In his book, Callings, Gregg Levoy cites Nobel Prize-winning Belgian physicist Ilya Prigogine’s theory of dissipative structures, which contends that “friction is a fundamental property of nature, and nothing grows without it – not mountains, not pearls, not people.” The Grand Canyon was not possible without friction. A seed planted in the ground grows only after its outer shell has been completely destroyed; the plant reappearing in its place does not resemble the original seed at all. Friction, destruction and rebirth. This is the story of Easter.
I was raised semi-Catholic. I attended Catholic church (spottily) as a child. The oldest of four, I was the only one to make it through all of the sacraments up to confirmation and to attend Catholic high school. I think my younger siblings petered out of the sacraments by Eucharist, as our attendance and participation in CCD seemed to wane as time went on. This was due to a combination of things – we moved a lot, and as we grew up, our sense of community seemed to be served by other venues, but as a family, we always maintained an appreciation for tradition and spiritual groundedness, regardless of whether or not we showed up at the back of the church on Sundays.
When we did go to church, we sat at the back because we were always late. I imagine shuffling four kids to church on Sunday mornings and getting them to sit still and quietly was nothing short of a miracle for my mother each week. I also imagine that sometimes it was more of a miracle to just sleep in. I do remember when I started to question all that was being taught, though. It was a Sunday when we actually arrived early enough to find a pew near the front of the church. While I watched the priest raise the host above his head to bless it for Eucharist, I noticed the kneeling altar boy gently ringing bells that sat next to his knees. It was a subtle movement, but the ringing filled the church. I was horrified. In all of my years at the back of church, I had thought that the ringing came from God Himself in Heaven, when in fact, all along, there was this BOY ringing the bells on cue. And so my questioning began.
My mother encouraged us to question. She wanted us to maintain faith and belief in infinite possibility, but she taught us that not only was it healthy to seek new information, but also that the answers we sought often lived inside of our own hearts. Ever the obedient daughter, on the eve of my confirmation when my class was required to go to confession, I had a conversation with the priest that went something like this:
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been a day since my last confession.”
“A day? Then why are you back?”
“Well, my teacher said I have to give my confession to you. I spoke to God on my own last night, and we’re good, but I am supposed to tell you my sins, too, in order to get confirmed tomorrow.”
Thankfully, the priest I spoke to was a pretty open-minded guy, and we had a nice chat about how having a priest to confide in can be a good thing to supplement my direct line with God. At the wise old age of 13, I thought he was full of crap. Surely I could get my messages to God more accurately than someone who hadn’t actually witnessed the things I was talking about. But as a forty-something-year-old woman, my paradigms have since shifted, and I recognize that perhaps that old priest knew a thing or two more than I did at 13. I think it is good to abide oneself to an objective counselor at times – someone who will listen without attachment when you need to unburden your woes; someone who can help you see that you are not the only one going through whatever it is you are going through. I don’t think it has to be a priest – it can be a psychologist, or a respected friend, or a rabbi or a teacher. It can be anyone, really, so long as he or she is a good listener. Over the years, I have come to believe even more strongly in my own direct connection with God or the Universe or whatever you want to call this Massive Science Project that is greater than each of our individual selves. That said, sharing the direct line (i.e. exposing my most vulnerable, divine light to a trusted friend) is pretty holy, too.
The Buddha said that Life is Suffering. Jesus’ story says this, too. So does the seed that blooms into a flower, the caterpillar that turns into a butterfly, the canyon that succumbs to water, and the winter that gives birth to spring. Life is a beautiful story of changing seasons, of learning to let go of the past. Like all important lessons, in order to learn it well, it needs to be repeated over and over again. And so our lives go through the cycles of hard times relieved by good times: we welcome new babies and bury our loved ones when they pass. We say good-bye to friends whose paths no longer intersect with our own, and then turn the corner to welcome new ones. Like seeing that altar boy ring the bell for the first time, we are constantly challenged to process new information that shifts the paradigms of what we think we know. We reinterpret so that we can experience the joy and struggle of holding tight followed by the freedom of letting go. Hopefully, as we get older, the practice of coming together and letting go becomes more fluid, less painful. The fluidity is a function of our ability to step back a little, widen our perspective and witness the beauty of the process. We wake up each morning, both a little older and a little newer. That’s Easter, I think.
Two thousand-plus years after the fact, I’m not sure what happened at that tomb historically speaking, but I don’t really think it matters. Clearly the story/spirit/message/Divine Light of a man named Jesus is still living on in the hearts of people all over the world. Wherever he is, he’s still sending messages of peace, love and gratitude for the wisdom and light that come with inevitable transformation.