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It is amazing to me how trivial the resurrection can become when it is used as the undergirding of a triumphalistic approach to the Christian life – an approach to life that wants to hide the brokenness and accent a false sense of security and wholeness.

Resurrection doesn’t really mean much unless we are willing to face into our experiences of confusion, brokenness, disappointment, addiction, and loss. It is precisely in the painful and honest acknowledgement of these messes that we discover the resurrection power of Jesus’ love for us and in us.

It is also amazing to me, and wonderfully reassuring, that I sometimes find a clearer expression of the deep truths of crucifixion and resurrection from those who do not obviously distinguish themselves as Christian. Currently, Joy and I are enjoying one such book, a poignant and probing read by Elizabeth Lesser entitled Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. Here are some excerpts from the introduction that touched me deeply.

“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be….You may be at the beginning of a transition, feeling only a vague mood of restlessness or a nagging nudge in the direction of something new. Or maybe you are in a full-blown period of change: what you thought was your life is now over, and where you are heading is unknown.

“To be human is to be lost in the woods. None of us arrives here with clear directions on how to get from point A to point B without stumbling into the forest of confusion or catastrophe or wrongdoing…We all know people who say their cancer or divorce or bankruptcy was the greatest gift of a lifetime – that until the body, or the heart, or the bank was broken, they didn’t know who they were, what they felt, or what they wanted….In their most broken moments they were brought to their knees; they were humbled; they were opened….But we also know people who did not turn their misfortune into insight, or their grief into joy. Instead, they became more bitter, more reactive, more cynical. They shut down. They went back to sleep.

“I have made note of how fiasco and failure visit each one of us, as if they were written into the job description of being human….I have seen people crumble in times of trouble, lose their spirit and never fully recover. I have seen others protect themselves from any kind of change, until they are living a half life, safe yet stunted….If we an stay awake when our lives are changing, secrets will be revealed to us – secrets about ourselves, about the nature of life, and about the eternal source of happiness and peace that is always available, always renewable, already within us.”

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The Holy Longing

Words to nourish your heart:

Ron Rolheiser’s book, The Holy Longing, is not only a great book, it has one of the best short expressions of the Pascal Mystery that I know of…

“The paschal mystery, as we shall see shortly, is a process of transformation within which we are given both new life and new spirit. It begins with suffering and death, moves on to the recep­tion of new life, spends some time grieving the old and adjusting to the new, and finally, only after the old life has been truly let go of, is new spirit given for the life we are already living. We see all of this, first, in the great mystery of Jesus’ own passover from death to life.

1. Good Friday …”the loss of life-real death”

2. Easter Sunday …”the reception of new life”

3. The Forty Days …”a time for readjustment to the new and for grieving the old”

4. Ascension …”letting go of the old and letting it bless you, the refusal to cling”

5. Pentecost …”the reception of new spirit for the new

Put into a more colloquial language and stated as a personal, paschal challenge for each of us, one might recast the diagram this way:

1. “Name your deaths”

2. “Claim your births”

3. “Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality”

4. “Do not cling to the old, let it ascend and give you its blessing”

5. “Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living”

This cycle is not something that we must undergo just once, at the moment of our deaths, when we lose our earthly lives as we know them. It is rather something we must undergo daily, in every aspect of our lives. Christ spoke of many deaths, of daily deaths, and of many rising and various pentecost’s. The paschal mystery is the secret to life. Ultimately our happiness depends upon properly undergoing it.” p. 147,148.

As we approach the Easter season, we come to realize on our contemplative journey that it is not just about celebration. There is also the revelation of the darkness within us that is brought into the light by God’s love. Thomas Merton’s words to us help us to hold this in a gracious way. May God care for you as you prepare for Holy Week.

The basic and most fundamental problem of the spiritual life is this acceptance of our hidden and dark self, with which we tend to identify all the evil that is in us. We must learn by discernment to separate the evil growth of our actions from the good ground of the soul. And we must prepare that ground so that a new life can grow up from it within us, beyond our knowledge and beyond our conscious control. The sacred attitude is, then, one of reverence, awe and silence before the mystery that begins to take place within us when we become aware of our innermost self. In silence, hope, expectation, and unknowing, the [we] abandon [ourselves] to the divine will: not as an arbitrary and magic power whose decrees must be spelled out from cryptic ciphers, but as to the stream of reality and life itself. The sacred attitude is, then, one of deep and fundamental respect for the real in whatever new form it may present itself.

Thomas Merton. The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation.
William H. Shannon, editor (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003): 55.

Dearly Loved

Here’s a magnificent quote found in a book sent to us by Joy’s sister who has been totally paralyzed for 20 years. It echoes Paul’s grand assertion in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

I may fall flat on my face; I may fail until I feel old and beaten and done in. Yet your good¬ness and love is changeless. All the music may go out of my life, my private world may shatter to dust. Even so, you hold me in the palm of your steady hand. No turn in the affairs of my fractured life can baffle you. Satan with all his braggadocio cannot distract you. Nothing can separate me from your measureless love-pain can’t, disappointment can’t, anguish can’t. Yesterday, today, tomorrow can’t. The loss of my dearest love can’t. Death can’t, life can’t. Riots, wars, insanity, non-identity, hunger, neurosis, disease-none of these things, nor all of them heaped together can budge the fact that I am dearly loved, completely forgiven and forever free through Jesus Christ, your beloved Son.”

Ruth Calkins. quoted in David Roper,
Psalm. 23: The Song Of A Passionate Heart.
Discovery House Books. p. 146
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Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich is my favourite mystic, and here is one of the several hundred reasons why! She even makes the most onerous times of the spiritual life something precious, something loved and appreciated by God.

Pray wholeheartedly, though you may feel nothing, though you may see nothing, yes, though you think that you could not, for in dryness and in barrenness, in sickness and in weakness, then is your prayer most pleasing to me, though you think it almost tasteless to you.

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