Tag Archives: spirituality

The Importance of Agony

My sister and I were agreeing the other day that March — which supposedly comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb — continues to be one of those trying periods of every year. Because Lent always falls during this time, I half joked that all of Lent can feel like the Agony in the Garden. And then this morning she sent me an excellent article on this topic, and I started to make sense of the happenings of this past week.

Let me start with a definition, of course:

“The word agony is not just a pious term from the Rosary or other traditions; it’s a term from Scripture. In Greek they talk about Christ’s agonia. We know what agony means in English, but in Greek, at the time of Jesus, it was also a technical term for what athletes did warming up for the Olympic Games. During that warm-up, the Greek athletes would produce a certain sweat which would warm up their muscles and ready them for coming combat. That sweat, that lather, was called their agonia.

Luke is telling us that Jesus does an agonia to get ready for his passion. In essence, Luke is saying, we don’t move from being self-pampering to dying on a cross without some preparation. The Agony in the Garden is the warm-up, the readying, the agonia for the Passion that follows.”

As an athlete, this speaks to me. I don’t walk into the gym, start putting weights on the bar, and attempt my max back squat before I’ve even taken off my sweatpants. Agonia = warm-up. Check.

It goes on:

“Remember the old translation of the Our Father? In place of “and lead us not into temptation,” we used to say, “and do not put us to the test.” What is the test? We’re telling God something like, “God, in my life I know you can test me the way you tested Jesus. I know you can make me sweat blood, but cut me a little slack. Make these things a little easier for me in my life so I don’t have to taste that complete darkness.” See, though, that darkness is the test of the moral athlete, inside of our moral loneliness. It’s not the test of our physical capacity to withstand pain.

…The Passion is not about the blood and the ropes and the whipping and how much Jesus endured. It’s about something we’re meant to imitate. It’s about our moral and emotional athleticism the next time we have temptation. It’s about the test inside of love, and it happens in a garden.”

Again with this idea of athleticism… elite athletes fuel themselves well and train accordingly in order to push themselves to a physical limit and beyond. So for me this begs the question of how might I be fueling my moral and emotional strength to prepare myself for great tests. Part of that is certainly in how I take care of myself physically (healthy body, healthy mind) but also in the people I allow to be close to me and become my models. If I want to be morally and emotionally strong, then I have to surround myself with others who are also trying to “train” in the same way, or who are already strong in that way. Thankfully, I am privileged to have these relationships in my life.

What I think is incredible, as I have written previously, is that once we move through agonia to acceptance of whatever hard test we face, in the end we get to the light. Even when it seems like the light will never return or is going to take its sweet time, it does. So even while this past week has been difficult in its own way, the only path to the other side is through. Watch me pump my emotional muscles.


Catharsis

“The process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.” (derived from a Greek verb that means “to purify, purge”)

This has been a long week, one that has weighed heavy on my heart. Many many times this week my grief backpack has been opened up and brought me to tears. On most days of my life, I will say that I “hate” crying because I’m kind of an ugly crier — it shows on my face for hours after I’ve pulled myself together again. I also, in an unusually self-conscious way, often think that crying makes me feel or seem weak. But more often than not, my tears have been the emotional release I have needed that I couldn’t express in words.

Throughout the past seven days, the overall themes of life & death have been on my mind. Never more so than when one of my very best friends called me late on Friday morning to tell me that after battling illness and pain for an extended period of time, it was very likely that her dad was going to die. Her family had already decided together that they would not resuscitate him. As soon as she started talking, I had tears in my eyes, because I could literally feel the pain in her heart through the sound of her quavering voice… and because I felt sort of helpless and far away; I so wanted to hug her. But I took lots of deep breaths to steady myself and allowed us both to sit in moments of silence on the phone as needed. What struck me the most was not only the fact that she was crying while talking to me, but that she said her mom had “finally” let herself cry that morning as well. In my head, I knew that they both needed to do that, to let out that huge mess of sadness and anger and relief and love and whatever else all at once. Catharsis.

The next morning she called again to tell me that he had passed away. Another kind of catharsis — releasing him from this earthly, physical pain into Eternal Life.

I don’t know what it’s like to lose a parent, and when the time comes I will learn what it means for myself. I’ve been trying over these past few days to make sense of it, and there are only a few things that come to mind. The first is that my mom, irreligious as she may be, has always taught me that each of us will eventually be called back to our Maker, and that is a basic fact of life. And because we have little control over when that moment will be, we have to live the life that we want to have now and love the people the way we want to love them now. The second is that with every ending, we are met with a new beginning. In the Hero Cycle of literature, once the Hero figure goes through the Journey and reaches the Return, guess what happens? There is another call to action that starts the next cycle. So it is with the passing of my friend’s father… I trust that his love and his spirit will continue to guide her as she enters into a new phase of living as a daughter, a sister, a future wife, a friend, a woman reaching for her next goals in life and love.

So even while I am praying for and thinking about my friend and her family, there is a part of me that knows that this moment — as sad and painful as it likely is — is also a time of renewal for her family, to reconnect and strengthen their sense of Love for each other. May their tears provide much-needed catharsis and lead them to a place of Hope.

For her father: Eternal rest, granted to him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.