• Mass Times

• Coming Events

• Sacraments

• Ministries

• Parish Staff

• Consultative Bodies

• Photo Gallery

• Virtual Tour

• History

• Contribute


• Bulletin

• In Your Midst

• Pastor's Desk


• Becoming Catholic

• Bookstore

• Faith Formation

• Funerals

• Immigrant Assistance

• Liturgy

• Mental Health

• Music

• Outreach/Advocacy

• Pastoral Care

• Weddings

• Young Adults

• Youth Ministry





Descending Theology: The Garden
By Mary Karr
Mary Karr was born in 1955 in East Texas. She now lives in New York, where she holds an endowed chair at Syracuse University. She is the author of a number of memoirs and collections of poems. Her work is frequently described as “gritty,” and she never shies away from writing about the dark corners of her own experience. Mary Karr is also a convert to Catholicism.
“Descending Theology: The Garden” is part of a “trilogy” of poems reflecting on the Incarnation, from Jesus’ birth to his Resurrection. In this poem, Karr zeroes in on Jesus’ agony in the garden. After sharing the Passover meal with his disciples—the Last Supper—Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to the garden of Gethsemane. There, while the disciples sleep, Jesus prays, desperately, that there might be another way than the cross. “If it is possible, take this cup away from me.”  Jesus’ anguish is so great that his sweat becomes “like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus leaves the garden under arrest; the way of the cross has begun.
For Karr, that anguished prayer of Jesus – take this suffering away from me—is a sure sign of his humanity. “We know he was a man because, once doomed, / he begged for reprieve.” Karr gives us a vivid picture of Jesus praying on the rock, under the olive trees, while his friends sleep. “See him,” she insists, in his humanity, in his desperation, loneliness, and abandonment: “not one stayed awake as he’d asked. / That pierced him like a sword.”
But then the poem shifts. Jesus “gave up / bargaining as a child might.” He accepts the Father’s will—though Karr does not describe God in terms of “will” at all. Rather, she says, “it was all mercy anyway, / Unearned as breath.” It was not the Father who condemned Jesus, but us: “this was our doing, our death.” The Father simply kept his gaze on Jesus, “a warm mantle around him” on this cold night in the garden.
In Karr’s telling of this story, Jesus accepts his destiny, but still continues to weep and pray. What is he praying for?  “For naught,” she writes, “but the pardon of Judas.”  Karr imagines Judas gazing into that same sky, in agony of a different kind. Judas stares at the sky “until his neck bones ached.” But he is “blind / to its myriad blazings,” blind to the presence of God. Where Jesus’ agony ends with acceptance, Judas’ agony ends in betrayal. He “failed to walk over and weep with his brother.” Instead, he hands him over to death.
Karr’s poem is full of contrasts: there is the cold of abandonment, the warmth of mercy; the green of the garden, and the parched earth that surrounds it. The poem speaks of Judas’ betrayal, but it does not condemn Judas. Karr shows Judas experiencing an agony, too. And the last words of the poem remind us of how close Judas was to Jesus, all those years—Jesus was “his brother.”
In the Inferno, Dante placed Judas in the ninth circle of hell, frozen in ice, the worst betrayer in a hell of betrayers. But the Church has always hesitated to do so. Indeed, while the Church affirms the existence of hell—the state of permanent separation from God—the Church does not tell us definitively that anyone is there. In other words, we hold out the hope of mercy for everyone.
That is the insistent message of Holy Week: not blame or condemnation, but, in Karr’s words, unearned mercy.
In an interview, Mary Karr said, “My idea of art is, you write something that makes people feel so strongly that they get some conviction about who they want to be or what they want to do…. it makes your heart bigger; it’s emotionally and spiritually empowering.”
I think that’s a pretty good description of what keeping Holy Week does as well: “it makes your heart bigger; it’s emotionally and spiritually empowering.” I hope you have a blessed Holy Week and a happy Easter.




Return to St. James Cathedral Parish Website

804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303