This year, for the first time in a long while, I did not go to church on Easter. I had no clear reason why. I had been working hard on a project in the weeks beforehand, and when I finally came up for air, it was 1:00am on Easter morning. I had just emerged from that luxurious place of concentration so complete that you forget the rest of the world is there−when you sit down to work for a little while in a coffee shop, and the next time you look up, the room is empty but for the person sweeping the space around you, gently reminding you they closed ten minutes ago. I actually enjoy this place, but it has its risks. If I stay there for more than a few weeks, fewer brain cells become available for the rest of me.
For example, on Holy Thursday I walked out of the chaos of ShopRite and realized that, in a full parking lot roughly the size of the town in which I grew up, I had no idea where I’d parked my car. I waited for the memory to return while heavy plastic shopping bags formed deep lines in my forearms. I worried faintly about Alzheimer's in my family history before remembering I’d always been like this.
Maybe church was out for today because after a period of intense work, I preferred a quiet expression of faith through yoga, prayer, piano and sun rather than a large, public celebration.
Or maybe it was the current “push” period that is part of my push-pull relationship with the Catholic Church. To oversimplify, the pull is to music, ritual, family, insights of timeless parables, Jesus as human and love and story, and a belief that the church is its people, not its leaders. The push is a recoil against forceful reminders of positions on birth control, practices impacting people who are gay, or divorced, or women, and a fear that the church might be its leaders, not its people.
But despite my crowded mind, somehow Easter did find me. At night, between dreams of prose moving itself around in the document I was working on, I dreamed of my grandmother, who died last summer after an injury and declining health. In the dream she was alive, and I found her standing in a closet, lost and little and covered with clothes, scarves, belts and clothes hangers, her small face peeking out while she waited for me to come find her through the clutter.
She had said before she died, “Do not forget me,” and I awoke wondering if I’d been too preoccupied to remember her or her lessons. Then I remembered what a neat freak she was. I have never been accused of that myself, but lately it's been pretty bad. The inside of my car would make a perfect time machine for future archaeological study (“Bottled Water, Gum and Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Consumption in 21st Century American Women”).
Maybe she was just telling me to clean up.
Either way, she was there. And on Easter I awoke to sunshine casting warmth on a wood floor. Sudden as Easter was, it came today through my daily morning yoga and meditation practice which, on some days, is God’s only way in. Easter came from my grandmother, and from a lovely brunch with my father, who shared that he’d been thinking of her this week as well. It came over coffee, omelettes and pancakes, and stories about what he loved and admired about his parents. We remembered the ways they are all still alive in the ways we live, and in the ways we want to.
Easter pulled me out of a shell of concentration and oblivion to the world, back to the world of sun, food, father, and reminders of what I believe: that in Resurrection, we will never cease to be alive.
Easter points to places in hearts, minds, memory and work where vacuums of hope gape open, asking to be filled with Resurrection. Whether you believe Christ was God Incarnate or not, Easter is the arrow that points to questioning all we have cast off as dead, whether a friendship or marriage, a childhood, part of ourselves, our relationship to the Divine, or life itself.
Whether Easter comes through church doors, flower beds or friends’ eyes is beside the point. If life continued for Jesus after death, and I believe it did, then so it did for the people we've lost, and so it will for us. The moment we really believe that, suddenly our insides are able to breathe.
Happy Easter. Whatever Easter resurrects in you today, may your heart's leanings lift higher than your mind’s figurings. You will never cease to be alive.
For me, the song “Bread of Life” always resurrects this truth from its hiding places, whether I am in church dressed up for Easter or in my sweats on a tired morning, sitting in sunshine, music and prayer. The version in the link below includes the lyrics and was sung in an Episcopal church last Easter. The version I listen to for meditation is a piano instrumental by Jon Sarta (from The Catholic Music Project, Volume II).