Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Column: Flustered for joy

I have very vivid memories of the tailored, lined pink tweed coats, and of the sled ride to Mass, but couldn't precisely place the year. A search of the Chicago Tribune archives turned up the story of the surprise Easter snow storm. My mother, tucked away in the basement sewing would have had no idea that snow was falling on her Easter parade.

Augustine's commentary was (and is) truly consoling, I often imagine how difficult those early days must have been for the disciples. Could they believe their eyes?

The full quote from Martin Laird, OSA is from Into the Silent Land:
"This is why most people don't stick with a contemplative discipline for very long; we have all heard all sorts of talk about contemplation bringing inner peace but when we turn within to seek this peace, we meet inner chaos instead of peace. But at this point it is precisely the meeting of chaos that is salutary, not snorting of lines of euphoric peace."

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 4 May 2011.

He himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you!” In a state of alarm and fright, they thought they were seeing a ghost. But he said, “Why are you so agitated, and why are these doubts rising in your hearts?” — Lk. 24: 36b-38

“The weather bureau reported itself at a loss to account for the sudden snowfall….” read the article in the Chicago Tribune on Easter Monday 1964. Easter that year had dawned on an unexpectedly snowy landscape. My mother, seven months pregnant, had been up all Holy Saturday night, putting the finishing touches on our Easter outfits. She’d heard the wind howling, but hadn’t realized it was a near blizzard outside.

I still remember my mother’s insistence that, despite the bitter weather, we would wear the new spring coats she’d spent all night finishing, blue tweed for my brother, pink for the girls. My father, knowing he was outmatched, bundled the three of us up in a blanket, put us on the sled and towed us through 10 inches of snow to St. Luke’s for Easter Mass. It may have looked like winter, but the springing to life of Easter was not to be so easily thwarted.

In retrospect, I wonder if it was that early Easter of contradictions that set the tone for later Easters. Easter is a feast that often leaves me feeling like the disciples in this scene from Luke, frightened by the sudden appearance of the risen Jesus, while simultaneously trying to grasp His joyous greeting, “Peace be with you!”

Two decades after that memorable surprise Easter snowstorm, my celebration of Easter was once again paradoxical. I spent Easter morning eating brunch in a local hotel where the noise of families celebrating in their Easter finery burbled merrily around me, and Easter afternoon in the hush of a funeral home greeting mourners at my husband’s wake.

St. Augustine, reflecting on how the disciples faced the reality of the resurrection, well captures these contradictory emotions, “they were still flustered for joy; they were rejoicing and doubting at the same time.” I struggled that Easter, and struggle still, to reconcile my own grief at Tom’s loss with my joy for him, now at rest in God. So I find Augustine’s matter-of-fact acknowledgment of the tumultuous reactions of the disciples in the aftermath of the resurrection to be consoling.

In fact, Augustine notes, within this swirling chaos is an opportunity for grace. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were also troubled, and poured forth their confusion to a Christ they could not recognize and in “the depth of their despair, all unwitting, they showed the doctor their wounds.” Even if I could not fully comprehend Christ resurrected in my life at such a moment, Christ could yet work on the wounds that my very struggle to grasp the realities revealed.

Sixteen hundred years later, Augustinian Father Martin Laird echoes Augustine’s wisdom to those seeking to find Christ’s “Peace be with you!” in prayer and contemplation: “When we turn within to seek this peace, we meet inner chaos instead of peace. But at this point it is precisely the meeting of chaos that is salutary...” The resurrection does not obliterate the pain of Christ’s passion, or of our own travails. Instead, like the disciples in the upper room, and on the road to Emmaus, it is a place where those of us who are flustered by joy in sorrow, who are simultaneously mourning and rejoicing, meet Christ. It is the place where Christ works within us.

Even in their fullness, the first disciples’ lives would be marked by contradiction and chaos. Nourished by joy, filled with grace, nevertheless they would be tried by fire. Perhaps Easter snowstorms shouldn’t be so unexpected after all.

All-powerful God, help us to proclaim the power of the Lord’s resurrection. May we who accept this sign of the love of Christ come to share the eternal life he reveals. Amen. — From the Opening Prayer for Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter


  1. Ah, it is reassuring to know that I am not the only one who finds Easter complicated. It often seems to me that the echo of awfulness of Good Friday reverberates through the joy of Easter Sunday.

  2. It's funny how our parents worked so hard to bring order to our life, working so hard to make things simple, straightforward, and true.

    And yet, I often think if my mom could have just sat down once in a while and said "It's complicated" I might have gotten a lot of comfort from that. Because it was certainly my experience.

    No judgment. And perhaps not your experience at all.

    But here I am in my middle 50's and I simply rejoice whenever I come across some human wisdom and sharing (such as yours) where someone is quietly speaking of the complicatedness, the paradox, the mystical nature of this experience we label "spirituality" or "religion" or "Christianity" or "Easter."

    Thank you. Martin Laird's quote is so apt. Showing me again that I do not have to be perfect already in order to greet God in my day.

  3. This is such a beautiful reflection.

    And such an excellent reminder of how important it is that we acknowledge, as Cindy says, the complexities and paradoxes of these holy days, rather than leap into simplistic and one-dimensional celebration.

  4. Gaye: Thank you for posting, I have rarely thought of that. Usually I am so hungry to rejoice at Easter (with a few exceptions).

    I'm not trying to unduly mess with things, but I think it should be mentioned that many of us, I think, are aware that sometimes silence is simply empty; not only the experience of a chaotically painful or even a hidden God, but an absent one. I think that must have been Holy Saturday.

    I'm sure, just like the Triduum, that these experiences of God blend into one another. But, being a limited human, I do also experience the distinctions.

  5. "But, being a limited human, I do also experience the distinctions." One clarification: I don't mean that I don't see the blendings or that they are not part of encountering an unlimitedly expressed God. But when I have experienced pain or absence, it has been very hard for me to see it any other way.