The event of bringing back from the dead. Ashes to ashes… It’s a word I’ve always known but rarely took apart. Not to get all latin geeky on you (but I did take Latin in high school, mostly because my Mom nudged me, but I’ll tell you, algebra has never served me in adulthood but Latin has gotten me far and helped me sail through the SAT vocabulary), but I’m a big fan of etymologies. It’s related (kind of 5th cousin once removed) to the French verb resurgere, which means rise again. So it’s got to be related to resurgent, resurgence. A revival of sorts, after a latent period. in the 1770s a Resurrectionist was a grave robber (quite literally, rise from the dead). There’s Resurrection Pie, a nasty thing made from whatever was left in the kitchen (think that’s 1800s and British).
Easter was always the poor cousin of Christmas to me. I mean, as a kid, Santa Claus was way cooler than the Easter Bunny. You stopped believing in humanistic bunnies bringing baskets of chocolate and Peeps way before you gave up the ghost on an old fat white man shimmying down the chimney (or the back door, or the fire escape) with toys. The Easter Bunny didn’t bring Mattel Electronics Football (um, dating myself, my favorite ever Christmas present in the late 70s). And who likes Peeps, really? I’m not even a fan of ham or coconut cake. Give me turkey and stuffing and apple pie. I’m on Team Christmas.
But Christmas is a kind of made up holiday. It’s not like anyone knows that Jesus was born in a manager in a stable on December 25th, under a snowy starlit sky. It’s significant, of course, but in terms of Christian holidays, Easter is definitely the pinnacle. Jesus rising from the dead? Yeah. That’s a mic drop if there ever was one.
I grew up Catholic, going to church every Sunday, in CCD (Sunday school) after 9:30 Mass all the way through High School. I sang in the Folk Choir for the (what I always called) Hippie Mass. I was a cantor for a while. I was a reader. Mostly because in my day there was no such thing as an Altar Girl. I loved Mass. I loved the Frankinsence and Myrrh. I loved the little bell that rang signaling the transubstantiation of the bread to body. I could time the kneeling and the standing. I actually memorized the Mass to pass the time (I still know great portions of it and can mouth along when I visit my mother). I know the Nicene Creed like I know my own face in the mirror. I have long parted ways with The Catholic Church, for a variety of not-relevant reasons for this particular post, but I still feel like it’s home.
And so, yesterday, I went with my Mother, as I do when I’m visiting, to Mass. Easter Sunday Mass. It was the first time I’d been in a building with more than a handful of people in over a year. We had to make a reservation and it was strange to see Father Keith handing the communion wafer through a hole in a plexiglass shield but other than that, it felt like the opening of the world. My mother, my brother Dan and my son and I dressed in our Easter best, masked up, and went to church together. I wanted to go. I wanted the hope of hearing something divinely inspired.
I’ll be honest, right now, I need God in a way I’ve never needed God. I was long a skeptic, a non-believer, a lazy atheist. And then I got sober and realized I needed something to hang onto during those long days and nights of wondering how the hell would I make it without a decent Cabernet to go to sleep. I got on my knees, even though I thought it was bullshit superstition, and said the prayer about turning my will and my life over to the care of a Higher Power, and much to my surprise, I teared up and felt some kind of calming energy, like a protective shield. It wasn’t a burning bush, but I recognize it now as a spiritual experience and since I had that, I’ve stayed sober for a bunch of years. That’s a miracle in itself.
But lately, I’ve had another kind of bottom. An emotional bottoming out. I’ve had a rough 18 months. From the quick death of my father to stuffing the grief and losing my voice, to the grief spilling out and mixing in with the Post Partum Depression which just became depression and anxiety and loss and sadness and rage and I had a kind of a breakdown and lost friends and went away and came back and the solid ground underneath me crumbled. It’s a miracle I haven’t done anything stupid like drink again. For that I’m grateful. It was a kind of burning bush moment for me, though, as the one year gave to another, and I realized I needed to dig further down into the dark recesses of my soul and find another kind of resurrection. I needed to change, to let something that wasn’t working die and have faith that something new and beautiful could grow in it’s stead. And I needed to, as Carrie Underwood sang, let go of the wheel. I have a friend who tells me every time I call her crying, “You’re just trying to run the show, Amy. You haven’t learned that you’re not in charge.” I love her and hate her for saying that. But it’s true. I’m trying to manipulate the outcome of a future that’s uncertain so that I get what I want and I get out of the pain of uncertainty. I want what I want and I want it now. And I want it out of great love. But I need to let go in order to really BE love. This is hard.
A few weeks ago I was looking at the river outside my window while making coffee in the morning, praying my angry-at-God prayer. Demanding. Begging. Cursing. And an internal voice, soothing and soft, said to me, “Trust me.” No kidding. I heard it. Yes, yes, it was my own voice, but the tempo was not mine. I have had a few of these moments in the past 10 years, mostly during meditation, where my voice changes shape and tone and tempo and assuages my fears. Once during a Vippassana Meditation course, when the voice explained a few strange phenomena in my life, and then assured me that I was being taken care of. Then a few weeks ago. Trust me. It calmed me.
In my best moments, when I feel connected and non emotional but vulnerable, not flooded, I do trust. I trust the universe is not gonna save me from the gutter of my alcoholism and give me the Promises, give me a double rainbow life full of blessings, only to drop me on my head and say “I told you so.” But it’s hard to have faith after the 18 months I’ve had, with this big dark hole of abandonment that I’ve got tearing a hole in my heart. Saying “I told you so.” It’s that death knell of unworthiness. I’m a 4 in the Enneagram. I’ve been told that’s how we Fours roll.
Back to Mass. My three year old son sat entranced, for the most part, by the music and the robes. He also wandered around, wanting to sit in different parts of the aisle. But, miracle of miracles, he was silent. Didn’t talk except in hushed questions to me. I was free to listen. And Father Keith really delivered on the homily. He talked of this season of resurrection. Of light coming from darkness, truth coming from pain. What are we waiting for behind that big stone? He talked of a world in pain from the year of being shut in, the loneliness, the brokenness of us all, and I started quietly sobbing, gathering all my hurt parts into my chest and feeling like I was in that wilderness of not knowing the end of the story, wanting the ascension to be real. Wanting God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace. And I thought of the AA Promises and how they relate to the promise of the Crucifixion. A man, a son of Higher Power, Divine made Flesh, comes to the world to hang with whores and thieves, not the rich and the powerful. He preaches all over but only gathers 12 men who follow him, not quite an army. And then he is put to death for speaking his truth, and before that, he is abandoned by all of his friends. Then he dies, 3 days later he is alive and 40 days later he ascends into heaven. A humble man. A kind man, it seems from history.
Jamey used to say to me, “You’ve got this thing against Jesus.” I didn’t, I just cringed at proselytizing Christians. Maybe it’s the Irish Catholic in me, all quiet judgment of outward displays of belief. But maybe I did. I just didn’t buy it. Felt like a fairy tale. But lately, I’ve been investigating the Jesus thing. In my recovery, I reach to a so-called Higher Power and it’s nebulous, like the mist. It’s the river. Or the wind. Or Patti Smith. But it morphs and I can’t quite catch it. And so I doubt. All the time. And I give up on it, and then I’m on my knees again, sobbing.
But last month, a voice. Again. “If you’re looking in the mist for something to hang onto, why not consider Jesus? I mean, what’s it gonna hurt you to hang onto a human, broken, like you, who died for your forgiveness. You don’t have to bloody your knees crawling on the earth repenting anymore. You are forgiven. That’s the resurrection. That’s the ascension.”
Maybe I’m becoming a Jesus person.
Yesterday I was crying for forgiveness, for second chances, for love, for acceptance and maybe, for surrender. I was crying for my Father who wasn’t there. For my family who I missed. For the lost year we’ve all had. For the pain and suffering that so many have experienced this year. I was standing next to my mother with my son at my side, crying with gratitude and with hope. And it felt like a kind of a resurrection, the death of the old way. To let go of what I had counted on in order to rebuild something better.
I have no idea what the future holds for me or for any of us. I just know to literally take it one day at a time. To write one song, not the opus. To make amends and pray for change. To let love in however it may come. And to lean on this mist that sounds at times like Santa Claus and at times like Jesus. And yeah, at times like Patti Smith. It seems yesterday, singing hymns in a gilded marble church in Maryland, I may have experienced my first true Easter.
What a revival it was.