Photo by Jonas Dücker on Unsplash

Jesus in a Mind with Mental Illness

CW: Mentions violence and mental illness symptoms

Today’s Reading

The Passover with the Disciples
17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; 21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Matthew 26:17-30

I would imagine at the Last Supper, it was more like a teddy bear.

Here, take this comfort item. There’s a scary scene coming up in the movie.

But I wasn’t at the Last Supper or the crucifixion, so the Eucharist is more like Maglalatik for me. For those who’ve never seen the Filipino coconut dance, it’s a fun one. Dancers strap coconut shells to their bodies and hold more coconut shells in their hands. They tap them together, click, click. They tap their own bodies, each other’s bodies. They bounce in different group formations and leap frog over each other. The music is light. Maglalatik is performed at big group gatherings, so picture yourself watching it while surrounded by your extended family and community.

They say the dance represents a war that was fought between Christians and Muslims long, long ago in Laguna. The two groups argued over who would get the coconut meat, push came to shove, and violence broke out.

Yes, the music and dancing of Maglalatik is a historical reenactment of bloodshed. But don’t worry, no one is hurt this time—It’s festive. The swords are coconut shells, and the stab wounds are … more coconut shells. It’s a way of telling the story together, remembering the violent outbreak in a super safe way—in fact, a celebratory way. Pass the lechon!

And that is how I choose to see the Eucharist. Lately I’ve been struggling through a bout of mental fuzz that the therapist calls PTSD. My inner city childhood and young adulthood were peppered with some domestic violence, proximity to a drive-by shooting and stabbings in the high school hallway, and police helicopters waking me up at 2 a.m. It’s been a couple decades and my mind still can’t get over it. Enter some nightmares, anxiety attacks, insomnia, and a preference for sitting with my back to the wall at restaurants. I’m trying to cope here, and the last thing I need is to sit down and watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion. No blood, please. Really.

At the moment, all I want is to calm the chaos of my mind. Warm compresses help. So does my dog. So does thinking that Jesus basically handed his disciples a teddy bear before the scary part of the movie and that now, two thousand years later, he’s still alive, bouncing around us, doing the coconut dance. Reducing the violence to peace, swapping out horror for joy. This is how he wants his story told.

It’s worth noting that focusing on Christ’s wounds holds meaning for many Christians, and people who know a lot more than I do about history and theology can give better interpretations of the Eucharist than this one. At least right now, for me, it’s helpful to meditate on good things, like how Jesus lived his life: accepting, loving, healing. And the spiritual stuff: goodness, mercy, compassion.

Did somebody say crown of thorns? Sorry, I was thinking about bread and those cute grape juice cups.

Stretching for healing by remembering pain through celebration.

Dancing Maglalatik with Jesus.

Reflection

Think about how the Eucharist can personify bringing healing and peace for your soul as the Maglalatik dancers offer joy after pain. How can you participate in worship as Jesus did at the Last Supper table, handing his disciples a comforting memory to hold onto, in anticipation of the violence to come?

  • Hannah M. (she/her) is an ecumenical Pentecostal currently living in a Detroit suburb. Her reading interests include the social sciences and uncolonized theology. She loves fleece sweaters and peppermint mochas. Her favorite activity is jogging in the rain.