Friday, March 25, 2016

"Christ's Passion": a poem by Mary Karr, for Good Friday

I shared this poem, "Christ's Passion" by Mary Karr, here on the blog a couple of Good Fridays ago -- but I like it so much I thought I would repost it.

I like how Karr plays with the ideas we might have about Jesus' death: that maybe He didn't "really" feel it so much because He wasn't "really" human; or that lots of worse things could happen (or have happened) to a person than happened to Jesus. But if Jesus experienced everything humanity has experienced in a moment of time, the suffering must have been acute.

I'm also moved by her last line, how she puts us in that in-between time after Jesus has died, but when no miracle of resurrection has yet happened -- and all we can do is hope.

Christ’s Passion 

Sure we’re trained to his suffering, sure
the nine-inch nails, and so forth.
And the cross raised up invoked

the body’s weight so each wound tore,
 and from his abdomen a length of gut 
dangled down, longing towards earth.

He was a god, after all.
An eternal light swarmed in his rib cage
no less strong than the weaving nebulae that haul

this dirt-speck planet through its course.
Surely his flesh mattered less somehow, less
than yours to you. He hung against steel rods

with his whole being, and though the pain
was very pure, he only cried out once.
All that was writ down. But what if his flesh

felt more than ours, knew each breath
was a gift, and thus saw
beyond each instant into all others.

So a morsel of bread conjured up
the undulating field of wheat from whence it came,
and the farmer’s back muscles

growing specific under this shirt
and the sad, resigned pace of the mule
whose opinion no one sought.

Think of all we don’t see
 in an instant. Cage that in one skull.
If Christ saw in each

pair of terrified eyes he met
every creature’s gauzy soul
then he must have looked down from that bare hill

and watched the tapestry teem
till that poor carcass he borrowed
wept tears of real blood before they

unhooked it and oiled it and bound it
round with linen and hid it under a stone,
to rise again or not, I can only hope. 

-Mary Karr Viper Rum, Penguin, 1994


  1. Beautiful. Thank you, Jeannie.

  2. What if he felt more - there is a concept that makes me pause. What if joy and pain and suffering and love were all more real to Jesus - felt more fully by Jesus - than anyone else has ever known?

  3. Thanks for introducing me to this poet, Jeannie. I'm with Tim above. That line caught my attention too. It's true that maybe we assume it was "easier" for him since he was God as well as man. But I think we're wrong.

    1. I'm glad this spoke to you, Betsy. I actually haven't read a lot of Karr's other poetry, but based on these two, I want to read more.

  4. That line that Betsy and Tim pointed out struck me, too. It reminds me of a new Christian, an immigrant from my ESL class who was new to America, English, and Christianity. She asked me if Jesus felt pain on the cross. When I answered yes, she was very troubled. Honestly, until Jung Suk asked me that, I really hadn't thought much about it, preferring not to dwell on it. A prof at my Christian college had given a gruesome chapel talk about what happened to the physical body during a crucifixion; I was so depressed and overwhelmed with despair already that I had to stop listening to him. It was causing me visceral pain.

    It's a beautiful poem, and I'm glad that you shared it. It's more powerful for me to read poetry about the suffering of Christ than to hear the biological aspects.

    1. I agree, Laura.

      I can relate a bit to your example of the chapel talk. I go to a women's study group at my church; we are pretty casual. One day a couple of years ago a young woman said she wanted to share something, but she didn't say what; and she put a video up on the screen. It was the crucifixion scene from The Passion of the Christ. We were totally unprepared for it. Everyone sat there in silence but I just wanted to run out of the room. I think if I'd known what to expect, or if there was some context (e.g. a Good Friday service) I might have reacted differently -- but it felt offensive. Not that I'd prefer to be in denial, but it was just too much.


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