This marks the first time in many years where I am not observing Easter as a professional clergy member. It feels strange not to prepare the prayers, embroil myself in those familiar passages and ruminate on the timeless truths of this somber, but joyous season. Ordinarily, this is the beginning of a mad stretch that includes major events revolving around Easter, graduations, summer retreats and mission trips. I am usually bracing myself for the brutal grind from March to September. This year, however, the season snuck up on me. Ash Wednesday appeared when I saw a coworker with a sullied forehead. Good Friday popped up suddenly without any fanfare. I’m accustomed to walking more slowly and more carefully through the season but this year, it feels as though I’m on the outside looking in.
Every year, I’ve had the obligation to examine this season and personalize it. I’ve always tried to make it a point not to do ministry by going through the motions, so if I’m preaching the resurrection, it’s a matter of integrity that I experience it as I invite others to do the same. This year, I haven’t had that same pressure. I’ve spent a lot of the lenten season getting fat on Postmates and binge-watching Yu Yu Hakusho.
As a result this Easter feels distant and abstract. Today, I’ve tried to spend some time examining this, but deep down, I already know that for the past few weeks and months, I’ve been frustrated and disappointed with God. I don’t ask God for much. I mean, of course I do when I’m praying for other people, and for causes and other things. But I have to admit, with a lot of prayers, I am a cheap date and a quick apologist. I can see how God works for the good of his people, not causing, but utilizing the worst of situations towards the ultimate goal of human flourishing and properly allocated glory. And then I’m cool with whatever the Big Man decides.
But there’s a special type of prayer that spills forth from the guts. Every now and then, I ask something of God and I can’t see how he’s gonna work his magic otherwise. In short, I become a brat and I don’t take no for an answer. There are some things that I’ve been asking God for and his answer has been no.
And thusly scorned, I’ve been pouting. This is where I find myself this Easter.
I’ve never really been a Lee Strobel fan. It’s not that I don’t condone or appreciate his work. It’s just that I never really needed a case to be made to me about Christ. Christ was my lifeline when the only thing I was destined for was despair and misery. Christ is the lifeline for me still. I often recommend Strobel’s books, but they were never my personal cup of tea. That being said, there’s an exchange in A Case For Faith where Strobel is interviewing Chuck Templeton, a peer of Billy Graham’s, a gifted evangelist, and at the time of the interview, a vocal agnostic. Templeton rails against shoddy Christian scholarship, apparent contradictions in scripture and the seemingly irreconcilable reality of a broken world. But then, when Strobel asks him about Jesus, his face softens, his voice grows nostalgic. Then Templeton raves about the character of Jesus and tearfully admits, “I miss him.”
This conversation has always stuck with me. I don’t remember much else when I rushed through Strobel’s books on the 7 train while commuting to Brooklyn Tech, but I remember this. “I miss him.” That’s how I was feeling, how I often feel when I’m a bit wayward.
That’s how I was feeling today when I crawled up to the loft holding the wee baby Shelby. She was getting a little fussy, so I decided that I was gonna read something to her. Stephy was making dinner and my mission was vital because 1. If I don’t get Shelby unfussed, Stephy doesn’t eat the food while it’s hot. 2. You smell everything more clearly in the loft and Stephy’s cooking smells good (curry and grilled chicken today). Unfortunately, a large portion of my library consists of crime novels, literary fiction or other genres of books inappropriate for tiny babies. So I decided on some poetry. We started with a little Rupi Kaur, because sometimes I’m a basic b****, and also because I want to introduce the tiny baby Shelby to female poets she can look up to like Rupi Kaur, Maya Angelou or Joy Chen.
Then I stumbled onto what I certainly needed today. I pulled out The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God. I knew it was right the moment I held it in my hands. I was in need of some truth, but I wasn’t going to hear it from a theologian or a pastor. I needed to hear it from a poet. Sometimes it’s just like that.
So I began reading Rilke poems to Shelby and ultimately, myself. I reminded the tiny infant child that they mention Rilke in Jojo Rabbit and that’s where she might remember the name, but Stephy yelled from the kitchen that Shelby didn’t watch the movie (she slept through Jojo Rabbit, can you imagine?). Shelby was very quiet and contemplative when I read the original German (my butchered, surely racist, German), but she got fussy and inattentive when I read the English. Sort of rude, actually. But it’s ok, I love her to death and I could kiss those cheeks forever and ever a hundred years.
I read this poem.
|In tiefen Naechten grab ich dich, du Schatz.
Denn alle Ueberflusse, die ich sah,
Sind Armut und armsaeliger Ersatz
Feur deine Schöenheit, die noch nie geschah…
Und meine Häende, welche blutig sind
von Graben, heb ich offen in den Wind,
So daß sie sich verzweigen wie ein Baum.
Ich sauge dich mit ihnen aus dem Raum
als hättest du dich einmal dort zerschellt
in einer ungeduldigen Gebärde,
und fielest jetzt, eine zerstäubte Welt,
aus fernen Sternen wieder auf die Erde
sanft wie ein Frühlingsregen fällt.
|In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet…
My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.
Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.
What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
like a spring rain?
Rainer Maria Rilke – The Book of Hours: Love Poems to God “The Book of Pilgrimage: II, 34”
For what it’s worth, it rhymes in German. It’s also deep and evocative and along with others in the book, this poem sums up the feeling in my guts as I enter into Easter this year.
I’m not predominantly mad. I mostly just miss God, and I feel stupid for letting my disappointment get in the way of returning to the only well that ever gave me life-giving water. It feels stupid to wander, but it’s reassuring to know that the moment I turn around and head back to Him, he’s there.
In the end, Resurrection Sunday isn’t supposed to be about me and how I feel about it, it’s about a good God who did everything in His power to break the walls between Himself and the ones that He loves. It’s about the life He volunteered to give on our behalf. It’s about triumph over the death that spreads it’s stench over every dimension of life. I love this Jesus God. He is risen indeed, and it feels like He rises again and again, every morning to find ways to remind me of those things I already know and always forget. Passover, the OG Easter, was established as a time where we pray the prayers, eat the meals, and most importantly, remember— remember the one who brought us out of Egypt, out of bondage, into a better life, not a perfect one, but one where we are free.