The Inner Work of Holy Week

Holy Week is ground-zero for the Christian Mystery. Will be marking this epicenter with a Holy Week Retreat at Christ the King Retreat House, Syracuse, NY. But there is something here that is far more important than our personally getting something deeper and more meaningful out of Holy Week. What actually hangs in the balance is the development of our fullest humanity, the future of humankind, the balance and feeding of the entire universe. Most often, though, we have no idea of the enormity of the stakes. It’s as if we are living in a dream—sleep walking through life. We are lost in our personal agendas and revelries and our entertainment.

The picture is not completely negative. We have relied on conventional religion to give us a sense of what is really real and to give our lives meaning and purpose. It has helped, but it has not taken us as far as we need to go. It has left us stranded on the horizontal and only told us to believe in the vertical. It has not shown us—not led us to—the faith’s deepest treasures.

We are entering the most holy of days—days that mark Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to face his destiny and to fulfill his purpose. Our conventional religion has told us that we should mark this time with penitence and fasting. The only tie that traditional Christianity has been made between Jesus’ destiny and what he did during this time and our own destiny is that Jesus underwent his suffering so that we might be saved. In this we have been encouraged to believe that, if we just might believe that Jesus emerged back into life following his suffering and death, we would be saved and therefore marked with the reward of eternal life.

While I do not want to negate that pathway or even quibble with its veracity in any way, I just think that it by no means tells the whole story. In that conventional picture God’s hand is forced by the depth of human sinfulness to have to sacrifice his only Son in order to make up for the enormity of human sinfulness. But just as incomprehensible as that is the fact that this Holy Week/Easter scenario has Jesus alone on the playing field going through his tribulation and us fully removed and separate watching from the stands.

But that is not the way Jesus moved through life and, I am quite sure, not the way he moved through death. Jesus was forever inviting his followers into the fullness of life as he experienced it. “Because I live, you also will live.” But he is not referring to ordinary life here; he is talking about “Kingdom life”—the full aliveness in life that manifests the qualities of the divine. That is the life to which we are called. And that—that—is the purpose for which we gather this week.

But that having been said, I have to remind us that this is not for our benefit alone. The goal of this Holy Week work is not increased holiness or sanctity on our part. It is true that we are being called into a process by which we might be deeply healed; but it is also true that our work together might contribute to the healing of the rift between the realms. Yes, our work has both personal and cosmic implications, and its importance cannot be overstated.

But to do this work on that level we must go beyond the path that conventional religion has given to us. Please note that that does not mean throwing out the traditional faith claims with which we have grown up. And that does not mean closing the churches. It just means that we can use conventional religious thinking as the vestibule through which we may enter the more interior rooms of the faith. This pathway beyond traditional Christianity shows us how the outer events of Jesus’ historical life are directly and integrally connected to what beats within our own hearts.

This week, then, will introduce us to the experience of this historical event as having cosmic proportions that can most deeply be felt and experienced within a human heart that is truly open and present. Indeed, it is my hope that this week will afford us with the possibility of apprehending the mysteries of Holy Week from the inside— from that spaceless space within—from the place beneath the ego’s addictive strivings where kingdom life can be found and experienced. All this will happen not through mental belief but through corroborative lived experience.

So we will not so much be celebrating the days of Holy Week as a ceremonial drama, marked as it often is with the daily blow-by-blow drama of the journey through Jesus’s last days. While we will in no way be ignoring these details, our Holy Week work will open up inner passage of transformation. Each of the days can become a gateway to the inner transformational touchstone that must be lived into with one’s whole self in order to be experienced. And the purpose is not for our own personal piety, but for the transformation of the whole world.

So our work will not strictly be historical study or theological reflection. While important, alone they will keep us stuck on the horizontal. Instead, Holy Week requires Wisdom Work. This is a different kind of learning—one that involves the interior parts of ourselves in order to become “fully human.” It entails a recognition of a presence that is our deeper nature and includes attention, presence, and will. It takes us within, but then beyond ourselves, in self-transcendence.

Our biggest obstacle in getting there, however, is that we are stuck in thinking and believing that what our ego can grasp—what we can see and measure with our five senses—are the only things in life that are real. And while we have been encouraged to believe that there is a realm beyond this that we might hopefully be able to access after we die, our lives on this side of the grave have been largely confined to this material life on the horizontal dimension.

But Wisdom Work seeks to give us access to that in us which lies beneath the ego. It asserts and leads us to experience that which is deeper than our individual personality. This—which we might see as the fully opened and fully functional human Heart—is not separate from the Heart of God. Indeed, the human heart that has learned to come alive and to open to its fundamental qualities is integral to—and is a hologram of—the Heart of God.

Did you tremble a little bit on these last words? Did your own heart skip a beat? We are so used to dramatically dividing the divine realm from the human realm. None of us, I guess, want to be caught making the gross heresy of equating ourselves with God.

And yet, in our small minds we work hard to make God a manageable concept. Because the ego must take things on its own terms, conventional religion references God in human terms and human images. In this sense, it tries to leverage some small amount of control over the wild mystery of the Sacred Presence. Wisdom Work, on the other hand, turns it around the other way and uses divine terms to understand our deepest humanity. It harkens back to the ancient formula: “God became man so that man might become God.”

The Wisdom Work that we will be employing this week will seek to awaken the Self that lies beneath the ego. Called the True Self, the Essential Self, or the fully Human Self—this deeper Self can only be accessed when we have become relatively free of the identifications of our social programming and conditioning. We must go beyond what we have known before, and we must become more acutely aware of our previous assumptions. But the effort will be well worth it, for this path will open us to an unconditional love and a fundamental creativity in which our lives will be imbued with a deeper sense of aliveness. And rather than just using our intellectual minds, we will be using all of the instrumentation of our deeper humanity. This Work, then, is not just knowing more, but knowing with more of ourselves and making what is latent within us come to life.

The work, then, is not the achievement of some sort of level of belief. This would keep us trapped in the intellectual center. We will have to go deeper, but without abandoning the intellectual center. Instead, we will have to utilize our moving center and the Wisdom delivered by the body, and we will have to utilize hearts that have learned to be open, vulnerable, and ripe.

There will be nothing to achieve and nothing in which to succeed. We have everything we need for our own transformation—all we have to do is to surrender to it. If that sounds simple, that is because it is; but that doesn’t mean that is either automatic or easy. You see, we have become so linked to our personalities and our cultural and family conditioning that we have virtually forgotten who we truly are. We are so laden down with these identities of ours and so preoccupied with their enhancement and their preservation that we are pretty much tied up in knots. This is manifested by the flywheels of our minds that are constantly spinning and that so preoccupy us that we are essentially unable to be present in the moment we are in.

So here, then, is the inner work of Holy Week. There is an exquisite moment manifested in Jesus life in his final days. Although on one level, of course, it is mind-bogglingly gruesome in terms of its violence and brutality, still on another level the trajectory of this life is the most graceful movement we will ever see in human form. And actually the two of these go eloquently together in that the graced surrender he exhibits comes out of terrible brutality. The contrast accentuates and magnifies both.

But in order for us to grasp the depth of what is going here in the life of Jesus, we must match this trajectory—at least to some extent. That is to say it is only by coming to vibrate at a proximate level to Jesus that we will ever be able to apprehend the depth of his actions. Our work is the work of surrender so that we might be deeply touched by his surrender. Our work is the work of a more complete embodiment in order that we might better grasp God’s gesture that could only come in bodily form. Our work is to open to each other and deeply taste the community that is possible for us in these days in order to more fully grasp Jesus’ sense of interconnectedness.

This is not to say that we have to work out our own transformation. Again there is nothing here to be achieved. There is no success that needs to be won. But the truth of Jesus Christ has both a depth and a fullness to it that it requires a certain spaciousness within the container that will receive that truth. And we are those containers, and developing that spaciousness is part of the inner work of Holy Week.

I invite you to join us either by signing up for the whole retreat or by attending one or more of the various modules and contemplative liturgies that will be offered throughout each day and evening. Please click on “Programs” and then “Holy Week 2015” to view further details. E-mail Cathy Dutch at for registration forms or if you have any questions.