I have long struggled to identify with personal stories that read cleanly as: “I used to be (x), but after I committed my life to the Lord, I am (y).” “I used to be a self-destructive, sinful person; but I came back and conquered all that.” What we are getting at is a resurrection story; but I don’t know that I recognize these kinds of resurrections from real life. I don’t think that we all necessarily wake up the day after Easter forever changed; forever resurrected. We celebrate that Jesus did it, but we are not there ourselves. Not yet.
Everybody loves a good resurrection. We loved it when Betty White resurrected her acting career. We loved it when Ted Williams came back from homelessness to make it on the radio. And of course well over a billion of us love the ultimate resurrection story: that of a first century rabbi named Jesus, whom we profess as the Son of God.
It seems clear to me this Lent that one of the greatest illusions of life is the notion that we only die once. The truth is that some of us die and rise several times. Divorce can feel like the end of a life, because it’s potentially not only the end of a life as lived, but the end of a life imagined. We can sin to such a degree that we don’t even recognize ourselves anymore, and our innocence, even our very identity, might be mourned. Alcoholism and addiction can bring one to rock bottom, and that too can feel like a death. Giving up that addiction can be another kind of dying.
I find that a trademark of resurrection in this life is the trading of the familiar and comfortable for the unfamiliar and terrifying. Nobody wants to die to what gets us through the day, through life—even if the life we’re living is barely a life at all.
My case is not so severe, though admittedly there are details of my struggle—my dyings and risings—that I keep between a few people, and God. But this Lent I put out into the world the main symptom of my living and experiencing life at far less than 100%. I called it autopilot: that state of going about life without even thinking about it—usually because we’re thinking about something else. In my case I wasn’t taking enough time to ponder the essential and the fundamental. I wanted to breathe a while and inquire into who I am and how I got to be here.
This has been a good, blessed, and yes, at times difficult exercise. It has also borne some practical fruit that I hope will get me moving on a good track going forward. More importantly, however, I think that doing a Lenten spiritual-reflective practice as intentionally as this has reconnected me in a big way to the beginnings and basics of my Christian faith. I remembered very simply that I am here—a Catholic, studying to be a priest of the Paulist Fathers—because of Jesus. It is perhaps so simple that you want to bang your head on the keyboard—but it’s a truth that can either be said in 10, 000 pages, or in a few words. Some things are like that.
Jesus is what is fundamental, and I commit myself to follow him, and to be aware of his presence, as best I can. But I don’t have illusions about this being clean and tidy; nor do I have illusions about it not being difficult, even painful sometimes. I will do well with the auto-pilot struggle a lot of the time, but at other times I might lose track, slip up. (Did I mention I found my wallet in the office freezer yesterday?)
But it’ll all be OK. This is just what “after Easter” looks like, for now.
I will fall, and I’ll rise again.