Into the Dark Woods

During Lent I occasionally choose a gospel companion to guide me through the season. I slip in behind one character or another in the Passion narrative and walk with them on the road to Jerusalem. One year it was Mary of Magdala. Another, Claudia, wife of Pontius Pilate.

This year I was drawn to Mark’s “certain young man”—the one who flees naked from the violence in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives (14:51-52), leaving behind his linen cloth.

Scholars vehemently disagree about who this young man was. Many deduce that it’s the writer of Mark’s gospel inserting himself into the story. Others say he is reminiscent of King David fleeing from Absalom on the the Mount of Olives. Or that he foreshadows the “young man” in a white robe who will meet the women at Jesus’ tomb.

Whoever he was, in the midst of an encounter with violence, this “certain young man” lost what thin protection he had and fled into the night, into the selva oscura, as Dante calls it, those “dark woods.” Toward what, we do not know.

AS THE HUMAN soul matures, we are confronted with moments that force us to let go of yet another thin veil of self-delusion. The “right road,” the moral high ground, sinks into a thicket of gray.

Two examples from this Lent: An American Army staff sergeant, with four deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and probable concussive brain trauma, allegedly pulls 16 unarmed Afghan civilians, including nine children, out of their beds in the middle of the night and shoots them. The thin cloth of protection that allows us to believe “if we weren’t there things would be worse” slips to the ground.

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