Brother Thomas SSF
While working in a coffee shop in Portland Oregon, I had a customer comment on my tattoo. It is scrawled across the outside of my forearm in ornate script that reads ‘Practice Resurrection.’ Complete with the period.
The customer, as he grabbed his coffee off of the counter said, “What is that about?”
“It’s the final line of a Wendell Berry poem.”
“Yeah, but what does it mean?” he asked.
“I think we all have something to get up from,” I said.
I’ve had this tattoo for nearly 10 years and the statement is still true. It sits there as a reminder on my arm, its time to get up, you can do this, go on, keep practicing resurrection. And I do the best I can. I don’t believe that the words are laced with condemnation. I don’t think they are saying that I need to practice resurrection today because I failed yesterday and my pile of things I need to get up from is only growing. I think the term practice in this case means something closer to opportunity. Today I get to be a participant in resurrection. And if I am participating, then that means that a piece of humanity is participating. And if through me humanity is participating then that means that a little piece of the world is being made whole. Practice resurrection, it whispers, not just for you, but for a world that desperately needs it.
Wendell Berry’s poem Mad Farmer’s Liberation Manifesto is about living a simple life connected to the land. He talks about doing what is right and what will last into the future – a future we won’t see. He talks about caring for people beyond politics and living into the mystery of life. He sums all of this up, all the various facets of living with the final line, “Practice Resurrection.” Live well, live intentionally, live for others as well as yourself. This is part of resurrection too.
So here we sit in the Easter season, the part of the church year where more than ever we focus on the resurrection of Christ. Right in the middle of all of the gathering darkness; the rising death toll from the coronavirus, the rising numbers of infections and hospitalizations, the growing divisiveness in our country, the mounting fear, all of the need, the hurt, the turmoil- right in the midst of all of this we arrive at Easter, when Christ emerged from the tomb and conquered death. It is fitting really. It has forced me to think even more about what it means to practice resurrection, how I can live into the resurrection of Christ in our current world and in what ways I can help our world inch its way to wholeness.
In Mary Oliver’s poem, Summer Days, she asks the poignant question, “Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Every time I read those words, I find myself answering the question with “Live”. I want to live my one wild and precious life. My life is a gift that I don’t want to squander. And yes, it is hard and yes there are obstacles and complications and yes the world has a lot of darkness in it right now. But I still want to choose to live my life. Even sheltered away in isolation for the time being, I still want to choose resurrection. There are times when I imagine being in a tomb and seeing the daylight shining through the opening where the stone has been rolled away. I imagine Jesus coming down into the tomb with me and putting his arms around me and lifting me onto my feet. Slowly, gently, we begin to move toward the light, toward the fresh air. Toward new life. Because when Jesus enters the picture, it is always a new beginning. That’s resurrection too.
Sometimes resurrection looks like having the courage to get out of bed. Sometimes it is answering the phone and talking to the person you’d rather not talk to. Perhaps it is stretching your legs and going for a walk or picking up that paintbrush that has being sitting there waiting for you to come back to it. Maybe resurrection is letting go and accepting the fact that we can’t control things or fix them. Maybe resurrection is a nap, or a smile, or a dozen cookies left on the doorstep for a neighbor’s house. Practicing resurrection is the act of reaching toward anything that will give you life. And in a world that is being smothered by death and hopelessness, that reaching toward life is revolutionary. It is defiant.
And that is the point.
Wednesday April 22 commemorates the 50th anniversary of Earth day. Another reminder for us to choose life in these trying times. In Berry’s poem he urges us to ‘plant Sequoias’. Sequoias are giant redwood trees that can grow to the height of a 26-story building and can live anywhere from 1800-2700 years. To plant a sequoia is to acknowledge the fact that you will never see it grow to its full height, you will never see the effects that planting that one tree will have on an ecosystem. To plant that tree is to believe in the future of generations that will come after you. To plant a sequoia is choosing life and paving the way for others to do the same. Practicing resurrection is never just about me.
Resurrection says that life is a cycle. In order to have resurrection you have to have life, death and then to live again. Grief is part of the process, hardship is part of the process. Nostalgia and memories are part of the process. And we take all of that with us as we come out of the tomb. We take those memories with us, just like the scars on Jesus’s hands and feet. Life moves forward and will always find a way. Christ is with us as we choose life, helping us to walk out of our tombs in all that that means. To choose life is to choose to walk the journey to wholeness. Practicing resurrection is an act of healing, about walking through fear and grief and disappointment to the light on the other side. And every day we choose to live our lives, we are healed a bit more, one mighty step closer to being whole. It is hard to think of anything else our world needs right about now.
We all have something to get up from. So, in the words of Mary Oliver, “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
I say live the hell out of it.