dawn of Easter joy
Life bursts through death and darkness
dawn of Easter joy
Life bursts through death and darkness
shuffling off the stench
of death; the world a-tilt;
a cosmic shining in that soiled
empty sheet, spices strewn across the barren
floor; life undying bursting
through the cloth once tightly
shrouding our mortality.
And that lone head cloth,
folded, tidy, set apart,
quiet in a shining
all its own, whisper of divine
attentiveness to the minutiae
of our lives, quotidian patterns,
daily tasks that shape our days; hint
of holy presence, quiet glow
in all the foldings and unfoldings
of our tidy, not-so-tidy everydays.
“The Incredulity of St. Thomas, ” Caravaggio (1571-1610)
Recognizing me as a pastor who sometimes preached at the church she seldom attended, the woman sitting beside me in the hair salon apparently felt she needed to explain her absence. So in a voice just above a whisper she confided, “I really don’t feel very comfortable going to church, you know, because I have so many questions and doubts.” A nagging reality for so many—doubts that sometimes lurk around the edges of our faith, doubts that sometimes question the very core of our faith.
Nothing new or strange about that. Even the disciples of Jesus experienced doubts in the heady days following the resurrection. Those disciples had known Jesus well. For three years they had worked and traveled with him. For three years they had watched in awe as he healed the sick, turned water into wine, and fed thousands with five loaves and two fish. They had heard his teaching, heard him tell that he would die and then would rise again. But when Jesus did just what he had predicted and then appeared to his disciples to bless them after his resurrection, St. Luke tells us that “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”* It wasn’t only Thomas who struggled with doubt. Faith for all the disciples was complicated and riddled with questions for which they had no clear and certain answers.
“Peace comes dropping slow, dropping from the veils of the morning,”** wrote William Butler Yeats. Perhaps the same is true of faith. Faith didn’t rush upon those disciples with a rock-solid, unquestioning certainty that never left them. It dropped more slowly into their lives. Required a certain ongoing patience. Required an ongoing openness to God. Required ongoing time spent with their risen Master. Required, as well, an ongoing honest openness to all their disbelief and wondering.
I’m fond of Emily Dickinson’s poem “This World Is Not Conclusion.” She begins the poem with a certainty that there is something more beyond this life:
This World is not conclusion.
A Species stands beyond –
Invisible, as Music –
But positive, as Sound –
A strong statement of faith. A bold confidence. But then, in the rest of the poem, she very honestly explores her questions and her doubts. Her faith “slips,” she says. “Plucks at a twig of Evidence.” Searches here and there. But in the end, her uncertainty remains, like a “tooth that nibbles at the soul.”
Faith and doubt. Sharing space in Dickinson’s poem and in her soul. Sharing space in the hearts of the disciples of Jesus. Sharing space in most of our lives as well. Good to remember—when faith feels strained and stretched, when doubts nibble at our souls—good to remember that we are in good company. That we are very much like those early disciples of Jesus who experienced their faith, sustained their faith, grew their faith, slowly and erratically, amidst all their questions, all their doubts.
I wasn’t able to respond to the woman who whispered to tell me of her questions and doubts, as it was time for her to go and sit under the salon’s hair dryer. So I can only hope that she, and all of us, for that matter, will learn not to be afraid of our doubts. Learn not to feel that we must keep them very private, daring only to whisper them. Learn to engage in an ongoing and open dialogue with God and with God’s people, many of whom have questions of their own. Learn, in short, to accept the reality that faith, like Yeats’ peace, often “drops slow” into our lives, keeping us ever humble, keeping us ever alert.
**from “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”
They tiptoe, dance, and spin
bright sun across my tired yard,
still dressed in her old tattered
coat of winter’s shadowed cold.
Wee flowerets sing to me their
yellow song of rising life;
shout golden hallelujahs,
he is risen; he is risen indeed;
trumpet bold the tidings,
shake the air, pierce through my
fears; spill out their earthy psalm of
wonder, jubilation at the mystery of
life beyond the winter’s ice, of life
beyond the stone cold mask
of every sullen death.
So quiet you sit on my breakfast table,
mystery unfolding in your
tender petals shining stardust in the
silence of this Easter rising morn.
Christ is risen; you, too, are rising, inner
secrets densely wrapped and bursting
energy inscrutable, profoundly beautiful;
I sip your gentle pink assuredness of
life’s ongoing stirrings and arisings;
taste the fragrance of the secrets hidden
in the layers of your folds, whispering
the mystery of life to come, when you, and I,
and every blossom I have ever known, unfold to
shine beyond all time at God’s high breakfast board.
It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to read at breakfast on Easter morning, but there it was on the front page of the New York Times–the story of 12 year old Noemi, a slight Ecuadorian child who had committed suicide earlier this year in Mexico.
He is risen! He is risen indeed! The cries would soon ring through our church.
I read through the fragments of her life, her solemn eyes pulling me deeper and deeper into her story. Weary eyes, doubtless from endless days huddled in a dusty pick-up truck bound for Freedom Land and reunion with her parents. Her parents, the story explained, had left Ecuador for a better life in the Bronx, NY, when she was about three years old. Since then Noemi had continued to live in Ecuador with her grandparents. She had not wanted to leave Ecuador. It was all she knew, and poor as they were, her grandparents had nurtured her lovingly. But when her parents called to proudly tell her they had arranged for her to join them in America, she packed up her suitcase and soon found herself in the back of that gritty pick-up truck, bumping over roads that stretched endlessly to a future frighteningly unknown, with questions, fears, and doubts as her closest companions.
He is risen! He is risen indeed!
After about a month of the dust and heat of country after country, the truck was stopped in Mexico, the driver arrested, Noemi sent to a shelter for children, a place called the House of Hope. It seems, however, that there was no hope for Noemi. Her heart was sealed in a dark tomb of fear, despair, and loneliness, and the stone that covered the entrance was simply far too heavy for her to move. So one day she walked her lonely 12-year old self into an empty House of Hope bathroom and quietly hung herself from a shower curtain rod.
He is risen. He is risen indeed!
I share Noemi’s story, not in any way to dampen our Easter joy. Easter is indeed God’s good news! Let the Hosannas ring! Let the Alleluias resound! I share Noemi’s story simply to remind myself and all of us that there are still more stones in the world that need to be rolled away. To remind us that Easter is an unfinished story.