What to Wear for A Resurrection
We were all dressed in white. On a recent morning, I sat next to two other mothers during our children’s chapel service during which my daughter and her other peers were reading a Psalm. For a moment, I let myself be amused by the outdated notion that one shouldn’t wear white, especially white shoes, after Labor day or before Easter or Memorial day even. I recalled feeling horribly conspicuous and embarrassed in middle school because my white flats were the only dress shoes I owned. Then I tuned back in to the chaplain discussing how, based on the Episcopalian liturgical calendar (as well as other Christian denominations), the color of the Easter season is typically white. She asked the children what the color white might represent. Some children mentioned clouds, lambs, cleanliness, purity, and weddings, even a clean slate.
As a child raised in a few Christian faiths, I don’t ever remember discussing white or the symbolic nature. But I have always heard about the story of death of Jesus and his resurrection, his return to life at this time of the year. Whether you are a believer or not, dying and returning to life is a remarkable story and a theme that occurs in other deity stories as well. No matter when, this story always offers something new to me each time I hear it told.
Once a past assistant rector, Kelly, reminded me of this story when my husband and I went to pray with him over my pending mastectomy surgery in the middle of a hot July. As I struggled with my fear about the surgery and cancer, he counseled me on how one might view life as a series of “mini” resurrections. This dying and returning back to life is a process that we all go through in one way or another. We know it as change. From the moment we are born until our physical death, there are many opportunities for change. Birth, growing up, marriage, job opportunities, divorce, death… As we grow, we encounter situations where we will need to die to old ways in order to move into new possibilities. Moving through changes can restore us, bringing new life back into a dying or dead situation.
At first, I felt perplexed by this comparison. As a child, the story of crucifixion wrenched my stomach. I hated the idea of suffering and didn’t want to suffer as Jesus did. Because of the dogma that was preached to me with little adult guidance, I internalized that I was meant for a life of suffering. Eventually, I thought, “screw that idea.” After all, who likes to think about change or even worse, dying? Ultimately, I came back around to searching for an understanding of Jesus’ suffering and how that might relate to human suffering.
Just like Easter brings and spring bring about a fresh perspective, there is something new in the lesson for me to discover this season. I am pondering the idea that Jesus was willing to suffer but did not choose to live a life of suffering. He knew his path might include persecution. And yet he was willing to move forward knowing that it might include suffering. In his humanity, he likely experienced all the emotions that one might feel when facing the possibility of death. Courageously, he didn’t run or hide. He continued to live his life in the moment doing what he loved most, teaching unconditional love and healing those who needed this love the most.
Rather than avoid circumstances and the suffering, he was willing to suffer. He offered up loud crying and tears in his prayers to God (Hebrew 5:7). I am moved by the power of his courage. He knew that on his path to ascension, there would be death, and yet he was willing to suffer at the hands of others and move through that. Rather than give in to the fear of the uncertainty and doubt – the uncomfortable feelings and thoughts about what might or might not happen, he knew it was just a transitional moment in an ultimate transformation, which showcased God’s greatest miracle. This is the ultimate story of love, faith and conviction.
Change can be hard and can suck. Growing in life does means change, dying again and again to our old selves so that we may continue to grow, to ascend. This means that suffering is an inevitable experience in our human lives. Most of us, like myself, would rather avoid the suffering. We fight the suffering, we deny the suffering, and we numb the suffering. Maybe we choose to avoid intimate relationships, forego applying for an exciting job, or choose not to fly to Paris because we are too terrified of what might happen. Maybe we drink too much wine or spend all our time on FaceBook so we don’t have to feel our pain. Regardless, there are two ways in which we predominantly exercise avoidance: we will either live in the past or live in the future.
By living in the past, one chooses to suffer as a way of life. Someone might view it as inevitable because s/he cannot believe s/he is worthy of any other existence. Seeing suffering as the only way to exist. It’s the idea of “what’s the point, it’s never going to get better”; a cop out on life – there can be no surprises or disappointments when we hold on to a constant state angry or sad. Hello depression.
By living in the future, one wants to avoid situations or get overly controlling in order to avoid the worst possible outcome, even though we can never truly know what it might be. Imagining bad things or that we can’t fathom facing the losses that we will suffer creates anxiety. Both of these methods are fueled by fear. Both of these methods are blocks that will get in the way of us living our life in the place that truly exists in its most powerful capacity, the present moment. It’s important to note being angry, sad or anxious are a very integral part of our humanity. Where we go awry is when we deny ourselves the opportunity to express and feel these emotions and move through them in constructive ways.
One of the most profound things that I learned as I was studying to become a life coach is this observation by Martha Beck. She was sharing her observations about her study of Steven Hayes’ “acceptance and commitment” therapy. I became aware that humans are the only species (as far as we know) that can create a story that causes us to want to kill ourselves to avoid future suffering about a possible situation. We allow ourselves (whether fueled by our own personal or other’s of ourselves) to create an abstract story about a non-existent future that is so painful that tragically it (the pain of suffering it can cause) can even be greater than the fear of taking one’s life.
When facing unpleasant feelings about a potential situation, the most optimal thing to do seems paradoxical. Rather than avoid the feeling, we must be willing to accept the feelings. Acceptance empowers us to navigate through situations that we might choose to avoid because of fear perceived negative feelings and/or outcomes. Willingness to suffer allows our fear to rise up and to dissolve. The past and the future that exists in our minds can fall away and allow us to be in the present moment. Bottling up our emotions will cause one to become sick, harming one self or become harmful and hurting others around us.
In that way, it’s like a mini-resurrection. We cannot know that each thought that arises can be absolutely true (and often we imagine the worse). Yet if left to to sit in the darkness, it will grow in unbearable ways – depression, anxiety, stress – the kind of stress that can kindle an illness or disease. When the thought to arises from darkness into light, the light prevails and can dissolve fear making room for the light of truth.
Living in the light is like a continuous resurrection. Meaning we must go deep into the darkness of inner self and free our negative thoughts into the light to dissolve. Jesus knew this. Jesus was willing to face death and persecution for spreading the word of God’s justice and unconditional love. Because he knew that living from a place of fear (in the dark) would trap him. He knew with total conviction that living in his light was a far greater place to be than any possibly negative outcome, including his death at the hands of those would forsake him.
This Easter season, contemplate how will you resurrect your life. What small or big leap do you need to take? What type of suffering do you fear it will bring? Time to bring those fears into the light. Time to accept them. Time to let them go. Time to breath in new life. Time for a clean slate. Time to wear your white.