This is the first in a series of eight reflections over the season of Easter on making a pilgrimage of resurrection.
Lent is such a powerful season of pilgrimage through the desert, calling us to return to God with our whole hearts. We arrive at Easter eager to celebrate the reality of new life out of death, but sometimes forget this is another, even longer season, rather than a single day of celebration. What does 50 days of practicing resurrection look like? What would it mean to embark upon another pilgrimage to the heart of our own creativity in collaboration with the Great Artist at work, the one who brings newness from the old and discarded?
The story of Easter morning is such a story of surprise and complete reversal of expectation. Two of the disciples and Mary go very early to the tomb only to discover Jesus' body is missing. They are deep in grief, then confused, and perhaps even angry that the body has been moved. Like all threshold moments of our lives, there is a powerful call here. Where you expect to find death you suddenly discover the evidence of death is gone. Where you expect to discover the broken body in the tomb you encounter one who has been transformed, but do not recognize it right away.
Jesus appears to Mary but she does not see him at first. In her grief she holds powerful assumptions about what has happened. She grasps onto an image of her beloved friend which no longer matches the reality. This encounter is Mary's moment of call as Jesus sends her to witness to the disciples. She is being ushered on a new pilgrimage. The trajectory of her life is altered by this moment. I am captivated by the image of pilgrimage as a metaphor for our human journeying. Not just the physical journeys we make to outward places, but to the interior places of the heart, the new landscapes we are called to explore. Can we allow our own trajectories to be oriented in a new direction?
Often the call arrives to our own lives unbidden. Something happens which we did not expect and we need to shift our perspective to open our eyes to this new possibility. Sometimes it is an unwelcome event like death or illness. Sometimes we seek out a new adventure in our lives. Either way, a threshold is a liminal space, meaning in between places of security and knowing. On the threshold we are called to release what we thought we knew and our desire to control what is to come. It is an incredibly vulnerable place to be.
Jesus tells Mary, "Do not hold onto me." Do not grasp at this new wonder. Approach with open palms. Be ready to receive the gifts being offered. Know your life direction may take you somewhere unexpected.
I am reminded of one of my favorite stories of the Irish saints. It is said that St. Kevin was praying with arms outstretched and palms open each day. On one morning a blackbird lands in his palm and starts to build a nest. Rather than grasping or withdrawing his hand, he holds it up for the days or weeks it takes for this new life to be hatched. He received the gift offered to him no matter how uncomfortable. He says yes to what arrives into his life unbidden.
The call of Easter is this simple invitation: to step forth across the threshold, to release all you thought you know, to hold your palms open, to say yes to what comes.
Do not hold too tightly to what you think the outcome should be. Let yourself be surprised. Release your expectations and be turned inside out. It is in the places of profound unknowing that we let ourselves enter into Mystery. The resurrected life is at heart a great and mysterious process. It is not something we can understand on logical terms, it is only something we can live into and experience.
One way to practice this is by making a commitment to a creative practice. I like to describe art-making as pilgrimage. When we step into creating without agenda or plans, it is a process that leads us on a journey of discovery. We must lean into the threshold place of not knowing how something will turn out. We must risk being vulnerable.
Creativity can teach us to step into the threshold, hold ourselves open, and receive what arises (rather than what we think should happen). It is a powerful way to practice resurrection of daily life. You do not need to travel far outwardly to make this kind of pilgrimage.
At Abbey of the Arts, we are inviting the community to make a commitment to practice creativity daily in celebration of my new book being released in May 2015 The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within (Ave Maria Press). Please join us (details available at this post).