I'm grateful that we are still deep in the season of Easter, some 5-6 weeks deep. We need it. Our hearts are broken, blasted open at the finish line of the Boston Marathon; our hearts are still wounded from the killings in Chicago and Newtown, not to mention our 10-year-old war. And our hearts are troubled by the stalemates in Washington that keep a lock on sensible violence prevention, or a moral budget, or a bold response to climate change.
So I'm grateful for these Easter words in this season of new life:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not let them be afraid."
These words remind me of the young girl Paloma, in the French novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Paloma is keenly intelligent, and also cynical and world-weary. She writes in her Journal of Profound Thoughts that "the world, in its present state, is no place for princesses" and so she's going to end it all on her 13th birthday with a carefully planned, dramatically executed suicide.
But life interrupts her. Young Paloma meets a neighbor, a reclusive widow who is as keenly intelligent, cynical and world-weary as she, and the two become friends. Long story short, the widow dies in a car accident, and in the face of death Paloma discovers life. Life interrupts her.
She writes in her Journal of Profound Thoughts:
"So that's what it's like? All of a sudden all possibility just vanishes? A life full of projects, discussions just started, desires not even fulfilled-it all vanishes in a second and there's nothing left, ... no going back?"
Paloma goes on:
"For the first time in my life I understood the meaning of the word never. And it's really awful. You say the word a hundred times a day but you don't really know what you're saying until you're faced with a real "never again."
"... But when someone you love dies...well, I can tell you that you really feel what it means and it really really hurts."
And then, in the middle of her fresh grief, something happens. She hears music, a neighbor playing the piano, drifting out into the evening air. She listens for a moment, and then concludes:
"maybe that's what life is about: there's a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an Elsewhere that had come to us, an Always within Never. Yes, that is it, an always within never."
Always within Never.
I'd say that's as good a description of Easter as any I've heard in the usual Easter stories: a voice in the garden on the morning of the third day, a breakfast of grilled fish on the beach, a greeting of peace that cuts through the closed doors and broken hearts in an upper room, broken bread at an Emmaus supper, an appearance on the Damascus Road: an Elsewhere comes, a moment of Always within Never.
I figure the author of the Fourth Gospel, the one we call "John," had this same grasp of Always within Never. He writes with the metaphors of a good novelist as he spins the Jesus story, writing at least two generations after Jesus. He uses words like Light of the World, Bread of Life, Good Shepherd, Lamb of God, the Way, the Truth, the Life-metaphors that spell out Always within Never. John told stories:
- like the one about Mary in the Garden, discovering Easter life when she loosened her grasp on the past;
-or the one about Peter finally getting that Easter happens when he gets over his guilt -- and goes out there to engage the world, to tend the sheep and feed the hungry;
-or the one about troubled hearts, closed-up hearts breaking open in a moment of beauty when a breath of air and "Peace" whispers through the room. "Peace I leave with you, my own Peace I give to you."
John told all these stories, because his community needed them. The little band of Christians were, just like Jesus, already being killed by the Empire. Their hearts were troubled and they were very much afraid.
So John offers them his imagining, he paints for them a picture of Jesus at supper with his friends, so that they might picture the very first disciples huddled in a room, hidden from the authorities, just as they too gathered in secret, listening for the clank of Roman armor.
In John's telling of it, Jesus doesn't say that things will get better. He doesn't tell them about any silver lining in the clouds. He doesn't talk about a bright blue heaven. He doesn't offer them religion of any kind. Jesus offers them something the temple and the Empire can't: he offers them his presence, a new kind of presence. He calls it "home."
We will come to you. (John shows us Jesus so close to God that he speaks of himself and God as "we.") We will come to you. We will make our home with you.
"But how will we see you?" one of the disciples asks, "How will we know it's you?"
Love each other, and we will make our home with you. Just try it. When you turn toward your neighbor, you will turn toward me. When you open your hand, and your heart, you will touch me. I will make my home with you. When you stop to notice, you will know me:
I am with you when you hear your name and claim it as your own, as Mary did in the garden on the morning of the third day; I am with you when you discover the balm of being right at home inside your own skin.
I am with you when you invite the stranger to supper, I am with you as I was at Emmaus, whenever the bread is broken and the wine is poured.
I am with you, as I was with Peter on his fishing trip, when your net is full; but even before that, I am with you in the dark before the dawn, when your net is empty and your strength is gone.
With his mystical imagining, John is telling his friends to be on the watch for those moments of always within never. He is telling them to be on the alert for that moment of beauty when Elsewhere comes to us and we fell like we're not alone any more, we are home. And it's still and always Easter.
Echoes from the Edge
By Anna Woofenden, 2011 Beatitudes Summer Fellow - April 29th, 2013
from Anna Woofenden's blog Praying the News
For the runners,
Finish-line in sight,
For all who felt,
The ground shake,
Who heard the blast,
And blast again,
For the emergency personnel,
Who sprung into action,
Coupling training and courage
For the loved ones,
Near and far,
Eyes glued to the screen,
Waiting to hear the familiar text tone,
Longing for the message of
For unknown persons,
For faces not yet reveled,
For motives not known
And causes yet detected,
For the many who pause,
As news of a tragedy appears
On our newsfeed.
Just close enough to feel it,
Just far away enough to
Wonder how to respond.
We invite Compassion
Healing and Peace
And we pray.
Finally, the Poet
By Wendell Berry - April 29th, 2013
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.