Monday, April 9, 2012

A note to myself

A note to myself today as I celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in the year 2012:

It is not an easy thing to believe in the resurrection. It seems perhaps easiest to believe in it when I am hearing the words and music of long-celebrated Easter prayers and rituals from my religious tradition. These draw up a deep emotional response that fills me with joy. This, however, does not constitute believing - for a well loved story or childhood song might do the same.

It also seems easy to believe in the resurrection when it is a beautiful spring day and the once gray sky is now a sea of blue, with brilliant sunlight flooding fresh leaves and blossoms. It is not so hard to believe that life can come from death when I see nature's cycle portraying this before my eyes. However, this too does not constitute believing in the resurrection.

To believe that Jesus rose from the dead is especially challenging to the scientific mind of our day. We have learned to believe only what can be "proven". We have been taught not to trust claims that cannot be substantiated. It is hard to believe in the resurrection because I have never personally known anyone who has "risen from the dead". No one I know has either.

And yet I believe.

I make this note to myself today though because I suspect that there will be days in my future when it will be even harder to believe than it is now. I have been fortunate that the pains and losses of my life thus far have been buffered by caring friends or circumstances that eased the blow. I have not yet experienced a loss that turned me inside out, a loss that sucked the air from my lungs and left me gasping. It is when I experience this that I will most need this note.

I believe and yet, it seems nearly impossible to express in words why it is I believe. I remember going through my young adult days when my religious faith had to pass a gauntlet of questions poured forth by my reasoning mind. I wouldn't accept believing in God only because I wanted it to be so. I had to work it out logically that there very well could be a God - or even more, that there must be a God. However, passing that test was only the beginning of my journey toward a resurrection faith.

And perhaps that is one of the most important "whys" of my believing - the journey. Believing has most certainly not been a single moment experience for me nor has it been a smooth straight line. Yet, as I reflect back over my life, I see so much evidence of resurrection. I recall so many times when light has emerged from darkness, hopelessness or fear. What is so especially important about these experiences though is that they didn't start with me. They did not occur because I was smart or because I worked hard or because I was a good person. They came as sheer gift. Completely undeserved - like someone (Someone?) loving me for no reason.

But this was only phase one of the journey. I then discovered that things were being expressed through me that surprised even me. I did not know what to say to a patient and something wise came out of my mouth. Or I found that a poem, painting or photograph "fell into place" to express something that startled me with its beauty. If I were the creator, how could it surprise me? What was expressed seemed to be given for others, much as it was for me, like Someone loving with a love that could not be deserved or earned.

All of this has taught me that there is something (Someone) far greater than anything I can see or prove. This awareness stirs forth from my heart, not from the logic of my mind. Yet it is, I believe, every bit as real of a knowing – perhaps more real. Hence, when I see what appears to be the end, I do not and shall not accept that as full reality but rather as an appearance. It may indeed be the end of one thing. But it may also be the beginning of something else - something much fuller, much richer than what it is that ended.

My belief in this resurrection, however, does not mean that I will always see this as true at the most painful moments. In fact, I probably won't. Much like the disciples of Jesus, I may doubt or reject the idea of resurrection. In my confusion of suffering, the possibility may not even occur to me. When this happens, I may scream and pound on things and feel like my life is over. But I don't want it to end there. Thus, this note to myself. A reminder of what I believe.

Having said all of this, I realize that I may still be lost when the time of great suffering strikes. And so, an image. A butterfly. A monarch butterfly. The one that can fly 2,500 miles to find the same roosting place its ancestors found the year before. It is not a strong or sturdy creature. It has no map. It has no language or intelligence. It simply has God.

And so have I.

(To my dear readers: below is my Easter gift to you. But before I could give it to you, it first was given to me, one of those experiences that fell into place, so to speak. Many blessings to you today, wherever you may be on your journey.)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Week: words, images and sounds for the journey toward Easter

I apologize to anyone who has noticed that I haven't posted for almost a month. My life has been unusually busy - not over anything bad - just biting off more than I could chew with an online class and an online Lenten retreat at the same time. While both have been good, the retreat has been so good, so beautiful, so powerful - though not always easy. With other pilgrims on the Lenten journey, there has been much sharing of thoughts, struggles and art. I'd like to share a just a bit of what it has brought me to in these final days of Holy Week.

I have mentioned before my affiliation with through which this retreat was available. Our "abbess" (leader), Christine, has shared many wonderful ideas and images throughout. With her permission, I would like to share some of her thoughts. First, she talked about how we cannot rush to resurrection. Whether we are believers, skeptics or unbelievers, the tendency in all of us is to want to skip the hard, painful parts of life to get to the "Easter" experiences. The final path of Jesus was one of betrayal, rejection, physical pain and abandonment. To consider walking with Him, means walking through these experiences - and most assuredly, we do not want to. Let's just get to the colored eggs, the candy, the family dinner and not have to deal with the gut-wrenching loss of being put to death (whatever that means to each of us as individuals).

Yet we all know, believer or not, that we cannot escape these experiences. Our lives are, at best, dotted with them -  sometimes are filled with them. And one of our greatest challenges as human beings is to accept this part of our existence. These experiences can fill us with confusion, sometimes rage or despair. Where was this so-called loving God when I went through this? Where is He now when I most need Him?

I will show you in a moment where He was, where He is. First, I'd like to share some profound words offered by Christine in the retreat this week:

“We must know the terrible experience of loss wrought again and again in our world so that when the promise of new life dawns we can let it enter into us fully in the space carved by loss.”   
                                - Christine Valters Paintner, OblSB, PhD, REACE

"in the space carved by loss" - these words struck me with great power when I first read them and they still do. I would never say that God sends us loss or pain or any of the other horrible things that afflict us just to accomplish some other purpose. That is not the God I believe in. However, the notion that loss creates a space in us which we can allow new life to fill is very consistent with the God I believe in. He can transform our pain if we give it to Him. Not only that though. He holds our pain and bears it with us. He becomes our pain and, in becoming it, He shares it more intimately than we could believe possible.

I said I would show you where He is/was when you were (or are) suffering. It may seem when I show you, that I am trying to preach the Christian message, to convert you to my religion. Please believe me that that is not my intent - for I respect wherever you may be with believing or not believing. (And if you don't want to continue to the end of this posting, that too is fine.) What I am sharing with you is an artistic expression of images that came from a sacred place within me during this retreat, along with harp strings playing the melody of an old spiritual: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? (I am not claiming good art or musicianship - simply a message coming from my heart.)

(To listen, click on the play button, then continue to scroll down for the images.)

(It does not end here. I hope to be posting again in a few days...)