Thursday, April 9, 2009

Solidarity With Those Suffering Brings Good Friday Grace

by Marilyn Kirvin

Good Friday arrived a week early for me this year – through no effort on my part, which is usually the way grace works. Last Friday, three of my colleagues and I attended the “Personal Poverty Retreat” at The Downtown Chapel in Portland. This was a day to work with the marginalized in Old Town Portland, to learn more about the agencies that serve the poor there, and to reflect on the experiences of that day and of our own inner poverty.

On Good Friday, we are asked to be with Jesus at the cross… to simply be with, pray with, stand in solidarity with the One who suffered not only severe physical pain, but all of the other pains -- misunderstanding, humiliation, betrayal, and abandonment -- that were heaped upon him that day. Good Friday is a day when we can’t do anything; we can’t undo or make up for what was done. All we can do is be: be faithful, be compassionate, be powerless, be trusting in the God who went all the way to be love for us.

At the retreat last Friday, my “work with the marginalized” (handing out toiletries, socks and blankets to people who were homeless) was so meager. In truth, it was simply an opportunity for me to be with people who also suffer physical pain, misunderstanding, humiliation, abandonment every day of their lives. I sat with a young man who told me that although he’s grateful for the new apartment to which he’d just moved, he preferred to live in prison because he was safe there from the evil on the streets. I laughed with an older Hispanic man as he finally resorted to showing me the elastic band of his boxer shorts because I was just not getting the Spanish word for “underwear.” That morning I felt sad, and powerless, and silly (where did my seven years of studying Spanish disappear to?), and yet also connected to other people at the level of our shared humanity.

Feeling the need to “do something,” to alleviate the suffering of others (as if I could), has always been a temptation for me – in my work as a spiritual director, as a mother, as a friend. Sometimes the feeling of being overwhelmed by the immensity of the world’s problems that I can’t fix has kept me away from opportunities to be with or work on behalf of those suffering in the wider world. And yet, last Friday I was given the grace to simply be there and be with -- as a witness, as a companion, as a human being who shares the same loving God, the same Spirit within us.

That was Good Friday grace: the grace not only to be at the cross with Jesus in his suffering, but also to be with those who are the Crucified Christ to us today; to be at the places of human suffering in our world. And it is Easter grace as well, for we already know that God’s love is more powerful than any force of death in our world, and that, ultimately, this is all God’s work. We are simply called to stay awake, to stand with, and to give the gifts that we are prompted to give by the Spirit at work in us.

And so, on behalf of our staff, we wish you every blessing of this Holy Season.

(For information on the Downtown Chapel, and the Personal Poverty Retreat, go to )


  1. Marilyn, Because of your blog I was able to turn my Good Friday exhaustion into grace. I spent the afternoon, on Good Friday, delivering communion at Kaiser on Sunnyside, our parish hospital. I was given a list of 22 communicants, more than I had ever had before. Right from the beginning I was lost in the new wing and had to call the chaplain for directions, literally. "How do I access the Brookside Wing?" I asked in a panic. I hung up my cell phone, not sure where I was going. I walked out the basement door that I thought he said was the way and walked directly into a brick labyrinth. God was calling me to find myself before I traveled into the lives of his 22 brothers and sisters that day. I only wish I had your insight during the journey.
    Thank for your wisdom and fresh eyes!

  2. Thank you, Nancilee, for your kind words.