Anne Howard: A Word in Time: The Roots of Resilience


"When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Not so much.

Sure, grit and guts are necessary in the face of challenge, but this simplistic turn of phrase has little to offer when the going really does get tough, and the news is bad. When the going gets tough, yes, we need to step-up-to-the-plate and we need to lean-in, but I'm more interested in what or who will inspire me to take that next step forward.

I'm thinking about what we do when "the going gets tough," reading news from Nigeria and Damascus and Boston, and reading more of the post-Easter tough-going for the folks in the Fourth Gospel. What are the roots of resilience?

When the going gets tough, I turn to the saints and the poets.  I count on poetry to tell the truth when prose gets thick and tiresome. Sometimes-often-I find those saints and poets out on a walk, as when a robin perched atop a tree facing east catches the sun with his red breast. Sometimes, I think of my own roots, the  saints who have gone before, the ones who nurtured me into the faith: Lille, Gertrude, Hannah, Minda, Cully, Jean, all the saints.

This week, I was flipping through a magazine, (through more bad news) and there, smiling back at me, was my all-time favorite saint, Desmond Tutu. His face has long reminded me, no matter what, that God is good and the creation is good, too.

This photo shows an older Tutu, with seven decades of living etched around his eyes. But his eyes are lit from within, and his smile glows as bright as ever. It is a face filled with deep-running joy, the face of a very human saint who knows that God loves him.  

Archbishop Tutu is in the news for winning the 2013 Templeton Prize for his work ending apartheid, advancing liberation and promoting forgiveness in South Africa. He responds with the spirit that has marked his leadership, and with words that strike my ears as poetry: " . . . I want to say a very big thank you but I would also like to acknowledge the fact that . . . when you are in a crowd and you stand out from the crowd, it's usually because you are being carried on the shoulders of others."

And this from the resilient saint who knows that the going gets tough:

"We inhabit a universe  . . . where kindness matters, compassion matters, caring matters. This is a moral universe and right wrong matter. And mercifully, gloriously, right will prevail."

 Where are your roots of resilience?

Echoes from the Edge

Resurrecting Hope

By Adam Rao, 2012-13 Beatitudes Fellow - May 6th, 2013

Adam is Pastor at SafeHouse Church in Minneapolis.

When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, "This man was certainly God's Son."

(Mark 15:39 CEB)

Growing up, we would always talk about the cross on Easter. Each and every year, Easter was like a rerun of Good Friday, except the commercials were happier in tone. That never made much sense to me. After all, the cross is about death; Easter, about resurrection. Simple as that. And, now, as a self-described "post-evangelical," I've found myself wanting Good Friday and Easter to be as disconnected from one another as possible. They don't seem to belong together.

This year, however, I found myself going back to some of those roots.

When Augustus, Rome's first emperor died, there arose a legend that he became a god. And, thus, all of the emperors who followed him became known as "God's son."

And, so, the claim of the centurion in Mark 15 is not that Jesus is God or that Jesus is divine. Rather, he proclaims that Jesus, not Caesar, is God's son; that the way of Jesus, not the way of Caesar, is the way of true life.

Had he made such a claim after the resurrection, perhaps it wouldn't be as surprising. After all, not even Caesar could pull off that trick.

But, no, it wasn't the resurrection that led this centurion to make such a claim. It was Jesus' death - something he stood and faced and saw - that caused him to exclaim these subversive, even seditious, words.

A few months ago, I received word that my friend, Brian, was about to lose his battle with colon cancer. Two months younger than me, Brian and I grew up together and we remained close even after high school. So, my wife, Sarah, and I made our way to Nashville to say "goodbye," and, for two nights, we took the "night shift" with Brian so his parents could get some much-needed rest.

In the quiet stillness of the dark, Brian would whisper his desire for cold water - not just water, but cold water, which was particularly refreshing to his parched lips and fading body. And, so, rotating on and off with Sarah, I would make my way around the hospital ward, grabbing ice and rearranging cups of water in the refrigerator so they stayed as cold as possible. And, when Brian would wake from his uncomfortable slumber, I'd offer him a sip and watch as he relaxed back into that tragic yet gracious state of drug-induced, pain-free rest.

The sacraments we had to offer were not bread and wine; just jello cubes and chicken broth. Our common practice was not the washing of feet, but rather than rubbing of them.

And, after three days, there was no resurrection from the grave. Only death. The sounds around me were not those of angelic rejoicing, but rather the anguished scream of a mother and the sobbing of a heartbroken father.

And, while I continue to grieve and experience sorrow over the loss of a dear friend, like that centurion, in the midst of death, I found myself experiencing true life, even resurrection.

With Brian, I rediscovered the reward of providing a cup of cold water to someone in need; a sense of clarity that love and service are what life is all about; a reaffirmed belief that true life is found in the way of Jesus; a resurrection of calling that inviting and empower people to follow that way of life is what I'm meant to do.

In the midst of death, the centurion found new life - life that wasn't to be found in the ways of Caesar and of empire, but only in the way of Jesus, this man who hung on a cross. And, in the midst of the death of a friend, even as I mourned, I, too, experienced a taste of resurrection, a gift I'll never forget and one I can never repay.

Perhaps Good Friday and Easter belong together after all.

Finally, the Poet


By Mary Oliver - May 6th, 2013 - May 6th, 2013

That time

I thought I could not

go any closer to grief

without dying

I went closer,

and I did not die.

Surely God

had his hand in this,

as well as friends.

Still, I was bent,

and my laughter,

as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.

Then said my friend Daniel

(brave even among lions),

"It's not the weight you carry

but how you carry it--

books, bricks, grief--

it's all in the way

you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,

put it down."

So I went practicing.

Have you noticed?

Have you heard

the laughter

that comes, now and again,

out of my startled mouth?

How I linger

to admire, admire, admire

the things of this world

that are kind, and maybe

also troubled--

roses on the wind,

the sea geese on the steep waves,

a love

to which there is no reply?

Taken with permission from the blog of The Beatitudes Society.