For centuries the story of Easter, to some faiths, has been the account of the literal resurrection of Jesus. To other faiths, it is a metaphor about transformation. For metaphysical communities, it remains up to the individual to decide. Nevertheless, it is one of the three times of the year when churches, metaphorically minded or literally inclined, are better attended; Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.
It makes an interesting challenge for pastors, priests and spiritual leaders. “What else is there to say?” I’ve heard colleagues wonder. The story in each of these major holy days is essentially the same year-after-year. I have noticed that when I hear a story over and over again that I have the inclination to stop listening well. I keep that in mind when I prepare my Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas message. I try to ask myself what is it about the Easter story, and its message about the journey of transformation that I have quit listening to. What have I stopped paying attention to? What is there in the story that I don’t want to hear?
Well, there is a lot. Starting with the times leading up to the Easter, the period between death and resurrection, and the three days in the tomb, there is a lot in those milestones that many have a reluctance to go through. The journey of the dark night of the soul is just not as uplifting as the story of the triumphant return.
I have noticed that when I am not paying attention, I can have the tendency to resist the part of the story that is the in-between part; that part that is between ‘no more’ and ‘not yet.” I resist this either by pretending it isn’t happening, or by scolding myself because it is happening, or worse, by wanting to rush it through so that I can carry on as if it had never happened at all.
That’s one aspect of the story of transformation I have to remind myself to listen to; don’t rush, avoid and deny. There is indeed a place between the dark night and the bright day of your story. In the Easter story, it’s the part where the most important thing dies. I typically don’t want to hear about that, I prefer to fast forward to the part of the story where the resurrection happens and everything is wonderful again. Hurrah! I don’t enjoy suffering, so I love novels and movies that remind me that there is life after the crash. I enjoy metaphors that remind me that life prevails, spring returns, good triumphs and that we’re all going to be ok. I like stories that have an ‘ever after,’ especially an after that I have some say in.
So naturally, I am like many metaphysical students in that I just don’t want to look at parts of the Jesus story that disturb my equilibrium. Like the part the leads up to the betrayal and murder. I don’t like that part of the story. It doesn’t match my idea of how the world should work. As futile as it is to insist that reality should be different from how it is, I continue to have an inclination to do so.
If you are not familiar with the Easter story, it seems that Jesus of Nazareth knew exactly what was happening and what was going to happen in his story. He seemed to be aware that everything was going to come crushing down and that he had no power to do anything about it. And even though there was clearly a glorious ‘after’ in this story, he did not necessarily want to go through the pain of betrayal, the trial of being misrepresented, and all the other elements of this dark night.
I don’t like that part of the story. It took place in the garden of Gethsemane where in the poignant words of the Luke’s Gospel it says:
And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup away from Me…..”
When I was younger I was frustrated by this part of the story. I wanted him to take control of the situation. When I studied metaphysics and learned how to pray in an affirmative way and manage the world around me, I mistakenly thought I had full control of the universe and my question for Jesus persisted “Why don’t you just pray it away?”
Now, for me, the answer is, because you simply can’t! If you have ever been in a relationship that should end, but you want to stay in it, but you can’t stay in it because it’s destroying you, then you know something about the feeling. It’s got to end even though you don’t want it to. And you know it.
Jesus had just completed Passover Diner and he took two of his students, Peter and James, into a garden and asked them to stay with him as prayed. And he began, the Gospel says, to become deeply distressed and troubled, and said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” and that is when he fell to the ground on his face and said, Oh God I know everything is possible — And if it is possible, I would prefer Not to have to go through this — And yet, it’s not my will that prevails, but yours.
And that’s the part of the story metaphysicians don’t particularly enjoy hearing about. Or maybe, like me, they stop listening to the message of it, because it is a powerful reminder that when it comes to transformation, there are serious limits to what we can control and what we cannot control. And beyond that realization is the fresh awareness that everything become possible only when I align my will with the will of God. In other words, when I start wanting what God wants – which is, to me just another way of saying, stop arguing with reality. Sri. Nisargadatta Maharaj, responded to a student who talked about unhappiness saying “I have what I don’t want, and I want what I don’t have,” by saying “Why don’t’ you invert it: want what you have and care not for what you don’t have.”
Nevertheless, Easter is still the story of the great after. It is the walking up to it, that is difficult, like getting tooth pulled has unpleasant and possibly disturbing moments building up to it. And afterwards it’s going to be wonderful, and my immature mind says “and can I please have the wonderful afterwards without the trip to the dentist?”
I Remember reading in Eat, Pray, Love, “There is so much about my fate that I cannot control, but other things do fall under my jurisdiction. I can decide how I spend my time, whom I interact with, whom I share my body and life and money and energy with.”
What springs into mind is the world famous prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
So the journey to the ‘after’ is difficult and my mind wonders why it is so.
And that’s what makes the Easter story so amazing to me. When Jesus did come back, some of his friends didn’t even recognize him; because like the new spring flowers, he was the same but not the same. The previous had died away and the new version was glorious to the point of not being recognizable as the old.
Sometimes I don’t like that part of the story either. I don’t want to hear it. I want the bit about the glorious and new, yes! However, I want sometimes to skip past the part that says I will not be recognizable when I get there. I realize then, that I crave total newness, but without having to change a thing. As if I can control that! As if I can make spring appear exactly how it was last year.
I think the problem is precisely because we have creative minds: there is in us this yearning for something new and that yearning repeatedly invokes change and transformation. Even so, I also seem to be aware that it’s not going to be the same after and there is suffering that comes when I don’t want to lose what I have started to cherish.
In the interactive journal I wrote with Dr. Chris Michaels, Spirit is Calling, we wrote:
“The only thing that remains constant is our Creator’s insatiable desire to make all things new. It has no attachment to form, only to movement and Love’s expression. And what God creates is eternal and is never lost.”
I think of it like this: being made in the image and likeness of God (creation itself) suggests to me that the same endless action of creation is somehow in me, maybe as this apparent insatiable desire to create newness. In you, and in me, is a vision of the peaceable kingdom that I read about in Isaiah, a vision of a world in which the wolf shall life with the lamb and the le leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw just like the ox, while nursing children shall play safely near a snake’s hole and young ones will be near a crocodiles’ den without fear. Because they will not hurt or destroy each other on my entire holy mountain; because the earth will be full of the knowledge of holiness as sure as the waters cover the sea.
At the Center for Spiritual Living we are motivated by a compelling vision that is similar, a vision of a world that works for everyone: a world free of homelessness, violence, war, hunger, and separation; a world in which there is generous sharing of heart and resources; a world in which forgiveness is the norm. And in which borders are irrelevant; a world which has renewed its emphasis on beauty, nature and love through a resurgence of creativity, art and aesthetics; a world in which fellowship prospers and connects through the guidance of spiritual wisdom and experience; a world in which we live and grow as One Human Family.
My word, for that kind of vision to come into being, I’m guessing that something has to die. Perhaps even something cherished.
One way or the other each of us is activated by some kind of vision just like this or something similar; whether it is just for our own personal life, or for the whole world.
And that’s why the Easter story can be your story – close and personal. In that you can’t have it how it is now and also how it will be afterwards. For example, you can’t use up all the earth’s resources and dream about a world that works for everyone. You can’t dream about a world that works for everyone but refuse to give up anything if it impinges upon your own personal freedom. You can’t want honesty and right action in politicians and world leaders and at the same time you want to sit down and rest. You can’t not vote and be slightly dishonest, and… well you get the point don’t you?
Something has to die; completely. Maybe even a whole way of life has to die.
I think we are creative beings with creative minds continuously imagining a glorious vision of life. We know how to dream. The challenge is how to enter into it. And for some it means putting down those things that prevent its coming. And for some those things may be the things they cherish the most. Concepts of being the dominant species or the nation consuming the most resources on the planet may have to be investigated.
When Jesus approached the city in the days leading up to his transformation, and he saw the people engulfed in their projections about who he was, he wept and said, ah, if only you knew what things bring peace, but they are hidden from your eyes.
What if you and I know exactly what things bring peace, and we aren’t paying attention right now because we’d rather not know. I like the title of Vice President Gore’s project, An Inconvenient Truth, because it stimulates me to think about that which I know I must do, but would rather not drink from that cup.
I believe that throughout the transformation, and all the changing and dying, what does not die is the vision. The vision of a Peaceable Kingdom, the vision of a world that works for everyone, the idea you have for rightness, goodness and truth, they prevail and carry us unfailingly up to that which must change, that which is beyond our ability or power to prevent.
For my own use, I have made an adaptation of Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous prayer for times when transformation seems frightening or when I know I must, but don’t want to:
Spirit wisdom within me gives me the peace
to embrace the things I cannot control;
And Spirits Strength within me gives the courage
to change the things I can;
as well as the wisdom to know the difference between the two.
And so I live one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Seeing hardships for what they are.
I take this world as it is, instead of insisting
it be anything different.
Trusting that Goodness has made all things perfectly –
I surrender to what is
so that I may live in peace,
in this world and the next.
Reprinted from my blog at www.edblogword.blogspot.com