Jesus went, as he so often did, to Mount Olives, this time to the Garden of Gethsemane. The disciples followed him. When they arrived at the place, he said, “Pray that you don’t give in to temptation.”
He pulled away from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, remove this cup from me. But please, not what I want. What do you want?”
At once an angel from heaven was at his side, strengthening him. He prayed on all the harder. Sweat, wrung from him like drops of blood, poured off his face.
He got up from prayer, went back to the disciples and found them asleep, drugged by grief. He said, “What business do you have sleeping? Get up. Pray so you won’t give in to temptation.”
The word Gethsemane is mash up of two Hebrew words: gat, which means “a place of pressing" and shemanim, which means “oil."
Gethsemane means “The Oil Press.”
Ripe olives plucked straight off the tree have a terrible flavor. They are essentially inedible thanks to a substance called oleuropein, a compound bitter enough to turn away even the hungriest mammal or invasive organism. Only birds eat wild olives, avoiding the bitterness issue by swallowing them whole.
For an olive to be fit for human consumption it has to be separated from the tree, washed, broken, soaked, crushed, sometimes salted, and cured. What is valuable and useful from an olive, the oil in its core, is only released and poured out as the olive is pressed and crushed.
Jesus prayed in the garden and sweat wrung like drops of blood poured from his face. Whatever grief you have faced, whatever grief you are facing, Jesus has been there. Jesus is there, with you, now. If you are an alive person you have known pain, suffering, heartbreak, grief. It is part-and-parcel for being an awake person, for being a person who has learned and is learning to love.
As the Gospel writer St. John put it: “Anyone who does not love remains in death.”
Remaining in death does not sounds very appealing. Trouble is, the movement from death to life is almost always a painful journey, and not everyone chooses it.
After my grandmother passed away we found a note on which she had written, “I am not afraid of death. But I am afraid of dying.” She wasn’t afraid of where the passage led, but the passage itself had her concerned.
She was speaking of physical death, but this statement contains spiritual truth. True spiritual growth — the death of our illusion of separation from God and our journey towards the experience of Oneness with God — involves what the mystics call “The First Death,” ego-death, the demise of our false-self. We almost always resist it. We long for resurrection but we fear the passage that leads there.
For most of us, we learn first-death only through an experience of suffering, a breakdown, disillusionment. We don’t go looking for ego-death, but if we are wise we receive it when it comes looking for us. Only in darkness do we find the soft light, the Eternal Light that is always there, buried beneath the false + temporary lights of our own ambitions, our projected images, our safety nets and security blankets, the stories we tell ourselves about us and each other.
Or, as one writer has said:
“In the midst of winter I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”
So much of our suffering comes as a result of our looking “Out There” for a wholeness that can only be found “In Here;” Suffering plucks us from our tree of false security, oftentimes severs our connection to the “Out There” places we often frequent to find meaning and security. And though painful, this can be a great grace. With the pressing and crushing of our false self, we stand at the cusp of transformation, of encountering and releasing our True Self, our self-in-Christ, the Holy Spirit.