Saturday, April 07, 2007

It's Easter, and it's snowing here. I just got out of 3 hours' worth of services...the telling of the history of salvation, with stories running the gamut from creation (Jamie, one of the women from the congregation, read James Weldon Johnson's poem on the subject--which I remember from my high school literature textbook, illustrated with a picture of a big black man stretching his arms wide before a backdrop of rainbows and celestial spheres) to my story, that of the Annunciation. In between came the ten plagues visited upon Egypt, rivers running red with blood, swarms of locusts and gnats, and at last the death of the Egyptian firstborn, for which I daubed my Seder plate with wine on Monday. We heard the story of Balaam and his magnificent talking ass (doesn't that sound like the name of a slightly profane children's book?) and pondered the horrors of Elijah slaughtering the prophets of Ba'al (though I suppose that's how things were done in those days--we also listened to an account from Exodus in which Moses ordered the Levites to slay three thousand of the other prodigal, calf-worshipping, orgy-having Israelites). After meeting with Jezebel, of course, Elijah made a break for the desert and slept under a broom tree, muttering the words I muttered so often in my own youthful melodramas: "Leave me alone. I want to die!" Blasphemy it may be, but I can see Elijah slamming the door and flopping down on his bed like a teenage girl, yelling these words through his tears. We also acted out the crossing of the Red Sea, and remembered the Canticle of Miriam (after whom I like to think I'm named--my middle name is Marie, after all, though I know that in fact I am only named after my mother's best friend from childhood). The awesome signs and wonders, the mighty acts of redemption and salvation. Biblical history really is a love story, the story of God's love for a prodigal people--the Israelites, certainly, but also all of us. Looking back through the Old Testament (to say nothing of the New) you have to admit that even the saints are a motley lot, the kind of people you might expect to see in pre-cleanup Times Square, or maybe Chelsea. Moses and David, patriarchs though they were, were both murderers; Rahab, who assured the capture of Caanan, was a prostitute. Jacob was a con-artist extraordinaire. The list of adulterers is too voluminous to tackle, but suffice it to say that there are many Bible stories that don't get taught in Sunday school, and for good reason. And yet they were the ones who did God's work on earth, and though they were chastised (sometimes beyond bearing) they were also deeply loved. So are we all, fairly or unfairly. Even those of us who don't know God, or choose not to--those who can resist the call to a terrible and tender intimacy with the Author of the Universe. Those who do harm to themselves, or others, and in so doing ultimately do harm to Divinity; who harm a God who loves creation with such intensity that some theologians say it is that very love and that alone that holds the world in existence. Perhaps that is the energy that keeps the quarks dancing and the photons rushing through space-time. Perhaps that is the pressure that produces the grand curvatures of space, that holds stars in their ever-widening orbits.
It's at once paralyzing and celebratory to think of such a love. I know that I, to this point in my life, have been capable of unconditional love for periods averaging about five minutes at a stretch, and even then it is a love for a specific person or group of people. There are exclusions in my love; I have not yet been able (though at some times I think--I hope--I have been willing, mostly in the sated aftermath of mystical experience) to include people like wife-beaters, child abusers, the people who practice acts of terrorism great and small, international and domestic. And yet I believe that God loves them too, and holds them in existence. And--'log-in-my-own-eye alert!'--if what I have been told in church and have discovered in my own research is true, Christ died as much for them as for Mother Teresa, or Nelson Mandela, or my priest...or me. Because I am not pure either. My life, like any life, has been a mixed bag of absolute tenderness and altruism tempered by petty crimes--some frankly illegal and some 'merely' immoral. When I am awakened by my suitemate's blowdryer at eight a.m., I will confess that I have decidedly unholy thoughts.
That, however, is the wonder of Good Friday, and beyond that the wonder of Easter (yes, I know you thought it was Peeps, but let's be solemn for a moment...this is a High Feast of the Church, after all). "Surely He has borne our griefs, for He was crushed for our iniquities and by His stripes we are healed." Move into the world emboldened by the knowledge that God considered you worthy of such sacrifice, and rise into your new life like a crocus pushing against the snow, or a green blade lifting its head to the sky.

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