“This is what resurrection looks like,” the priest said, by candlelight, at the Easter Vigil service. She described feeling like the “dry bones” we’d heard about in the passage from Ezekiel after her husband, mother, and father died all in the space of a couple of months.
I had also recently been feeling like my “dry bones” had no life left in them, no sinews, no muscle, no breath.
Then she said something that really caught my attention. I wish I could share the exact words, but I don’t remember them, just the feeling that came over me when I heard them. Something about dying with Christ in the water and then being resurrected with him.
I nearly died in water, I thought. I was nearly drowned by the one I loved the most in the world. I came back to life on the beach, throwing up salt out of my lungs, the taste of it staying on my lips. What if this metaphor of being led through the waters to new life wasn’t just a metaphor? What if it was describing something that had literally happened to me?
All this time I’d been convinced that the saddest thing that ever happened to me, the hardest thing, was that my mother had killed herself when I was eight. What if the hardest thing, the thing I really needed to be resurrected from, was that my mother almost killed herself when I was six, and almost killed me with her?
“I am what resurrection looks like,” the priest said, and then added, “I’m not saying that I’m special. We are all what resurrection looks like. We are resurrection people.”
I’ve spent months, years, a lifetime even, asking myself what my purpose is. What if my purpose is to be resurrected?
Resurrection isn’t something we can do to ourselves. Even Jesus didn’t raise himself up–he was raised. I’ve seen friends of mine struggling with serious health issues, and been convinced that their job right now was to heal–but even though I knew I had deep scars, I couldn’t declare that I had the same job… until I thought of it a different way: my job is to be resurrected. Not to resurrect myself, but to accept this gift from God, and to proclaim it as I’m able.
We began that service in the dusk, and it only got darker. We had tiny candles, but they didn’t illuminate the giant blackness of the sanctuary as the sun finished its setting and we heard story after story after story of our faith. We went on an epic journey in the dark, a memory quest back through time. We felt the terror of the endless rains of Noah, and the seas blown back by a mighty wind, and the Egyptians’ chariot wheels stuck in the mud, and the rattling of those dry, dry bones. Only when we proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus did the lights come on. Before they came on, bringing us back to the 21st century, the presiding priest asked us, “Are you ready?” It was a good question.
I think I’m ready to resurrected. Certainly parts of me are aching for it. But other parts of me are still stuck in the dark. Like Jamie says in Mythbusters when he’s wearing a full head-to-toe flame protection suit, “I kind of like it in here. It’s private.”
The dark of depression and anxiety are comforting to these parts. Not only are they familiar–the default of my early childhood–but those feelings go back even further. They’re encoded in the markers wrapped around my DNA: My mother’s terror at the bombs and smoke of wartime Germany; my grandmother’s terror of the Russians; my ancestors’ terror at being Jews in a world that offered them land and a noble title if they converted to Christianity. My father’s terror at being mercilessly bullied by his classmates and his father; my grandfather’s terror at losing his mother before the age of five; my great grandfather’s terror of an angry Protestant God.
Resurrection means changing the stories we tell ourselves to define our limits. When we say, “Because of what I and my family have been through, I can go this far and no farther,” God challenges us to let go of those boundaries. Resurrection is not fuzzy bunnies and fluffy chicks and chocolate and jelly beans. Resurrection is terrifying. It’s going to do the saddest thing you’ve ever had to do–to anoint the body of your beloved teacher and friend for proper burial–and discovering that his body is missing and some brilliant white person–an angel? who knows?!–is telling you that your teacher still plans to carry out his previous plans that he told you before the government executed him. Frankly, that’s a bit creepy, in addition to being utterly astonishing. “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Well, yeah. Would YOU say anything?
If I am what resurrection looks like, what does that mean?
It means although the past is sad, and sometimes it will come back to me, that I am not required to dwell on the past–or dwell in the past. What I’ve found myself doing is looking at my wonderful lively seven-year-old, who pushes away from me all the time and yet absolutely counts on me being there whenever he needs me, and feeling my heart ache for the seven-year-old I was, living in a different state from my mentally ill, suicidal mother, with middle-aged uncles and an elderly grandmother who loved me dearly but were barely up to the rigors of parenting me (even though I was so very, very good). In other words, I am haunted. The ghosts of my past are affecting my ability to see and exist in the present.
If I am resurrected, I don’t need to keep solving the mysteries of my past and explain why these things happened to me or what they all mean. I have a part that believes that my past is a time bomb that could still go off at any moment, and only by understanding and explaining EVERYTHING (whatever that means) can I be safe from disaster. I was raised by people who were haunted by their past, often waylaid by it. It came out of nowhere and sucked them into depression and anxiety. What’s hard to remember is that those people were running away from their past so fast that the only way the past could catch them was by sneaking up on them. This is not a problem I have.
I wonder if the disciples experienced PTSD when Jesus first broke bread and drank wine with them after his resurrection. “This is your BODY? Broken for me like the legs of the ones crucified on either side of you? This is your BLOOD? Like the blood I saw coming out of you in great gouts when they had you flogged? I feel ill.” This communion we take every week is one of the greatest turnarounds in history. These horrible things you did to our beloved teacher become symbols of love and hope.
I’m not one of those people who believe that Jesus’ crucifixion was something God wanted or required to atone for our sins. I think God saw that it was inevitable, because of Jesus’ work in the world running smack into human nature. And I think the language of sin offering and atonement was something early Christians repurposed to explain how this horrible political execution could actually be turned into a holy act of ritual sacrifice as the Jews did in the temple.
But I digress. My spiritual director pointed out something to me that really struck me. She said that resurrection isn’t something that happened in a moment; it’s a process.
I thought about how we see that in the Christian Scriptures. Mark ends with that sentence: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Well, obviously, the story doesn’t end there. In other Gospels, Mary Magdalene sees Jesus and doesn’t recognize him at first. Peter and John rush to the tomb and see it empty. Then the disciples see Jesus in a locked room. Other disciples see him on the road to Emmaus. Some of the disciples who were fishermen see him on the beach in Galilee. Saul is struck blind by him on the road and becomes Paul.
If I think about my resurrection as starting when I was six and I came up out of the ocean in my aunt’s arms, I feel ashamed, because it’s taken me till I was 45 to see it. But I know that shame is not from God. The resurrection is happening now that my own son turned six, and just turned seven, and will turn eight. I am reinhabiting the body of my own 6- and 7- and 8-year-old self, and also seeing the world through the eyes of a mother of a 6- and 7- and 8-year-old. I begin to understand some of what my mother felt, and some of what she chose and didn’t choose. The delusion that my son would be better off without me, or with me at a distance, still calls to me sometimes. (I think this comes from both my mother and my father.)
When my mother died, part of me died with her. It’s taken me a long time to come back to life, bit by bit by bit. I feel like I am reclaiming my life, the one I had before, and the one I have now. I am still overcoming the unconscious limits that all three of my parents set on what my life should look like, based on how they answered for themselves what they believed their lives were for. It’s time for me to find my own answers, and to listen to God, whose plans for me are much broader and richer than anything they imagined for themselves or for me.
This is what resurrection looks like: Embracing the path I’m currently on, as the stay-at-home mother of a seven-year-old boy. Expressing myself through art and music and writing in the way that makes me happiest, rather than performing for others. Learning to lead with my heart rather than my brain. Following my joy.