A resurrection of our spirits and our hope

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Etty Hillesum

 

It matters because the tomb is empty. This Easter uprising. There are different versions of the story in our scriptures. We have these different versions because it is not meant to be taken literally as if we could go back and video tape it. Something would be lost if we could. The resurrection will not be filmed. It will not be captured or made to fit in tidy boxes. It is something else, outside our paradigms, outside our understanding. It is new life, new hope, new possibilities, and so much more. It is the greening of the springtime and a remembrance that this too will end. It is the eternal call to life, to come out of the tombs, the shadows, the depressions, the lostness, the pain, the grief, come out and live again!

 

It is more than the knowledge that we are never alone. That Jesus has come into all depths, all darkness. That Jesus has gone up the chimneys, down into the mines, into the gas chamber, so that we might make it out. Making it out, simply surviving, is not enough. Such an answer is too small, too simple. We are called to so much more than simply survival. Survival is a task for those who live with pain, loss, degradation, poverty. Resurrection speaks a new word into our survival minds. It is a new way of being that goes way beyond simply surviving to thriving.

 

Being about God’s work is to be about bringing life where there is death, joy where there is sorrow, repair where there is injury, hope where there is despair, it is about bringing resurrection.

 

Resurrection happens. It’s that moment when your heart begins to heal from a massive rejection or loss and you begin to look at the future with hope instead of looking at the past with regret. It’s that moment when familiar patterns of abuse begin to show up in a new relationship and just when you’re tempted to say, “I guess it will always be this way,” something inside you begins to whisper, then shout, then demand, “NO” and things change. It is that moment when lost inside the darkness of depression, when some internal pain has riveted you, has fixed you permanently within its grasp, and some light begins to break in, finds a crack in the hardness, the seemingly impermeable shell, offering a slender chance and something in you grabs hold of it.

 

Our desire for death, for the finality of it, the letting go and the promise that you don’t need to feel anything anymore, is a reality recognized in some psychological theories. Something in us looks back and back and back like Lot’s wife, not wanting to move on, dissolving in despair and loss, weeping inconsolably, and turning bitter. There is a refusal to look to the future, to let go of what was and hope again. But I don’t want to be harsh with Lot’s wife. I suspect that her weeping and her bitterness came from a deep love of her home town, of the people, perhaps her gardens, her home, her friends. If her hometown had been inhospitable to strangers it had still been her home, her town, where she belonged and lived. It was hard to move on. It was hard to let go, to let the past die and keep on living.

 

It was hard for the disciples to witness the death of Jesus. Some couldn’t bear to watch and left. The crushing pain of irredeemable loss was hard to bear. It took time for the disciples to realize that Christ was still with them. That although he had surrendered to the laws of physical reality there was something deeper going on. They began to recognize that in a very real way, nothing could separate them from him, or him from them. That he had become a part of them, that he was and would always be with them, that not even death could come between them.

 

When we reduce the event of Easter to some mythic, magical event, dead man walking, we relieve ourselves of the need to be resurrection people. We turn the responsibility for healing, for loving, for transforming our lives over to God and then we wait for the magic. God asks us to be resurrection people, not passive recipients but to actually be the healing and loving and transforming in the world. We are not to wait passively for some magical event to come, but to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. The belief in a literal magic events leaves us waiting powerlessly, the belief in a poetic miraculous narrative invites us to participate, to be part of the process and to be changed by the process, not passive recipients but participants.

 

This month I have been reading, The Half Has Never Been Told, a story about the formation of the US on the backs and bodies of black men and women. My heart broke and continues to break as I read the vivid descriptions of the death and despair visited on all those people, as I read how they would sing themselves back to life, dare to hope again and again, dare to see themselves as so much more than what their abusers told them they were. That they were truly beloved children of God, holy and sacred people, cherished and loved.

 

It’s the image of men and women picking cotton under brutal conditions but nonetheless singing gently, over and over again, to a young girl, a new arrival in the cotton fields, who’s despair at having been sold away from her family, at being brutalized and having no hope of rescue, threatened to drown her under the hot sun. She was more dead than alive. Yet they sing to her, gently, persistently, calling her to come out of the tomb, day after day, until she too sings, a corpse pulled back to life. “Where are you Liza Jane?” they sang, “come back to us, come home Liza Jane.”

 

This is resurrection. This is new life. The first strangled bits of song to pass her lips, new life, hope, an inescapable freedom, being born again under the unseeing eye of the overseer. And it does not matter if this worldly power shows up as overseer, Roman centurion, ISIS, or SS guard, it is a power that breaks one. It is power over others and it is a power that does not see or recognize the subversive power of love, of Christ and resurrection.

 

Resurrection is not power over but that gentle, persistent thread of hope that refuses to give in to despair. This is not the walking dead resurrection, an insistence that the body still move and act, but a life fully lived, accepting the fullness of mortality and yes this means saying yes to death also. How many of us live a life half there? How many pull back in fear, in despair, in shock, at the horrors of life? Unwilling to say yes, this too, to all that comes, to all that might be, with a life fully lived.

 

Last week Humans of New York, a facebook page that in a truly gracious manner sees and recognizes all the incredible people of New York, featured a man who, after the death of his wife during childbirth, became stuck in the horror and fear that he would lose his daughter too. “I was unable to really be with her,” he said. “Every moment of my time with her I was afraid, afraid that I would lose her too and I missed a lot of moments that way.” That is, until he experienced a resurrection himself, till he moved past fear recognizing that his loss, his fear were keeping him from actually being with his daughter and he began to say “yes this too,” to the whole realm of possibility. Yes I may lose my daughter but right here, right now, I will be with her, and I will not allow my fear and my loss to stop that. Resurrection happens. It comes. We are a resurrection people.

 

If forgiveness releases us from the sting of the past, then resurrection releases us from the sting of the present, the fear of the future. We are released from the destructive power of pain and loss, of degradation and poverty, of isolation and anonymity. If forgiveness releases us from the evils we have done, resurrection releases us from the evils visited upon us through no fault of our own. We are given new hope, new life, that we might be able to continue, to live again. Resurrection looks to the future, to who we might be, to who we are called to be.

 

It is in recognition that some losses are too great to be compensated for that we turn to resurrection. There is no compensation that will make good some losses, only resurrection, only salvation can redeem these losses. God has promised to wipe every tear and we, as resurrection people, hold God to this promise, that all such loss will be redeemed, not compensated for, but redeemed, made good. This is the glory of resurrection, this is what it means to return to life, to live again, to be freed, not only from all that you have done, but from all that has happened to you.

 

Resurrection might also be a trembling, initial attempt to live again. Like Etty Hillesum singing on the train as it bore her to Auschwitz, knowing what was waiting at the end of the line. Surely there must have been tears along with the song. In opposition to all the powers of the world that told her she, and those like her, were nothing, she sang. Surely there must have been trembling now and then, but still Etty sang, still Etty dropped that last notecard from the train car as it pulled out, “We left singing” she wrote. Resurrection happens. But I suspect that it is not always the same. It is not always that bright burst of new life but sometimes a trembling, weak kneed step towards new life. It the insistence on being fully alive even through death and loss.

 

As resurrection people we are not asked to pay in religious dues through our prayers and attendance at church, in hopes of an afterlife reward but to live our lives fully right here, right now, allowing God to bring us back to life, right here, right now! To live as if all that we are and do matters, to live as if death, loss, and pain do not have the last word, because when we live as if it does, then our lives become small and timid, and we are not meant to be small and timid.

 

As a resurrection people we are asked to live fully by taking up our cross, by saying “Yes, this too,” to all the suffering, loss and pain, by singing to the lost souls, “Liza Jane, where are you?” by throwing those bold notes out the sides of the cargo car. We are most fully alive when we live for others, when we love greatly and without fear. When we love until it heals and we don’t stop until it does. We may step toward life with trembling and weak knees but we are called like Lazarus from the tomb to step forward, live more fully, be more alive, do not be afraid, do not withhold your heart. This is resurrection! To be called back to life when hope is impossible! To live anyway, to sing like Liza Jane in the fields or Etty in the cattle car. This is resurrection! To throw off the chains of trauma and pain and loss and live with joy in one’s heart anyway! In the midst of the world with all its difficulties and need, love and live fully, anyway, that we might be true children of the resurrection!

 

We are a resurrection people! Not the small and timid living in fear of loss and trauma but the radical, wild, unpredictable people of God! No wonder the powers of the world fear us. Those who are not afraid, who are known by their joy and their love, love which is not afraid!

 

This is the resurrection of our spirits and our hope. Easter invites us to let go of our fear and celebrate a love stronger than hate, a hope stronger than despair, a light stronger than darkness, a goodness stronger than evil.

 

 

 

 

 

In Praise of a Mothering God

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Created in God’s image we sit here together to give thanks for the greatest of blessings. Created in God’s image we have been shaped and formed by those who have been birthed through us, been born of us.  It seems to me that often we mistake mother’s day as being a day that celebrates those capable of birthing children but this is not so. Today we celebrate our inclusion in the mothering work of God. We celebrate that our hearts have been torn open and made tender. We celebrate that we can no longer dwell in the self-centered concern of adolescence or preteen years but that now our hearts and our minds, our very souls have been stretched like weary childbearing bodies to include a fierce and passionate love, a love that is deep and enduring, that changes us, that changes everything.

That we can be so unseated, so knocked off balance by this love is the miracle of motherhood. It is not that we must ourselves bear and carry a child but that we must ourselves allow our hearts and minds to be broken open, to be torn asunder by this love and by the knowledge that it is not safe. It is to remain open and vulnerable to the love of one’s child knowing we cannot keep them safe from the world and we cannot make their choices. It is to remain open and vulnerable knowing that our children must walk their own path, make their own mistakes and find their own way. It is the keeping of our hearts as the open and safe place to which they can return when life has left them bruised and things become uncertain. It is not the easy provision of answers but the uneasy provision of space in our already full and often fearful hearts, the caring without certainty. This is motherhood and this is the love that God, the mothering God of scripture, gives us.

Motherhood is less about bearing and childbirth, although these are tender and sacred things, than about the waiting and the hoping, the longing and the caring. It is to spend hours wondering how one might help one’s child without intruding. It is about listening for the door to open and hearing those glorious words, “Mom! I’m home!” It is about honoring the tears and the pain of one’s child and bearing that pain with them rather than intervening. It is about the waiting through endless days, months, even years to see their hearts open and blossom with the kindness and tenderness that we saw in them as children years ago. To see them become more than they can begin to believe in. This is motherhood. It is to see our children grow into their tall, strong, bodies, their independent, seeking minds, their questing, adventerous spirits, and to know that there is more. It is to hope and to know, to wait longingly, till love infects them too and carries them into their own soul searching, heartrending journey into the heart of the mothering God.

Mothering is to be given a glimpse into the very heart of God. To know, to experience,  how power can be given up, surrendered willingly to make space for one who is loved beyond words. It is to know what it means to make oneself completely vulnerable as God has made God’s self vulnerable to us, to be changed and transformed by love. It is to know that all that we are and are not, all that we say and do, has incredible impact on those we love most and it is to be humbled by our inadequacy to this task. It is to know that at some point we must surrender our role as mother to the mothering God, to the one who is up to the task and who will not fail our children but who can meet their every need. And it is to know that we can mother only because God has our back and that the end is secure. It is the love of our mothering God for us that allows us to embrace every moment in its tender fragility and its passing temporality. We love because God has first loved us. We are mothers because God has mothered us and has shown us the way. Mothering is not simply a physical thing or a genetic thing, although these may play a part for some people, it is about loving another so wholly and completely that we give our whole selves to the task and that we allow them to have their own journey. It is to allow another to play with our heartstrings and to know that with the grace of God it will be the sweetest melody we have ever been a part of.

I’m fine, really

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I, like most women, was brought up to be a nice and pleasant girl, which was hard for such a moody child. Thing is, this is still my first reaction when someone approaches me, even if I’m upset or hurting, my first response is almost always cheerful, fine, upbeat, especially if I”m in public. The authentic reaction, the true response, always comes secondary. And there are still people in my life who reinforce this, who prefer the social veneer to authenticity.

I have two issues with this, the first is that the social veneer is never truly joyful, it is only repressed. The other issue is that I end up lying to people who care about me, who come to see if I’m OK, knowing I’m not, and my ability to connect with those I care about is diminished. This knee-jerk-I’m-fine, reaction is one I am working on letting go of so that I can be more real, more present. It’s a work in progress though and not a finished product.I am learning that I need to wait for the second reaction, the one where I see you and you see me, the one where we are gentle with one another, where being vulnerable, scared and frightened is OK. Because there’s space for all of these feelings and it’s OK not to be fine. I am learning to be more accepting of my humanity and to accept the care and the love of others, but I admit it’s a struggle. I am never quite what I ‘should be.’ I feel my inadequacies daily and often I want to protect others from them, save them from seeing me, the real me. 

Today I want to be brave.  I want to trust that if I am real, if I let people see me, that it will be OK, that I will still have a place at the table, that I will still belong. I’m not very good at trusting though and I go back and forth, whispering my truths and hiding. Revealing how much I need others, need people like you dear reader, and then being aloof so you won’t feel oppressed by my need. Today I only pray for your patience, your continuing presence in my life, that you won’t give up on me, because this is a work in progress and I’m not finished yet. And I don’t want you worry if you see me struggling with this because I am fine, really.