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Monk in the World Guest Post: Katie Birkeland

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Katie Birkeland’s reflection imagining Judas’ point of view at the Last Supper.

 I have found putting myself into a Bible story is a powerful way to connect with the message that God has for me.  I recently spent some time in the story of the Last Supper as if I were Judas and recognized in myself the tension between following my flesh—betrayal toward Jesus–  and falling into his ever present and pursuing arms.  This is where my heart and mind took me…

I walked into the room with the other disciples.  I was used to the air of humble holiness that followed the space that Jesus engaged, but the holiness in this place was thicker than anything I had ever encountered.  The rugged smell of lamb and herbs infused each breath.  The room was still except for the shadow of the candles’ flickers on the wall.  There was something about Jesus’ movement in the room, intentional, urgent, and slow.  His eyes simmered with sorrow and joy, peace and pain. Love sat so potently under his skin, I could see it ready to burst through his pores.  The holiness in this space drew me in and made me want to run.

The internal battle was strong.  The holiness made the chaos lurch in all directions.  Then Jesus caught my eye and invited me to sit on his left.  Shame flushed my skin, my eyes darted, but I sat.  I heard the gentle voices floating around me and the scraping of utensils against clay.  I put the wine to my lips and sipped at the appropriate times.  I nodded and laughed when the others did, but I wanted to be anywhere but there. I couldn’t leave, so I ran inward.  I heard, I saw, I smelled, I tasted, and I felt the movement of Jesus close to my chest.  Every input a piece of a broken puzzle scattered on a table.  A beautiful puzzle, if put together, was ignored to soothe my shame.

I was startled out of my darkened soul when Jesus stood up.  The chatter died quickly and silence followed as our gazes turned toward Jesus.  We all exchanged unsure looks as Jesus removed his outer robe and wrapped a towel around his waist. Somehow, I knew that something unusual would unfold at this feast.  I felt it when we walked in the room, but this?  My soul started shouting me back into my oblivion with comments like, “doesn’t he know he is hosting this meal?  Here he goes again making a fool out of himself, just like when he chose a donkey to ride into Jerusalem!”  I think I might have stifled a laugh as I dug back into my dark soul.

But when it was my turn and the water hit my feet my whole body responded. It cracked open the hard shell of my soul forcing an awareness of the moment; I couldn’t run.  The water splashed against my skin and echoed in my ears.  His hands gently but firmly spoke words of love.  I knew he knew, for he had told Peter that one of us were unclean.  Yet, as he dried my feet with the towel wrapped around his waist, they were clean.  My mind spun in confusion.  An invitation. An invitation that I would have to choose to accept or reject.

I wanted to leap forward into a child-like hug.  I could almost feel the sensation of joy, connection, love, and peace seep into me even in the longing for embrace.  I felt the posture of my body and soul start to turn toward the One I Loved and despised.  I loved him because he first loved me.  I despised him because he loved me so strongly that I would have to turn my gaze from the things I loved even more than him to truly accept his embrace.  His love, it beckoned so strongly.  I remained indifferent. Was it shame or pride?  My gaze hard as stone so I would not melt into it.  If I turned to look into his gaze, I would have to turn my back on so much.  Esteem.  Riches.  Recognition.  Honor.  Approval.  Comfort.  Fleshly freedom.  Human ecstasy.  Control.  In the dark soul, I felt safely discreet.  The embrace was safe for me, but not for my desires.

That moment passed.  Jesus was settled next to me again speaking to the others as a Rabbi does.  But the message for me in those moments were different.  I sat there contemplating the invitation, a battle raging. I heard through the fog Jesus say, “One of you will betray me”.  Then Jesus, the host, was handing me, the guest, a piece of his own bread.  An honor.  One last plea to let him love me.  The moment.  It was here.  I had to choose.  I took the bread. 

I don’t think the others sensed it, but I know Jesus did.  My dark soul became darker.  The thick shell became thicker.  The desires became stronger.  I stood up and left.  The only sound, the hollow echo of my feet on the floor.

And now I stand on the other side of the door.  The evening air brushing my brow, reminding me of the water brushing my feet. I shudder.  Is it disgust or regret?  In essence the evil is done.  And yet I am loved.  With clean feet, I turn away to walk down the dirty road in the other direction. 

Who is Katie Birkeland?  The true answer to this question so often gets lost in the rhythms driving her life: loving three growing kiddos and her rustic husband, teaching the kids at their kitchen table, feeding the critters that call their cozy acre home, surviving Minnesotan winters, living in community with those around her, and filling the urge to learn and write.   Katie is slowly learning the impact of daily anointing herself in the truth that her identity is found in the One who breathed the breath of life into her.

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