Sunday, April 20, 2014

Unorthodox Easter Celebrations

 For days now, I have been trying to write an Easter post.  The problem is, I've been arguing with the Almighty.  This is nothing new.  I have been wrestling with God for as long as I can remember.  I was that girl in Sunday School who asked the good-hearted, volunteer teacher the questions that made her uncomfortable:  "How could getting a new family make up for the children Job lost?"  "Why did God have to kill all of the Egyptian babies to save the Jews from slavery?"  Stuff like that.

I've been looking for something MORE, something I cannot articulate, but it is a deep, unmet need.  This morning, Easter Sunday, I woke up knowing what it is.

I need resurrection.

I have been not-quite-living in the place where death and grief and fear reside for too long.  I need a revival. I need to overcome the power of death.  Easter seems like a fitting day to begin to do that.

A devout Christian who was always too liberal for my religious friends and too religious for my liberal friends, I have spent a considerable amount of time over the past few years struggling to figure out how to authentically express my faith.  I miss belonging to a faith community, but I cannot bear the idea of an institution that is harmful to anyone perceived as OTHER.  As a little girl, I fell in love with the Jesus who befriended the broken, messy, undesirable people.  Those are my people, you know?

And while I have met many, many wonderful people in all manner of faith traditions (including non-Christian or Jewish religions) who share that basic "Love One Another" premise, I have yet to find a Church that fully embraces that.  After more than two decades actively engaged in a congregation that did so much wonderful work but expected rigid adherence to a handful of rules that I just could not accept, I finally had been chafed raw. The sore spots became too agonizing to live with anymore.  Sorrowfully, my Personal Chef and I left our church.

It took a long time, but the wounds have healed up enough that recently we have begun discussing finding a new community, a new church.  We went so far as to set today--Easter Sunday--as the day to begin.  This morning, we would wake up and go to church together as a family.  We still have no idea where we belong, but as a place to start, we know a priest whose entire life is built on that tenet, "Love One Another." He is our kind of Holy Man.  He is the head of his order, administering his duties from a beautiful retreat center, so he does not have a congregation for us to join, but he would be leading an Easter mass we could attend.

Then, I overslept.  I never over sleep.  Part of my chronic illness manifests in sleep disturbances that have me wide awake every day in the wee hours of the morning.


Instead of going to an Easter service, I have puttered around the house.  As I was hanging laundry to dry on the clothesline, I pondered that Easter story of resurrection.  I guess I have never understood the teachings about Jesus overcoming hell and death.  If one buys the idea that he is God come to earth in human form, then the idea of him coming back from the dead is no big deal, right?  If the big deal is that he changed the rules for Jews--that now ordinary Jews and also non-Jews can commune directly with God without going to the intermediary priests with their animal sacrifices--then why was his life sacrificed as part of a mass execution of criminals?  Why wasn't it at the temple in Jerusalem? (I know, I'm still full of questions.)

I may never understand the Easter story.  This morning, though, I did come to understand the power that death holds over me.  So much of my behavior is dictated by my grief and my fear of suffering more grief.  I swing between paralysis and mania, either doing nothing because I'm too bereft to move or overscheduling every minute because I'm afraid I will never get the chance again.  I have spent far too long in the place where death rules.

I need resurrection.

Unexpectedly, I find that I've always had a wonderful teacher in an old friend.  Bob is an eccentric, hippie friend who was born with a heart defect that results in death for most babies.  Miraculously surviving his infancy, Bob was only expected to live until his adolescence.  As a young teen, he was sent home from another hospital visit in a wheelchair to die.  He amazed everyone when two years later, he walked across the stage at his high school graduation.  In his mid-twenties, he had to go on oxygen, because his lungs were never meant to work as hard as they do for as many years as they have. Twenty-five years later, he's been married, had a daughter, got divorced, joined a Moose Lodge, traveled around the country, helped some of the world's foremost physicians break new ground in the treatment of cardiac and pulmonary disease.   He's coming up on 52-years of living.  He has taught my family so much about life.  And this morning, I realize he's taught me a lot about the power of death.

I have always been amazed at Bob's good humor.  His joie de vivre is overwhelming in the best possible way.  And just this morning, I realized that it's the answer I've been looking for.

I have always looked at Bob from the point of view of his certain death.  Bob, on the other hand, has been operating from the position of his certain life.  Bob's secret is that he loves, loves, loves every moment he gets.  Every meal is the best one he's ever eaten.  Every visit with a friend is the best time he's had.  Every joke is the funniest he's heard.

Bob spent several days this past week in the hospital.  He was released Friday afternoon.  Friday night he called me and asked me if I'd pick him up and bring him to our home, because he didn't feel comfortable about driving himself.  See, ever since Thing 1 and Thing 2 were preschoolers, Bob has made a point of "tie dyeing" Easter eggs with my kids.  He had no intention of missing our traditional gathering this year, just because he "isn't feeling so good."

When I brought him home last night, I was sad that there might not be any more Easters together.  Death has its claws in me deep.  Death is no match for my friend and teacher, though.  I want what he has.

I need a resurrection.

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