept the opening, the dark form of wonder has invariably helped me endure the heartbreak, the suffering, the grief."
It is tempting to focus on the disciples and their inability to sit or watch while Jesus prayed and then see that same inability in ourselves and consequently feel horrible about our weak faith and...don't give in to the temptation.
Advent is a season of wonder, a time when things suddenly opened. Think of the sky opening with angelic praise or the opening of a little Jewish girl's womb. Lent is also a season of wonder, a time when things suddenly opened. But this season's days are violent openings, openings described with words like "appalled," "harrowed," and "anguished." As heartbreak, grief, and suffering rend these openings, the dark wonder is poured in. Dark wonder.
I wonder if he saw a cup? Not the ornate cup of grail lore, but a cup hewn from the dust of the earth. I wonder if, as his feet felt the ground whose name was Gethsemanae, he suddenly saw the grove of trees opened to reveal a cup? I wonder if he set his face like flint toward this cup and began to fall and crawl, like a thirsty man would grope toward a desert pool, only this cup was no mirage? I wonder.
I wonder, if after his Abba directed cry, he reached out and took the cup with harrowed hands? I wonder if he looked in and was appalled at what he saw, so appalled that his hands shook the contents over the rim, spilling the dark wonder down his fingers and wrists? I wonder if he raised this cup and gritted a phrase he had heard his mother speak often: Let it be to me, and then drank he all of it. I wonder if it burned going down? This was not the sweet wine of communion. I wonder if he choked a little and spit some into his beard and reached to wipe it from his lips with hands already stained with the dark wonder? I wonder.
I wonder if, as the last drops passed his anguised lips, he heard a voice he knew well, a voice that gritted: Well done, and then the cup suddenly disappeared? I wonder.
I wonder if he returned to his disciples looking like some feral beast covered in dark wonder, hair matted with sweat and earth, and when they saw him they were sore afraid and knew, on some level, that something had been violently opened among those trees that grew in the land whose name was Gethsemanae? I wonder if they were appalled at what they saw, who they saw? I wonder.
We have left the creche and the shepherds and the wise men behind, my friend. Wake up, for we are in the heart of Lent. These are days of dark wonder.
For it is important that awake people be awake...the darkness around us is deep. - William Stafford