Excerpt from Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, Vol. XXII, No. 6 (November/December 1997), (Nashville: The Upper Room, 1997), 23-31. An adaption of this article appears as Chapter 9, “Ordinary Resurrections: Dealing with Depression” in the book Wrestling with Grace, by Robert Corin Morris (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2003).
Advent is the first light of Resurrection. It does not wait for Easter’s bright dawn, for Resurrection begins in predawn chill, and is the way to face every cold season or dark night.
Advent. Incarnation. Atonement. Resurrection. Sometimes the very words, locked into stained-glass categories, obscure the truth. They lead us to scan the far horizon for bright rays of deliverance, while its simple power is pulsing near at hand.
Resurrection is a simple word that describes a process so ordinary and recurrent that we may not connect it to the great expectations of deliverance the holy words inspire. The Greek for resurrection gives the clue to this ordinariness: anastasis means, simply, “again standing up.” We all lie down. We all rise up. Every day. The same word is used for Christ’s resurrection. Christ reveals it as the secret of his way through life: ego eimi anastasis kai zoe—“I am resurrection and life” (John 11:25,NRSV – author’s translation and emphasis). Resurrection life. Getting up again, no matter what lays you flat.
Do I wake myself up in the morning? No, rather, I am awakened by an innate power in the mysterious body, if not by sunlight or sound of a loved one’s bustle. Letting the miracle grasp us begins here, with the mystery of any awakening:
Blessed art thou, who removest sleep from mine eyes,
yea, and slumber from mine eyelids.
Blessed art thou … who restorest litl’ to mortal creatures.
-Daily Jewish Morning Prayers from Weekday Prayer Book, ed. by Rabbi Morris Silverman, pp. 104-5.
We begin learning ordinary resurrection in infancy. What compels an infant to crawl, stand, fall, wail, and then with joyful smile stand again and brave the challenge of the path? The muscles and the mind begin learning the lesson of standing again, facing the terrors of the path again, and again.
No, Resurrection does not wait till Easter. It is the life power the seeds and bulbs yearn for in the cold night of Advent. It is the light that delivers, not so much by rejecting the darkness, but by entering into it with compassionate bravery, looking for what is lost in it.
One of the most ancient ways of reading the Christ story is to see that Christ’s whole life “brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim. 1:10, NRSV) to the human race, seen as dwelling in “darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1: 79, NRSV). Though we dwell in God’s own creation, our sight is weakened so we cannot see it as it truly is. Tasting God’s goodness every day, our minds are so full of fears and cravings for superficial stimulation we hardly notice the miracle of daily bread. Deadened in body and soul, it is a struggle to trust the compassionate connection that is the true pathway to cooperative living. The Light incarnate at Christmas begins to pervade this shadowland in every step Jesus takes, victoriously seeping into the chaos of our insanity to take the imprisoned image of God within us by the hand and help it stand again, sane and whole.
Feeling your way deeper and deeper through every dark realm
You came to the bottomless pit of fear
and closed it round with the embrace of your compassionate gaze,
comprehending it within the wider assurance
that everything can fall, finally,
only toward your Life. 1
Deliverance begins not by rescue, but by arousal from the deadening, daily, sleepy stupor of sin. Befriended in our fear, our hardened hearts are touched by God’s goodness, however dimly perceived, and aroused to possibilities still undreamt.
THE POWER TO STAND
The descent of the Living Word to dwell among us “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14,NRSV) shows us a different way to approach both the blossoming joys and the inevitable sufferings of this life—a way not rooted in pain, but in the goodness of God’s very presence in the midst of all life’s circumstances,
Christ does not suffer in order to triumph. Rather, his way of dealing with suffering is already a victory. This is because Christ’s way of suffering is so different from our ordinary approach. We have come, somehow, to believe that suffering in and of itself is good for us, even redemptive—a kind of cosmic “no pain, no gain” spirituality. This is often tied with a deep, underlying fear that we deserve to suffer.
The whole biblical story of Christ is meant to deliver us from this hellish state of mind. Deliverance does not come when pain is over, but can arise in the ordeal of it. Christ’s way of entering our suffering is resurrection life, zoe—eternal life, not after death, but “life-now-eternally-springing.” It is everywhere available to an awakening trust in God’s goodness: “All (things) that came to be were alive with this Life (zoe)” (John 1:3-4, AT). 2
You laid bare for all to see how they lurk at the heart of every situation
goodness hidden in the hardest, darkest shells
waiting to be unlocked and stand up again.
Overwhelmed by the tidal waves of your world
we yearn for your rescue, pining for some other kind of Presence
than the still, small pulse of life within us.
GRACE BEYOND AND WITHIN
I sat listening to Biblical prophecy after prophecy at the Advent service of lessons and carols. As each voice proclaimed the good news that nation would someday not lift up sword against nation, that deserts would bloom, that trees of the forest would rejoice in God’s justice, all I could think of were the ecological disasters everywhere. Such a lovely dream, and such grim facts. As if a deep moan from somewhere in my belly came the thought, We need saving! Some force or power must help turn us from this destruction. So secular and serious was my reflection that it took a minute or two to realize where I was and what I was listening to. “Savior” was what Advent is about. But could God really save the world? Not just in theory, doctrine, ritual—but so that the trees could “clap their hands together for joy before the Lord when he comes to bring justice to the earth” (I Chron. 16:33, AT). I had been brought up to believe God could save souls—but a whole planet?
On the way home from church, I popped Paul Winter’s jazz mass, Missa Gaia, into the tape deck and played the Agnus Dei, which begins with the sound of whales singing in the deep. I wept as I drove along, humming with the human voices that echoed the whale song. I prayed aloud, “Strong Lamb of God, take away the sin of the world! Help this beautiful, difficult planet. Turn us away from our destructive ways. Please!” In my heart, it was as if I heard a quiet voice respond: How mucn do you want this salvation?
Enough to love life so much you really don’t want to see it harmed?
Enough to enter still more deeply into the agony of this time in history?
Enough to taproot yourself deeply into the sufficiency of my own active goodness?
Enough to trust it, love it, cultivate it with all your heart, all your soul, all your might?
Enough to let it grow you strong enough to join me in the struggle?
“Death and resurrection aren’t a matter of jolly daffodils pushing up in the spring,” said the seriously intellectual preacher that next Good Friday. On the way to the service, I’d noticed the incredibly powerful, sharp blade of the daffodil in my front lawn, dirty from its push through hard soil. I wondered how the highly urban preacher knew so much about what it feels like to be a daffodil. Slicing through the hard soil in an early thaw, risking a sudden freeze, slightly cut by a sharp rock, the daffodil seemed worthy enough as a companion to the story of resurrection.
Perhaps I resented his jaunty dismissal of the determination of daffodils because I had learned to feel within myself some thing like what I saw in the daffodils—a power within, stirring, pushing through, helping me to climb out and stand up after every discouragement or defeat. I was brought up to think of saving power as deliverance from beyond. I was now realizing that the gracious goodness touching me from beyond myself was awakening the mysterious gift of health at the core of my being. Both the outer grace and the awakening inner grace were from the same Source, giving me courage to face the path, wherever it might lead.
Jolly daffodils? Hardly. The green blade of the daffodil that pushes out toward the sun does so only by the power of last year’s sunlight patiently savored and stored, day by day, in its very heart.
1 Prayer insets are from the author’s own journal, unless otherwise noted.
2 Translation is based on the discussion in Raymond Brown’s Anchor Bible Commentary on the Fourth Gospel. The Greek can be translated many ways. Brown says this is a possible rendering, but that the Evangelist couldn’t possibly have meant it! The conventional tendency to divorce zoe from the everyday world is so strong it bends translations to its predetermined expectations.