On Easter Sunday, I heard again, for the first time, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ wonderful phrase about resurrection: “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us.” (The Wreck of the Deutschland). Andy Thayer, the Rector at Ascension, the church where I serve, preached about the meaning of Easter as a verb, not an event to be a spectator for, not something that happened a long time ago, to a single person.
I began to “Easter” yesterday, wide hat on my head, old beat-up clothes on and gardening gloves–as I hauled edging rocks, planted, shoveled, watered, cleaned out a chicken coop, pruned and marveled at the first roses blooming in my garden, this after a Holy Week filled to overflowing. Who could ever have imagined this is what the day after Easter Sunday would look like for me!
Holy Week two years ago was about little more than survival. I already had behind me three years marked by much loss. Ahead of me was more loss, in some ways, worse loss. I already knew that my last day in the NRRM/St Ambrose/El Centro ministries was the 14th of June and we were moving to Alabama. I got through the days, even found a way to preach resurrection, and then continued the work of putting one foot down in front of the other, steeling myself for the goodbyes that lay ahead.
In some respects, last year was the culmination of that process not just of loss but surrender. I was helping out at the small church in Lowndesboro. However, the work there was mainly about staying out of the way of a community that learned to be self-sufficient long ago, that didn’t need an over-eager priest coming in to stir things up and change what had worked well for years and years. I was also working with ECF in a job that simply did not fit. I already knew I was leaving the position at the end of the first phase of the project I’d helped get started. Sherod and I knew we could make it financially if I continued to hold the very part-time position in Lowndesboro and picked up the occasional supply work as well. It’s just that I had to quit thinking there’d be more of a place for me in the Episcopal Church.
But my horizon had narrowed and focused into the days immediately in front of me. I lived in a present with a past too painful to think about, and a future that required me to be at peace with no clear path, no well-defined trajectory, just a gathering of days. There was abundance in that new normal, for sure. I was rediscovering spring. I was planting a my first-ever vegetable garden. My husband and I were tending to each other and to a marriage that had been tattered and torn by the incredible pressure of trying to serve as priests together in a single ministry. All of that was wonderful. But I think one way of understanding death is to see it as an endless present. I did not go willingly into that night.
And then, instead of death being followed by disintegration into nothingness, what followed was a second chance. I find myself back as the parish priest that I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined possible when I went on retreat to Lake Tahoe in the Fall of 2013. With the help of my mentor and friend Joe, during those 30 days of retreat, I sought and found the kind of indifference that allowed me to release my death-grip on the ministry I had started in Fort Lauderdale. It sounds romantic on this side of the story. The work of surrender, the determination to let go, had to be a stripping down to a very simple version of me. I had to stop planning, projecting or anticipating myself into the next place, the next job, the next possibility. I had to be willing to let go with no safety net and be in free-fall without any clarity about how long that might take or where I would land.
The experience was harrowing. And as harrowing as it was, the reality of what it means to Easter this year is even more powerful, even more filled with goodness and joy than I could have dreamed of. I heard an interview given by my friend Michelle about claiming the joy of Easter, where she talked about all the ways we observe the season of Lent and how little we do to observe the season of Resurrection. This year, I am Eastering. I am getting to be the parish priest I was called to be. I am proclaiming without shame or hesitation that death did not have the last word and joy and gratitude are a gift to be shared. Exsultet!