When Marnie asked if I’d share a little about what the season of Easter means to me personally, my first thought was, I don’t know what Easter means to me. I grew up in a somewhat radical charismatic church that had its strengths, but the church calendar was not one of them.
In fact, special occasions were distinctly frowned upon. There was no Christmas, no Easter. Every day was meant to be the same – and similarly precious. It’s a beautiful idea in it’s own right, but not one that resonated with me. And so I have become someone who loves Christmas a little too much, and who seeks a meaningful experience in the practice of the calendar’s rhythm and celebration. Which means I am still uncovering the meaning of this season for myself. And I find myself starting with the basics of grace, mercy, and acceptance.
Though I do not have a long history of celebrating Easter, I do have a long history of celebrating spring. I grew up on a communal farm in BC’s northerneastern corner, where winter was very long and very cold. Every early springtime as a teenager I would walk out to the back field – the one with a wide view of the woods and neighbouring ranches – and just stand there silently, feeling the very subtle changes in the earth and sun and wind.
The slight tilt, the slight shift. The very slow beginning of warmth. It’s cliched, but in such a frozen landscape, spring became a harbinger of personal growth for me each year, far more meaningful than New Year’s Eve ever was. And each spring I loved that feeling that beneath the frost and snow and deep, deep cold there had laid the potential for wild roses, poplar leaves, and strawberry flowers. That there is a kernel of life untouched by minus 30 degree winters.
Recently, I thought of this feeling when I reread Thomas Merton’s poem “Hagia Sophia.” It opens with the lines:
“There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness.”
There is something within these lines that reminds me of approaching spring, of the kernel of life surrounded by brittle cold, and of the smallness of a body within a tomb of earth. And of how counterintuitive it is to look at a bare tree, or a closed tomb, and say, there’s life, wholeness, and light.
Another doctrine the church of my childhood held close was one of perfection. It was of course, more complicated than I will make it out to be here, but simply put, it was built on on a rather literal reading of scriptures such as, “be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” This emphasis on perfection dogs me to this day. Though I know I do not believe that I am capable of being perfect, nor do I believe it is necessary to try embracing the fact I never will be perfect and therefore can stop trying,is a different matter.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. Though not every church preaches perfection so blatantly, we are all steeped in what author Brene Brown calls a “scarcity culture” one in which we are all quick to fill in the blank in the phrase “not enough _______.” Not enough strength. Not enough time.
Not enough money. Not enough. Period. We strive to become enough, to get enough, to reach enough. And as we do, we often lose our way.
The Quaker writer Parker Palmer notes that we end up “living a divided life” when we try to become something good enough, something that lives up to external values, however lofty, instead of being true to who we uniquely are, and to the values deeply embedded within us as individuals. It is a subtle disorientation, one that for me occurs in the small things of life and builds. I may know that I do not have to do something perfectly in order to be good enough – and that the pressure to do everything perfectly is unhealthy. But on a subconscious level I want to make no mistakes. Like most of you, I suspect, in the background of my consciousness is the need to be more than good – to be perfect. I confess that when I thought about it, I realized I even wanted to give this reflection perfectly.
Some of this comes from within. And some of this comes from a culture that says good is not good enough. Only spectacular success, superb fitness, flawless parenting, etc., makes you worthy. It can even creep into our faith practice. Attending a Christian university in my 20’s, I heard a constant mantra of attaining “Excellence for God.” While this may seem a worthy goal (and there is something worthwhile to it) taken without careful nuance it is also a very heavy burden a pressure that can cripple people.
I think we’re often afraid that if we drop our perfectionism, we won’t grow, and won’t strive to do things well. But spending our energy trying to measure up to some abstract standard outside of ourselves actually stops us from truly growing and engaging with life authentically it can stop us from taking good risks, from being fully present with the ones we love, from finding peace.
Brene Brown articulates this well in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection:
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life.” She says. “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
And this is where spring and Easter come in like a breath of fresh air for me. Because Easter reminds me that wholeness is not perfection, not non-stop abundance, not nonstop happiness.
Wholeness is the bare tree standing in the snow on a very cold day of a northern winter. It Christ’s body, broken for us, in a tomb. It is me as I am, with my hangups and my talents. It was what I felt as a young teenager standing in the field as a softer wind blew, and hearing distinctly the quiet words, “Love, not judgement.”
It is Easter’s timeless message of grace, and ultimately freedom to be our true selves without fear. To be accepted completely. To be able to finally accept ourselves. To live our short lives as truly and wholehearted as possible, instead of spending them trying to earn some type of passing grade.
Another Merton quote that I have always loved states, “We are not meant to resolve all contradictions, but to live with them and rise above them.” I believe that’s what grace helps us do.
Perfection is a sort of driving need to solve the puzzle of our broken places. A tidying up of all our awkward pieces, an erasure of contradictions.
Wholeness, and grace, to me, is much more messy and mysterious. I find it comforting that even the resurrected Christ had scars. Like the natural world, wholeness needs our darkness and light, seasons of brokenness and strength. And in allowing all of us to be present, it allows us to live a more fully human and true life.
The poem “Hagia Sophia” includes these lines, that describe a little of what I feel when I catch a glimpse of the freedom of such mercy, such permission to be whole:
“When the helpless one awakens strong at the voice of mercy, it is as if Life…were to stand over him and invite him with unutterable sweetness…to be awake…and to live.”