Sunday, April 12, 2020

Breathe in Easter

From Not By Bread Alone, 2018

“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”  Ps 118:17

While Handel’s Hallelujah chorus with its glittering brass glissades and pounding drums may be the iconic grand Easter chorus, for me it is Eric Whitacre’s lush and complex choral setting of the single word “alleluia,” that sings of the resurrection. The chorus begins so softly, I’m never sure quite when the piece begins, or if that breath of an alleluia is only in my mind.  Soon the alleluias swell and fade in waves. At last the sopranos hit a note almost impossibly high, swirling over the rest until a tenor solo breaks in. Alleluia. This is how I imagine the resurrection, Jesus taking that first uncertain breath, his chest barely rising and falling, his breathing gradually growing in strength and regularity, until the Spirit breathes onto him, calling his voice forth again. Alleluia. This is the resurrection as I imagine it.  No trumpets, no great beams of light, simply God breathing unto God in one unbroken line of praise.  Alleluia.  He is risen. Alleluia. We are risen. Alleluia.  You will rise again. Alleluia, alleluia, an infinity of alleluias.

St. John of the Cross, expanding on his Spiritual Canticle, writes of the soul “catching its breath in God.”  God breathes into us, fashioning us in the image and likeness of the Trinity.  We breathe that same air of love back into God.  To use Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ’s powerful image from his poem, “Easter Communion,” we who have kept vigil are now breathing Easter, catching our breath again in the resurrection, brought to life from Lent’s ashes. 

We breathe in to live, we breathe out to speak, to sing, to pray.  It is an ordinary miracle we have been given. No trumpets, no gold clad angelic choruses descending to earth, simply God’s breath ever in our mouths, God’s breath ever in our souls.  Let us ever and always, breathe Easter.  Alleluia. Alleluia!

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy.
Guard me, O Holy Spirit, that I myself may always be holy.
— St. Augustine of Hippo

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Grieving Easter

So many of us are grieving our usual Easter celebration this year, the loss of community and sacred spaces, and then there are those grieving the losses of jobs and lives. Grief and Easter seem like they should be at odds. We somehow imagine that Easter joy should obliterate any mourning we might be doing.

I remember the dissonance of Tom's wake on Easter Sunday afternoon, the blaring trumpets and brimming light from the Vigil still sharp in my memory as I stood next to my husband's coffin in the softly lit funeral home. I believe in the resurrection and life everlasting, yet at the same moment I was standing before death's terrible stillness.

Jesus wept at Lazarus' death, though he knew that he could — and would —  raise him from the dead. He knew what the resurrection would bring, the share of everlasting life that Lazarus would enjoy. Even so he stood before that cold stillness, weeping. He mourned.

We, too, can rejoice this Easter, kindling once again the Lumen Christi, even as we mourn what has been lost. Easter's joy does not erase the pain and chaos of the Passion, instead Easter anchors our pain in salvation, orienting it toward life. We can rejoice, we can weep, for our God rejoices and weeps with us, even now.

There is also this column from almost a decade ago on paradoxical celebrations of Easter with thoughts from St. Augustine: Flustered for Joy

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Mixed messaging

Thirty-two years ago, early on Holy Thursday morning, I staggered out the door of a hospital, my life entirely upended. Twelve hours before I'd been hatching plans for a late night stop at a diner for sandwiches after a faculty meeting with my husband, who'd come down to pick me up after an evening faculty meeting. Now I was a widow, faced with planning a funeral.

My sense of disequilibrium was extraordinary. The weather was warming, spring was firmly in place, yet I couldn't get warm enough, and nothing was in its place. Everything was blooming, the trees were greening, and I was picking out not plants for the gardens, but a casket. It was not the Holy Thursday I had planned.

I didn't go to Mass that night, though I can't tell you what I did, or even where I was. Still in Bryn Mawr, I think.

This Holy Thursday tastes a bit like that Holy Thursday, off-kilter, filled with mixed messages. It's the Triduum, the most sacred of times, and I'm at home, not at church. The Pope is saying Mass in a near empty St. Peter's. The days cry out for walks, the advice is to stay home and stay in. And I think of all those staggering under the virus. Those caring for the sick. The sick and the dying. This is not the Holy Thursday any of us planned.

Their words to the end of the world

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:4a

I went to Palm Sunday Mass in Detroit, or rather I opened a virtual window to the Jesuit community chapel in Detroit and immersed myself in their celebration.

As Mass began sirens could be heard screaming nearby, an apt hymn for these times.

Petals flew past my window, here in Bryn Mawr, laying a thick carpet of white across the back law. Palms before the Lord.

Have the audacity to hope, even from the depths of lamentation, the homilist pleaded with us. I hear Isaiah murmuring in the background: "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for." 

The layers of voices whispering in my ears. "I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church." Here we are, if not together, one.

The intentions falling into the space at the bottom of my screen. Names and pleas scrolling past. Save us, O Lord.

Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God.