Moonlight Over Gethsemane – Sitting in the Fellowship of Judas

About Hrothgir O Domhnaill
Hrothgir Ó Dómhnaill was born in England in the mid-1960s. He spent most of a chequered career in companies undergoing massive change, and specialised in the resolution of problems too dirty, too ugly, too dangerous, or just plain impossible, all with plausible deniabilty by his management if he failed. He never did. Now, having cleared his mortgage, he lives happily with his wife, elderly cat, and his first pet, a tortoise called Frederick, in the North West of England, pontificates on all manner of things, and generally feels lucky he's not dead.
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Judas wasn’t the first, but he’s probably the best known in our culture. The archetypal betrayer. He waited outside Gethsemane, in knowledge of his guilt, and for the inevitable outcome. As a human, he’d have examined what he was doing, and why he was doing it. Taking the reading of the scripture, there was no one else to be relied upon do the deed, that was why he’d been sent. To hand a friend, brother, and mentor into the jaws of certain death.

A few years ago, I sat that vigil, knowing that I’d done what I thought was right, when every fiber told me it was wrong. I had signed papers that allowed medication to be administered by ‘any means required’. I lied pretty lies of a ‘cure’ when I knew there was none. I made promises of homecomings I knew could never be fulfilled. I signed the paper saying ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ and withdrew feeding. I sentenced my father to a lonely and terrible death among strangers. And under the fat Passover moon, for what seemed a lifetime, I learned the pain of judgment, guilt, regret, and the things one does for love and to honor a promise given. However, there is a balm of sorts… Understanding. A dawning ineffable knowing of what others go through, have been through, will go through, when they take the road to the garden, back to Judas, sitting at the gate, in that frozen moment before the Romans come.

You see the pain of others; the ones lost, the ones who, in the name of love, in the name of desperation, in the name of anger, in the name of common humanity, have done things that they can not forgive themselves for. They too have sat in the darkness outside Gethsemane.

So what do we do with that insight, so painfully won?

Sit with others outside the garden. Listen to their tale. Don’t judge. Don’t hand out what you think is right, just listen. Listen to their memories. Rejoice with them in happy ones. If moved to weep by their sad ones, weep with them. If they laugh, don’t be afraid to laugh with them, or at least smile. Nervous laughter is often the way of pain. If a hand or a hug is appropriate, don’t be afraid to give it, but be sensitive to those for whom physical contact would be as the sting of a whip. If they want to pray, then pray.

Be present. Don’t think of pious things to say, or be composing replies. You are not there to talk, to judge, or forgive, nor to add to their pain. You are there to sit and watch the moon over the olive trees of Jerusalem 2000 years ago, as the ‘betrayer’ tells the story of what brought them here. If there comes a time to speak, you shall know it, but there is never a time to judge. Ever. Any judgment you make will not be harsher than that they inflict on themselves, so it is immaterial how you judge them. It’s also the easy option, and “easy” is not why we are here, on this night before the Passover.

Above all, do not be afraid of silence. Pray if you wish, but discreetly. Or just sit. If they wish to be alone, they’ll move away. Don’t follow immediately. Give them space to grieve. Just be a presence. You are a companion, not a guide, since the path to Gethsemane is unique to each of us, and the only map is in the heart.

It’s not an easy place, Gethsemane’s Gate. Unless one has sat there, it is hard to fathom. It is equally hard to explain to one who has not sat there and mourned pulling the plug, withdrawing feeding, ordering morphine levels increased, terminating an unborn, suffering that finally outweighs the letter of the law, or any of the one thousand and one things that are judged harshly by those who think the decision is taken lightly, or even gleefully, when it is neither. The choice is made, and acted upon, in pain, and guilt, and mourning, and fear. Never, ever, with joy.

Under moonlight, the world is black and white, but the choices made that place you there, in the fellowship of Judas, are always gray.

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Posted by on March 21, 2011. Filed under Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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10 Responses to Moonlight Over Gethsemane – Sitting in the Fellowship of Judas

  1. jenny40 Reply

    March 21, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Oh my God you have made me cry, but your words have also given me great peace. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    • Hrothgir OD Reply

      March 21, 2011 at 11:07 am

      You’re very welcome.

      • Holte Ender Reply

        March 21, 2011 at 11:25 am

        I had a similar experience with my own father, the big difference was, he took control of his own death and didn’t tell the family. He had DNR posted on his hospital bed, which was taken down during visiting hours.

        Wonderful piece of writing.

  2. Michael John Scott Reply

    March 21, 2011 at 11:33 am

    An extraordinary read indeed. I have read it three times and each time find something which makes me think. Thanks man for this wonderful contribution.

  3. dp1053 Reply

    March 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Most excellent. Thank you for the understanding.

  4. Alysia Hoback Reply

    March 21, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Amazing! I can relate 100 percent.

  5. BigHarryH Reply

    March 21, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    I have been to that place, it never leaves you, ever.

  6. greenlight Reply

    March 21, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Beautiful, thank you for posting.

  7. Mother Hen Reply

    March 22, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    If anything can be learned from this I hope it is that anyone wishing to spare their loved ones this trial, PLEASE make sure you get advanced directives on file while you are still young, sane, and able enough to do so.

    Beautifully written.

    • Hrothgir OD Reply

      March 23, 2011 at 4:39 pm

      I was the directive, since I kept a promise I made in my teens. My father knew that, for all my faults, I would make sure what he wanted to happen would happen. The curse of the ‘responsible’ child.

      but wise word none the less.

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