Saturday, April 07, 2012

On Easter

Every year at Easter I am struck by how hard it is to get into the Easter spirit. I'm not even sure what the "Easter spirit" is. The Christmas spirit, by contrast, is so easy to define and get into that it can be found at events like Dickens Fair, where I'd be surprised if even 50% of the workers care (or even agree) that God invaded the world.

My strongest memories of Easter are of uncomfortable little-boy clothes, bizarre rituals, and awkward family gatherings. There were certainly fun parts of Easter growing up (such as the morning search for the Easter basket), but on the whole, Easter was a rather unhappy holiday for me. Now, there's an argument to be made for Easter not being a joyous holiday, but how are you supposed to get into a holiday that's unhappy?

Of course, there's an argument to be made for it to be a joyous holiday too, but I've never really been able to get 100% behind that. As an adult, the adjective that feels to me most appropriate to Easter is shell-shocked. A previously dead man is no longer dead. The executed deity is no longer executed. The one who descended into hell is no longer in hell. Those are good things ... I guess? My honest reaction to those things is not joy. It's more like just ... whoa.

When I need a handy lens through which to think about Christmas, I tell myself a Phoenix Earth story, where Alaen Kerona relates to Mackenzie Taylor what it was like to be there on Christmas night, when the armies of heaven were for just one brief moment unleashed on the world and battered a hole in the serried ranks of the enemy to allow the First to be born as a baby. For what? Nobody knew. Those were their orders; not for them to know why. And I think of the angels of the expeditionary force witnessing that invasion after millennia of fighting a losing battle and, even if they didn't know why it was coming, I can easily imagine myself standing on the sidelines shouting myself hoarse, roaring, "Go! Go, you magnificent bastards, go!"

When I need a handy lens through which to think about Easter, I don't really have one. I know the theology, just like I know the theology about Christmas, but trust is not maintained by knowledge alone. I'd almost venture to say the opposite: that the fabric of trust is primarily emotional, propped up and given stability by knowledge.

But I did have a thought today, walking Meshparjai to the store to pick up ingredients for an Easter salad. I was struggling with something that might make sense but that I don't want to do. It was (is?) all mixed up with outrage at other people, my dreams for what might have been, my fears for what might not be, but God directed my gaze, as always, at one particular aspect of my emotional hurricane - the pride that says, "I shouldn't have to do this." Maybe that shouldn't be the most salient fact. But, funny thing about being a Christian, pride always seems to become the most salient fact.

And I realized - or God pointed out to me - that, "I shouldn't have to do this" is a very Easter-y dilemma. Invading occupied Earth, well, that's one thing. Anybody can get behind liberating occupied territory. But then the liberation turns out to require the better to die for the worse. And ... well, you shouldn't have to do that.

I imagine that at some point the observing angels must have realized what their master and commander meant to do. I think of Alaen Kerona realizing what the point of the invasion had been all along, and thinking to herself, "He shouldn't have to do this." Reading the Gospels, I'm pretty sure that Jesus felt that way in Gethsemane, and it wasn't even a secret to him. Just ... it's one thing to commit to do something in the future, and another to stare at it from inches away.

And - and perhaps here's the most important thing to me - I agree that he shouldn't have had to do this. As any number of thinkers (mostly skeptics, perhaps) have pointed out over the years, God doesn't need people (or, if you don't think God exists, God shouldn't need people, were he to exist). If the nature of God is such that people can choose to walk away from him, and they do, well ... they made their own bed, right? Let them lie in it. If any of them have regrets down the line, well, we all have regrets in life, and you can't undo the consequences of your past actions.

It's the world we live in - and the world, I think, that we all accept. In my younger and crueler days (at least I hope I become less cruel as I grow older) I would look at parents dealing with broken teenagers and shake my head because, hey, it's too late. If you don't have a strong home by the time your kid is fifteen, well, it's too late to fix it now. It's too late to fix it when your kid is five. Heck, my kid is fifteen months, and you know what? It's too late to fix the mistakes I've already made. It's always too late to fix the past. All we can do is pick up the pieces and move on as best we can.

Isn't that how we all live? It's sad, but we accept it, don't we? How many of us really think that it needs fixing? Because that's the main theological point of Easter, I think - that it never has to be too late. For a better man to die for a worse man - a better man who doesn't need the worse man in the least - to fix something we are pretty much all okay living with, well ... he shouldn't have to do that. Who among us hasn't felt the power of that simple protest? I shouldn't have to do this.

And maybe you shouldn't. Maybe I shouldn't. Maybe I don't. Maybe there's nothing requiring me, or us, to do it, than our own natures. And yet ... I shouldn't have to do this! Even when the only person demanding you do something is yourself, the power of I shouldn't have to do this can stop you cold.

Perhaps the spirit of Easter is overcoming that protest, that last ditch scream of an outraged pride. If Alaen Kerona had been at Gethsemane, I don't think she would have understood everything that was going on. And overcoming my own pride isn't going to create the possibility of redemption for the world.

But it may create a bit of the Kingdom in my own family's sphere. And isn't that what I should do? Isn't that what any good buir would do - isn't that, in fact, what makes a buir?

Last night Meshparjai and I saw a bit of Peter Pan. She lost interest, but I think I needed to see it. I needed to hear Mrs. Darling say once more that Mr. Darling was a brave man.

Says Wendy in the cruelty of youth, "Father. Brave."

"There are many kinds of bravery," her mother replies. "There is the bravery of thinking of others before oneself. Now, your father has never ... brandished a sword, nor - nor fired a pistol, thank heavens!* But he has made many sacrifices, and put away many dreams."

Michael perks up. "Where did he put them?"

"Why ... he put them in a drawer. And sometimes, late at night, we take them out and admire them. But it gets harder and harder to close the door. He does. And that is why he is brave."

* A good buir, of course, should be able to brandish a sword and fire a pistol. Working on it. Funds are presently lacking.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Thanks for writing; it's always good to read your thoughts.

Personally, I'm a big fan of the ancient customs, as a way to the Easter spirit. (It's one of the nice thing of being in a "higher" church tradition—one of the main things that drew me into it, really, though I think my turning point was at All Saints' Day rather than Easter.) That way to Easter goes through forty days of meditation on slavery, hunger, and death. At the end of which: Thursday. And Friday. And Saturday. And vigil, in darkness, and strange, alien passages are recalled: The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. You who have no money, come, buy, and eat. Son of man, can these bones live? And the strangest and most alien words come at last—and light. Do not be afraid. He is not here.