Saturday, January 17, 2015

Easter For All Seasons

Rev. Jeffrey Symynkywicz, April 20, 2003

Our souls can be crowded places sometimes. Crowded with symbols, with meaning and purpose.
There is not just an Easter lily inside of us, as that Russian peasant Ivan learned. There are other things inside our souls, as well. Sometimes, we sing:

I’ve got peace like a river…
I’ve got joy like a fountain…
I’ve got love like an ocean…
I’ve got pain like an arrow…
I’ve got tears like the raindrops…
I’ve got strength like a mountain…
… in my soul.
All that—a river, a fountain, an ocean, an arrow, the rain, a mountain—along with, now, an Easter lily— all deep inside our souls. That’s a pretty crowded place!
I’m going to add another thing there, too: a bird’s nest. Remember the bird’s nest in your soul, too. Here’s why:
Next time you have the chance, look really closely at a bird’s nest, and notice especially how a bird builds it. It gathers twigs and grass and leaves and even little bits of string and paper from all over the place—and then binds it together with mud or some other kind of sticky substance. From these different strands, there emerges in time a nest, a home a bird can call its own.
How do we build a life? We gather strands from all over the place—different kinds of materials and ideas and influences—and we, too, weave them together. Then we try to find some kind of meaning, some kind of purpose, that will bind them together, and keep them from coming unraveled. From these many different strands, a more or less coherent story emerges in time, a life that we can call our own.
But in spite of all of its complexity, a bird’s nest is a very delicate thing, too. A good gust of wind might send it flying into pieces.
Our lives may seem strong, as well. We might think that we have it all worked out, that we’ve planned for every contingency, that we’ve woven the strands really tightly together, and tucked in the ends, and double soldered the joints with Krazy Glue.
But our lives get buffeted about pretty severely sometimes, too. By winds of change. Winds of tragedy. Ill winds of alienation and despair and depression. Chill winds of rebuff and callousness and disappointed expectations. Winds of criticism, indifference, apathy, boredom. All these winds take their toll, God knows.
So complex, yet so fragile; so vulnerable, yet so strong: Life is, indeed, a wonderful and wonder-filled thing. “Why, who makes so much of a miracle?” Whitman once wrote. “To me, every hour of light and dark is a miracle.”
Life is a miracle—a mystery—a wonder. Of course, this may be so obvious to us in the spring, as new life burgeons forth. But it’s just as true in every season of our living.
“Why, who makes so much of a resurrection?” Whitman could well have written (maybe he did somewhere in all those pages of Leaves of Grass). To me, every season of our lives ushers forth its own resurrection. Let me explain what I mean by that:
First, you have to make room for one more symbol in those souls of yours—a real big symbol this time. Make room for a whole roller coaster (and let us hope a really loooooong roller coaster for each and every one of us). There is a roller coaster in your soul, and may it guide you through the ups and downs of life. (It was one of the participants in our Evensong class this past week who first brought up this concept of life as a roller coaster, and I think that all of us there that evening found it especially thoughtful and helpful.)
Think of the last time you were on a really big roller coaster at an amusement park somewhere, like Six Flags, or Canobie Lake Park, or somewhere like that. Remember the feelings you experienced: the anticipation as the car you were in made it, slowly, slowly, up the hill; the sense of accomplishment and wonder as you sat at the top (even if only for a moment or two, and surveyed the whole expanse of the park before you); then, remember the inevitable descent back down again. Remember the rapid acceleration, faster and faster and faster; heading back up, faster this time; steeper and steeper, so very, very high, then—whoosh!-- back down again-- deep, deep, down to the very bottom of the earth it felt, so far down that the velocity of your fall, pushed you halfway the next hill before you even knew what was happening. Then, it started all over again—up another hill, then down, over and over. The steeper your decline, the more rapid your ascent next time; the lower you fall, the higher you spring back up. Faster and faster it runs, till all you can do is throw out your arms as though to embrace whatever comes next. Then, before you know it, someone you don’t see puts on the brakes, and it’s all over. So in spite of the fear you’ve felt, and the pain, and the dread, and the anxiety, what you remember is the anticipation and the thrill and (most of all perhaps) the joy of sharing this ride with others. Most of all you wish that you had had more time, and that you could do it again.
This is life, the Buddha once said: seven times down, eight times up. This is the magnificent roller coaster that is our lives. This is faith, as well. It is the hope and the miracle of Easter.
Like Jesus our brother, kind and good, we, too, have crucifixions to face. We, too, face our own Good Fridays, our own dark nights of the soul. That roller coaster of life exacts its price; and there is no such thing as a roller coaster that only heads upward—that’s all ascending and no falling.
As J. Donald Johnston wrote:
Under the drip, drip, drip of events,
beneath the loud voice and the angry face,
within the stubbornness of change,
behind indifference,
imbedded in despair, inertia,
breaking through the crust of custom,
venturing into the solid mass of majority,
is the more genuine article of love:
the hope that is its own reward…
the tender blade that may be crushed
once having broken through,
the having-been-rejected that is wanted still,
the forgotten that needs rediscovering,
the needed-now within the reach of finding,
the life we need to see and feel
and be nourished by.
This is a fact of life: There can be no Easter without Good Friday (or without the long, dull Saturday of lying lifeless and fallow in the tomb). There is no healing without suffering; there is no resurrection without their being first a sort of death. There is no quick sugar fix, microwavable, five minute, instant resurrection; there is no by-pass around Good Friday on the road to Easter.
“All life is a miracle,” Whitman wrote. Those words have a nice, warm, cozy ring to them, at first hearing at least. We think of Easter miracles and certain images might spring to mind: new born babies, and little lambs in the field, and smiling Easter bunnies, and the fresh bloom of the flower, buds on the trees, and the caress of those who love each other.
But “all life”, Whitman said, is the miracle. Not just the “good” parts. Not just the happy parts. Not just the warm and sunny seasons. Not just the positive, convenient, comfortable, happy parts. But all seasons are part of the Easter miracle, and all seasons need the miracle of eastering. Winter is part of the miracle, at its longest, darkest, bleakest, and most discontent. Suffering is part of the miracle, too—at its most bitter, most severe, most heart-wrenching. And death, too—even death—is part of the miracle of life—death at its most inopportune, inexplicable, irrational, and tragic.
It’s all part of the cycle of falling down only to rise again. It’s all part of the sacred circle of life. It’s all part of dying to the old so that the new may be born.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
We choose those little deaths daily
so that we might have eternal life;
it is in our human letting go that we
take up the divine life that lies
within our souls.
The blossom falls from our hand
descending slowly to the ground;
the child’s hand lets loose from ours,
and crosses the street toward a new life
without us.
It is in letting go—in dying in some way—
that we take the hand of Life and venture forth
on our true journey of spirit; answer our deeper call;
meet our destiny; become who we truly are.
It is in the emptiness of letting go
that the seed of new life
has room to grow.
Be patient, give it time, and you’ll see:
deeper love, more joy than you could imagine;
well-enveloped in those little deaths
is the greater life you feel.
On Easter, God is calling us to leave the dusty, dark, despairing tomb where we have lain too long, and to venture outside into God’s glorious creation and come face to face again with the breathing, smiling, living vision of new life.
Suddenly the greenness is enveloping us all;
the light grows longer, our spirits soar.
Spring itself is proof enough that there is God,
a hope so sublime written deep in our souls,
a faith that abides, that never grows old.
Such simple thoughts, perhaps self-apparent,
but true, nonetheless, in the deepest
essence of their plainness; the sudden
miracles of spring, ours for the taking,
new lives in store, ours for the waking.
Sublime riches are offered in each
fresh breeze, in each sparkling moment
of sunlight, each greening branch; each
moment of refulgence; all these conspire
to celebrate life, our spirits to inspire.
Or, as a better poet has put it:
This is the truth that passes understanding.
This is the joy forever flowing free.
Life springs from death and shatters fetters,
and winter yields to spring eternally.
Every season of our lives issues forth with its own Easter call. And in every moment of our living lies encoded our most genuine and profound Easter response. If we experience the miracle of life in every sacred moment, then we will know firsthand the miracle of an Easter which never fades away.

May the blessings and the hope—and the joy—of Easter be with you all.

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