A couple of weeks ago, I took some time to write our family Christmas letter. Ever since the year we were first married, I have written a big too-long newsy letter to our friends and family about the year drawing to a close. I know it’s out of fashion in the age of Facebook and it is even the source of derision and snark for lots of people which is completely understandable.
I mean, back in the early days of my Christmas letter, I once devoted three paragraphs to our cats. Cats! Bless my own heart.
Yet I keep up the practice and it has become something I look forward to about the Christmas season. I always make myself a cup of tea and settle down with my laptop to write to our friends about the year that has passed. I’ve been doing this for almost seventeen years now.
But this year? Well, this year, that tradition was nearly bounced. As far as 2017 is concerned, this hasn’t been one of our best years ever. (Not as bad as our 2005 but oh, it’s up there.)
But I wrote the letter anyway. And I was honest about our year.
I have felt the same sort of trepidation as 2017 has been drawing to a close. I have a tradition of writing a few “year in review” posts before crowning my upcoming year with a “new word” filled with anticipation and promises. It’s always filled with a lot of hope and gratitude and expectation because I’m overly earnest.
I couldn’t imagine how to sum up this past year of my life let alone blithely anoint 2018 with a new word.
I did not want to reflect on 2017. For good reason.
Until just now. This moment. When I sat down to write and the words for the year that passed and the year ahead somehow were here waiting. (Somehow God always meets me in the middle of the writing, never before.)
2017 was the year of my car accident.
This was the year that I have been recovering and mending. This is the year I learned that healing can take some time.
This was the year I failed at writing a book and had to admit that I was beat. This was the year I had to throw out 120,000 book-words I had laboured to write because they weren’t the right words at all.
This was the year I battled depression and anxiety for the first time in my life. This was the year my body was broken. This was the year I couldn’t quite recognize myself in the mirror. This was the year when I lost both a lot of income and a few friendships because of some theological opinions I hold. This was the year when I discovered that my capacity isn’t limitless. This was the year when I have felt like whatever we are battling won this round.
And of course this was also the year that a lot of the world suffered in acute and painful ways. Politically, environmentally, globally, economically, militarily, you name it, it’s been such a shitshow for so many.
We are all carrying each other’s sorrows and grief and suffering along with our own.
This was also the year I survived. This was the year I lived anyway. It was the year I met the Pope and it was the year I saw Italy for the first time.
It was the year that my husband held me together and saved me in countless ways only we will ever know so it was the year I discovered a whole new and greater depth to our marriage, a whole new realm of intimacy and oneness of the sort that only time and faithfulness and ordinary love can reveal to us.
It was the year I discovered how the goodness and joy comes after pain and sorrow. It was the year I learned why resurrection is such a miracle. It was the year that my children were healthy and thriving, bright and curious, talkative and close to us. It was the year of books and justice, friendship and church, good food and wise doctors.
It was the year that I saw my dad regain his health after we nearly lost him not so long ago. It was the year that a beloved family member battled cancer and prevailed. It was the year I found out just how much friendship and family, laughter and honesty can heal. This was the year I learned the difference between self-comfort and self-care. This was the year I went to Prince Edward Island: I stood on a cliff at the azure Gulf completely alone among the crashing of the waves and I truly understood the Holy Spirit as a mighty disruptive wind for the first time in my life.
This was the year when I learned that Jesus doesn’t only hang out with the winners. This was the year I learned how incredibly precious it is to walk with Jesus in the shadows and the grief and the pain and the loss. This was the year I learned the comfort of the Man of Sorrows, the mending of God in the midst of our brokenness, and what it really means to be caught up in power, power, wonder-working power that brings us back to life. This was the year that I clung to the bread and the wine, that the Eucharist was the vessel through which God healed me and met me over and over again. This was the year I learned that I would take the same stands, all over again, even knowing the costs.
This was the year when everything I thought I knew about life and death was upended, the year pain and sorrow became my mother tongue for a while. This was the year I learned the unexpected improvisations of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. This year has been one part charismatic, one part catholic, perfumed with doubt and reconciliation and redemption. It’s been an invitation to the wild and deep waters.
If you had asked me before this past year what I thought about the resurrection, I suppose I would have had a lovely churchy answer for you about Jesus (I do love to talk about Jesus) and The Resurrection as an event in time and space.
Give me a day or two and I would have endnotes ready to go. I would have told you about how Jesus was resurrected from the dead, about how because of that time-splitting moment, we were also now resurrected in some mystical way – dead in my sin, now alive in Christ sort of stuff – and I’d probably throw in quite a bit about how resurrection is the end-game of the story we are in, how death isn’t the final moment anymore and we’ll all be quite literally alive again even after death in some great new city. It might be out of fashion but I still hold onto new heaven and new earth for our future.
But now when I hear the word resurrection, I feel less inclined to give a lot of answers and bible verses and definitions.
Instead, I think of an Upper Room across the street from the Vatican and what it feels like to be anointed with oil by a motley crew of people who actually believe Jesus meant the things he said. I think of the sound of waves on sandstone rocks. I think of the breath of bright cold air in my lungs.
I think of the look on my husband’s face when he saw me on the side of the road, broken and beaten from the impact of another car, about the feel of his familiar body next to mine in the bed we’ve shared for so many years. I think of the bright flags twirling in the hands of my children at the front of our church while they sing praises to God. I think of my father laying in a hospital bed while machines breathed for him not so long ago and how he lives today.
I think of Mary the Magdalene hearing Jesus saying her name at the tomb. I think of the pot of beef stew simmering on a back burner waiting for friends to walk through the front door. I think of my own body’s heft and weight, the space I am taking up this world. I think of the sugar maple in our backyard and how it turns scarlet in October. I picture my mother years and years ago – younger than I am now by ten years at least – sitting in the corner of the couch, her first real bible in her lap, underlining practically the entire book of John with tears in her eyes, like she can’t believe her luck.
Resurrection conjures up the sound of loons on an Ontario lake and the smell of woodsmoke in northern Alberta and the peculiar silence of the first snow when I was a kid in Winnipeg. Resurrection is the peace of fully belonging, fully alive, in the world.
Ask me about resurrection and now I’d be likely to talk to you about the last warm gold light of the afternoon and fresh tea leaves and Cheerios on the floor and Van Gogh’s brushstrokes and the way women clap their hands together and cross their legs when they laugh properly. I’d fill the walls of our conversation with Coast Salish artwork and your heartbeat would match the drums of singing First Nations prayers and you’d learn to love the name Creator for God along with so many others.
I’d be just as likely to take you on a walk up the mountainside near our house, under the canopy of the trees, so you could listen to the water running in the dozens of creeks dancing down waterfalls of stones, the water bright and cold and clear, heading for the Fraser River, moving towards the fullness of complete ocean.
I might light candles and sing old songs and pray homemade prayers woven into liturgy.
I would want to tell you about half a dozen mothers lounging against a brightly painted wall in Port-au-Prince, nursing their chubby healthy babies to sleep in peace; about how justice is both more ordinary and more revolutionary than we ever could have imagined. I’d want to show you my email inbox, stuffed with testimonies from other saints who are finding their voice and their vocation and their God.
I’d need to tell you about harsh winters and barren fields and doubting saints and unanswered prayers, about the kind of rising that only happens after you’ve been down on the ground for quite a while.
I would write spoken word poetry about healing and miracles, about prophets and plainsong, about how good it feels to repent, about open doors and wide tables, about plain wooden chairs in opulent palaces, about dry bones rising up in the valley of death to live again, about singing in the streets and the orderliness of stockinette stitch in hand knits.
I’d point to a whole life of unremarkable moments and the ancient streets in Rome and the night sky and dead languages, to all of the ways we defiantly choose life over death, the ways that our everyday lives testify to the victory of God’s dream for us. I would tell you about the smell of the sea and the noises of the CT scanner at the hospital and the Lake of Shining Waters hiding behind the sand dunes.
To me now, resurrection means simply rising up and living within the reality of Love. This encompasses all of it – the theology, the praxis, the hope, the down-in-the-dirt reality.
Resurrection now isn’t a one-time event to me now but the daily practice of living fully alive because of Jesus. Resurrection is the story of how we rise up to a new reality, the reality of love.
Resurrection literally means to rise up. And when I look around this world, I think that the we could all use more of us rising up to the reality of love.
Resurrection is rising up to life after death.
It demands a full reorienting of our lives towards abundant everyday life, it is the renewal of all things, it is what makes us weird and wonderful and wily in this world.
As 2017 finally ends – finally! hallelujah! – now I know my word for 2018. It took until this moment.
In the name of Jesus Christ, I want to stand up and walk into the land of the resurrected. I want to do the work of unbinding grave cloths so we can all walk out into abundant life.
It’s a whole new world now. This kind of resurrection isn’t an add-on to what we already have, a renovation of what already exists. No, this kind of resurrection is a whole new ground beneath our feet, it’s new air to breathe, it’s new eyes to see and ears to hear and feet to dance and hearts to understand. This is why it’s a testimony – this is what we have seen and what we have heard and what we know.
I have learned that in a whole new way this past year and I can’t unlearn it. I take everything I learned about the falling into the rising.
I am proud of my bruises and my scars, of my wounds and my failures now – I think they’re precious to Jesus and so they are precious to me. I will deal tenderly with my own rising.
Because this is the story I have to tell: I was dead and now I’m alive. I was blind but now I see. I was cynical and Jesus gave me hope. I was broken and Jesus made me whole. I was hurt and then I was healed. I experienced the faithfulness of joy most in the depths of sorrow.
Resurrection has never looked the way I thought it would look. I am filled with wonder and joy, scars and grief. It’s an absolute complete and utter mess of miracles.
I need to understand how resurrection is the actual real work of our lives.
I want to embrace the practice of rising up, of resurrection, as the spiritual discipline it was always meant to be: disruptive and insistent, joyful and off-the-path.
I want to close the last page of this new year ahead just a bit wiser, a bit wilder, a bit weirder, and entirely gob-smackingly unapologetically alive.
*photo by Sharalee Prang Photography