Easter

Painted in Waterlogue If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial uprush of relief at first, then -for me anyway -a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world work are buried, yet my new ones are not yet operational. There’s a death of sorts, but without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible.

-Mary Karr, Lit

Easter has never been my favorite. The big creepy bunny breaking into your home, the Cadbury Eggs with their mystery yokes, the church filled with incense that inevitably makes someone pass out, Charlton Heston as Moses…I find it all a bit overwhelming.

My daughters go to a Catholic school. On the last day before spring break, the upper grades performed the Passion Play for the younger ones. Phoebe climbed into the car after school, buckled her seat belt and announced: “The Passion Play is very disturbing. I am so not into Resurrections.”

Apparently Easter is not her favorite, either.

This year, we spent spring break with my parents in Florida, which was a welcome change of scenery for all of us. It’s been a long year. It felt miraculous to get on a plane in a sea of grayness, and then three hours later step into the sunshine; a technicolor world filled with blue skies and palm trees, the warm air thick with the scent of hibiscus and honeysuckle. Like stepping out of Kansas into Oz.

Painted in Waterlogue

On Easter Sunday we go to church. Phoebe is antsy – climbing all over me, making funny faces at the people behind us trying to get a laugh. I can’t really blame her. I am antsy, too. I try to distract myself with people watching: little girls in pastel dresses and Easter hats, the choir of senior citizens dressed in Tommy Bahamas and golf pants, the ushers in white blazers tending to the poor guy who just passed out thanks to the incense.

Phoebe climbs in my lap and stage whispers into my ear: “How do you feel about Resurrections? Because I am SO NOT INTO THEM.” Then she goes back to stacking missalettes. I guess it is a rhetorical question. But I sit and think about it.

I believe in resurrection, in needing to die in order to live. I believe there is always an opportunity to begin again, if you are brave and curious. I believe in do-overs. I believe in second chances, third chances, 5,000 chances – however many chances you need, I will give them to you. Fool me once, fool me twice, fool me a hundred times…I don’t care. I would rather be foolish than unforgiving.

After church, we all pile into my dad’s car and inch our way through the sea of senior citizens in Cadillacs. Phil reads from the church bulletin: “Wow, two married couples renewed their vows in this church yesterday. Both have been married 75 years.”

The word Resurrection comes from the Latin resurgere: to rise again. I think of the couples married three quarters of a century and wonder how many times they had to die and rise again, to forgive, to create something new from the ashes, to find their way back to joy. Marriage is, in a way, it’s own easter. It is nails and crosses and suffering; it is betrayal and sacrifice and pain that can feel suffocating, almost unbearable.

But then, somehow, you both survive. You escape your tomb of anger and can breathe again. You share a laugh about something – a deep belly laugh that makes your eyes water. You can’t remember the last time you laughed like that; it feels like a lifetime ago. Then, as you both wipe away the tears, you stop and look at each other in disbelief. Holy shit. We are still here. We are going to make it. It is nothing short of miraculous.

After church we go to the pool. I watch Phil play for hours with the girls. He makes up crazy games with tennis balls and plastic cups; he lets them dive off his shoulders. I want to grow old with this man. The thought sneaks up on me, startles me even. I do not typically let myself think that way. I am hardwired for disappointment, for impending doom. Don’t count your chickens and all that. To imagine growing old with someone is a jinx, I have always reasoned. That kind of optimism will get you run over by a Septa bus.

Phil does a handstand in the pool. I decide to let go of my fatalistic superstitions. In the spirit of Easter, I will let that habit die. So I look around the pool, a veritable AARP convention, and wonder which old couple Phil and I will turn out to be.

Will we read silently in straight back chairs, me immersed in a large-print library book and Phil with his nose in the Wall Street Journal? Will he sit on the edge of my lounge chair while I rub sunscreen on his spotty, barnacled back? Will we share a chicken salad sandwich under the umbrella, or float around on pool noodles – Phil wearing cataract sunglasses and me in a visor the size of a toilet seat?

My fantasy is interrupted when a soaking wet Emma plops down in the chair next to me. I ask her, “What do you think I will look like when I am old?”

She tilts her head and shakes water out of her ear. “I don’t know,” she says. “But promise you won’t wear one of those visors.”

Noted.

The last morning of vacation, Phil and I wake up around 5:30 and drive to the beach for an early morning walk and swim. We walk to the edge of the fishing pier and people watch. An old man fishes off the corner of the pier patiently waiting for a bite; his wife sits at his side doing the crossword. I wonder if they do this everyday, if this is their routine.

Painted in Waterlogue

We leave the pier and comb the beach for treasures. Phil discovers a starfish tangled up in the seaweed.

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I find a lightening whelk whose inhabitant has fled it’s home. It is a sinistral shell, meaning the opening is on the left instead of the right. I know it is a lightening whelk because of the vibrant stripes that line the shell like bolts of lightening.

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I wonder if this bad luck, I think to myself, a shell opening to the left. The downward spirals probably symbolize death or your life going in the wrong direction or something. Phil and I are both left-handed. I used to think this was bad luck, too, that our kids were destined to be freaks. But they turned out ok (and right-handed), so I let that one go.

We strip down to our bathing suits and dive into the placid blue-green Gulf of Mexico.

Painted in Waterlogue

We float around for a while, I even indulge Phil in some ocean PDA, as the beach is mostly deserted at this early hour. I climb out of the water and notice an older couple sitting under an umbrella in beach chairs that face the sea. They sit side by side, sipping coffee from a red thermos. They keep their eyes on the horizon, but speak to each other in quiet morning voices.

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There we are, I think. That is us.

That is the couple we will be, because that is the couple we already are.

Maybe marriage is a lightening whelk. As you get old, saggy and wise together, you shed the baggage that requires too much energy to carry. Like the whelk, you spiral counterclockwise, descending, returning, back to who you really are, to who you were both born to be.

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

 

 

 

Why Do We Have To Go To Church, Anyway?

Emma, my almost 8 year old, is a relentless questioner, a dedicated seeker of truth. Nothing goes unnoticed or unchallenged. I hope that this quality will make her a crusader for justice, a freedom fighter, an advocate for the overlooked and misunderstood.

But as her mother, the constant interrogation can get exhausting, particularly when I don’t know the answer. Which, lately, is a lot of the time….because her questions are all about church.

This should not come as a surprise to me, considering she goes to a Catholic school, with her First Communion rapidly approaching. I was prepared for the standard “God Questions:” God is love, God is everywhere, etc. But the church/catechism questions are not my area of expertise.

For example:

The day of her First Penance:

“I just don’t get why I need to tell some strange man my deep, dark secrets. If God is always listening, why can’t I just tell Him?  Telling the priest is kinda like sitting on the fake-Santa’s lap at the mall.  It’s creepy – you know it’s not Santa.  Why the middle man?”

Upon discovering the library was closed on Good Friday:

“What I want to know is why do they call it Good Friday?  What’s good about it?  I can’t get any books out of the library, and it goes without saying that it was a pretty rough day for Jesus.”

After school yesterday, as I fumbled to open the door while juggling book bags and water bottles, THIS conversation happened:

“Mom, did you paint this door red to look like lamb’s blood?”

“To look like WHAT?” (I was pretty sure “Lamb’s Blood” was not on the Sherwin Williams color wheel).

“Lamb’s blood, like in the Bible.”

“Uhh….where in the Bible does it talk about that?”

Mom.  Shouldn’t you know this stuff?  In biblical times, they painted their doors with lamb’s blood to protect themselves from the Filipinos.”

“I think you might mean the Philistines.”

“Hmm.  Yeah maybe.”

Then there were the questions she asked for 75 minutes straight during mass at my parents’ church on Easter Sunday: “How much longer is this going to take?  When can we go home?  Why does that kid have candy? Is this almost over? Why do we have to go to church anyway?” She was hanging on my arm so heavily I almost lost my balance in the dusty black heels I had fished out of the back of my closet.

I sighed and gave her the hairy eyeball.  I knew I should reprimand her, but the truth was I didn’t want to be there either, which made me feel guilty and fraudulent – both as a mother AND a Catholic.  It’s Easter!  The Big Day!  The Catholic Super Bowl! Jesus is Alive!  Be joyful!

But I didn’t feel joyful.  It was hot in the choir loft where latecomers and families with rowdy children are banished; the Time-Out Chair for the inconsistent parishioner.

I went to church every Sunday of my childhood. Easter Mass meant tights, Mary Janes, an Easter bonnet – my mom wasn’t messing around.

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But when I turned 17, I got my driver’s license. Freedom.

From that point on, I opted out of my parent’s regular 9:30 mass and instead attended the 12:15 at Our Lady of Perpetual Caffeination, aka. the parking lot of Dunkin’ Donuts, where I would drink coffee and read for an hour.

I didn’t fancy myself a teenage bad-ass.  I played the mellophone in the marching band. How bad-ass could I possibly be?

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Nor did I consider skipping church to be an act of rebellion, but one of self-preservation. Like Emma, I was a sensitive -and literal – kid.  Being forced to say things like “I am not worthy,” without a greater understanding of the larger context of sin and forgiveness made me feel confused. And kind of ashamed. I just wasn’t sure of what.

During a 3rd grade confession, I asked a priest if you had to be bad to get possessed, or if Satan picks people at random.

He replied, “It’s totally random.”

Awesome.

So I spent the next decade waiting for Satan.  For some reason I thought he was less likely to be hanging out at Dunkin’ Donuts.

But in my 20’s, something kept calling me back, and I figured that “thing” must be God. Private prayer has always been part of my daily life, but I felt the pull to community. Not back to a traditional parish church, necessarily, but to the lively, music-filled student masses at Villanova University, and Maris Stella, the simple seaside chapel perched on the Barnegat Bay in LBI.

maris stella2 Maris-Stella

Ahhhhhhh.

But last Sunday in the cheap seats, it wasn’t the crash of the waves that filled my ears, but the bang of children dropping missalettes and begging for juice, for Goldfish, for the entire contents of their mother’s purse.  The hybrid stench of incense and a baby’s dirty diaper was suffocating. I did not feel contemplative. I felt trapped.

So why do we have to go church, anyway?

Maybe the thing that keeps me hanging on is the desire for a shared spiritual discipline. One hour of the week where there are no screens or activities.  We just sit our butts down and be quiet.  Together.

Henri Nouwen says:

A spiritual life without discipline is impossible…the practice of a spiritual discipline makes us more sensitive to the small, gentle voice of God.  The discipline of community helps us to be silent together.

No spiritual discipline is easy.  As a yoga teacher I have often said, “the hardest part is getting on your mat.” You go to class not because you feel like it, but because you believe in the power of the practice. The power of showing up. Maybe you spend the entire savasana making your grocery list in your head.  But, hey, you showed up. If the only true moment of quiet was that 10 seconds in Viparita Karani, well…that’s something.

ViparitaKarani

One weird thing among many about the Catholic mass are the select songs that will make you weep instantaneously. As I walked back from Communion, the choir sang “Taste and See.” Something stirred in my cranky, Grinch heart. My shoulders inched their way down from my ears, my face relaxed, and my eyes filled with tears.  In that brief moment of presence, there was a release.  I let go of something that I didn’t need.

And if that’s the only reason that I go to church…I guess that’s enough.