With apologies to Agathon

Easter-cross-freeimages.com
Image courtesy of freeimages.com

“O happy fault, that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”

~ “The Exsultet: The Proclamation of Easter

It seems lately that many people around me are having a tough time. Perhaps it’s just my perception but in my day-to-day conversations and my friends’ social media posts, there are many struggling just to keep it together. One symptom I see is a recent proliferation of what I consider to be pretty stoic statements like ‘head down, move forward’ and ‘keep calm and carry on’—the sort of things you say to yourself when you’re just trying to put one foot in front of the other.

A small subset of these sentiments is particularly intriguing: those made with the intent of trying to convince us to just accept the past.

“The past cannot be changed, forgotten, edited, or erased … it can only be accepted. You can’t change your past but you can always change your future. Even God cannot change the past.”

~ Agathon

Now, in general, I support these ideas. All too often too many of us live in the past, dwelling on bygone hurts given and received, wishing things had been different. That’s never good, and we frequently must be reminded to forgive ourselves and others. We need to focus on the task at hand—to struggle with the sufficient evil of the day and to work for this day our daily bread. In as much as these sentiments urge us to do the good in front of us, I support them.

And yet, something seems so resigned. So sad. So short of the glory of God and the good news of the Gospel. Frankly that last one sounds like a challenge. I think, in a very real way, God can change the past. God does change the past.

But perhaps God does not change the events of the past, amending instead their meaning so fundamentally that history is, in a very real sense, altered. We need only think of Good Friday for an example. Imagine Jesus’ death on the cross. Imagine the humiliation and defeat that everyone who knew him—his friends, his disciples—experienced on that day. Imagine the torment and agony of Jesus himself. And think about what all of that means now, in light of Easter. Jesus’ resurrection transforms completely the meaning of his death. The cross is now a sign not of defeat, but of victory. It becomes a sign of our redemption. It is our salvation.

When Jesus was raised, did his past change? Technically, no. He still suffered, died on the Cross, and was buried. Yet God’s grace rewrote everything around the event so completely that it’s not really the same occurence anymore. And while the Cross is the most striking example of our faith, it’s hardly the only one. In the Easter Vigil we proclaimed that the sin of Adam is no longer the tragic failure that led to our exile, but the lucky break that called forth our Savior. In the Gospel we see Jesus proclaim the death of Lazarus is not a sign of decay’s inevitability but rather its impotence when compared to the glory of God. By giving the past new meaning, it is altered.

I believe the same will be true of all our suffering, so long as we use that suffering to grow closer to Christ. God’s grace will reach back and alter our perception of those events so completely that we will call them “good,” just as we now call the day of Jesus’ death “Good.” Now we see through a glass darkly, but once our vision clears we won’t even recognize much of what had come before.

In the preface to his imaginative exploration of heaven and hell in “The Great Divorce,” C.S. Lewis expresses the same thought about our current lives in light of our eternal destiny. Speaking about our time on Earth after all things pass away he writes “But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone to be in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself.”

God can change the past. By giving what we have experienced a new meaning the past is recast. The power and might of God is greater than we can imagine; it’s not only a new start, but a different history. This is one of the lessons of Easter—Christ’s light pours forth everywhere and reaches into every dark space, even those behind us.

About the Rabble Rouser:

Steven-CottamSteven Cottam serves as youth minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church. He lives in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, with his lovely wife, his adorable daughter and his very strange dog. He is an active member of Common Change, a group which seeks to gather and distribute tithe money in a relational and collaborative way. He has been friends with Sister Julia ever since they were students, coworkers, and cooking club members together at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. His interests and passions include Aikido, gardening, coffee, and becoming a Jedi Master.

Easter freedom playlist

This Easter season is full of all sorts of life-changing, resurrection energy. The Risen Christ is alive and among us!

Praise music is in order as we party down and praise God; celebrate our freedom from chains of sin and oppression.

We are set free to serve and act as healers and helpers in this hurting world.

Here are some tunes I find especially energizing; music that pumps me up and encourage me as I go forth to spread the Good News through loving service and words:

God’s Not Dead, by Newsboys

Break Every Chain by Jesus Culture

Back to Life by Hillsong Young & Free

No Longer Slaves by Jonathan and Melissa Helser

Burn Like A Star by Rend Collective

Oceans by Hillsong United

Sparroby Audrey Assad

 

 

Mud, muck, and the courage of change

I love hearing the stories of the early Church, especially as they are proclaimed everyday at Mass during the Easter season. Their adventures, as are found in the Book of Acts, reminds me that the truth and joy that come from Christ’s resurrection has truly established renewal for all creation. We are one. We are free!

The energy and courage found in the early Church can enliven us today. None of us need to be afraid to share our faith. We can let go of our fears to take risks for the reign of God. We can live with strong trust in God and faithsuch courage can set all sorts of miracles into motion.

God has graced us with all we need to truly change the world!

Certainly, we don’t need to look too far to see that Christ-centered change is actually very messy. The season of springof beauty and life poking out of the mud and muck of what was once dead and dormantshows us that being courageous with our compassion and witness is far from neat and tidy. The mess of transformation is demanding, active, and fierce.

Photo credit: https://strangfordloughnationaltrust.files.wordpress.com

Parker Palmer’s recent reflection Spring is Mud and Miracle (published online at On Being with Krista Tippet) reminded me of this:

There’s a miracle inside that muddy mess: those fields are a seedbed for rebirth. I love the fact that the word humus, the decayed organic matter that feeds the roots of plants, comes from the same word-root that gives rise to humility. It’s an etymology in which I find forgiveness, blessing, and grace. It reminds me that the humiliating events of life — events that leave “mud on my face” or “make my name mud” — can create the fertile soil that nourishes new growth.

Spring begins tentatively, but it advances with a tenacity that never fails to touch me. The smallest and most tender shoots insist on having their way, pressing up through ground that looked, only a few weeks earlier, as if it would never grow anything again. The crocuses and snowdrops don’t bloom for long. But their mere appearance, however brief, is always a harbinger of hope — and from those small beginnings, hope grows at a geometric rate. 

During this Easter season I desire to accept the mess and muck as natural. My humanity is a gift. The muck of life can be thick and heavy, but it really is a sign of hope out of which can spring forth the determination of goodness.

True, it is messy and disturbing to encounter the world, but the muck is a necessary part of the freedom that comes from growth. We can have courage to change. Even though it can be hard to learn the truth, new awareness can crack light into my soul. Yes, service may wear me out but my weakness can open a way for me to get closer to my community. Although reaching out will mean I’ll inevitably encounter the hurting parts of our world that I’d rather hide from: witnessing as a healer, lover, server and friend may mean that I will end up bruised and broken. And changed.

In the midst of the muddy mess, I will choose to be encouraged. It is only through decay that new life can come. It is only through the stink, the goo, the pain of life that transformations will emerge. I know I am on the right path and really walking with The Way if I am breaking through barriers and getting hurt outside my comfort zone. This is the life of abundance, life to the fullest, the real Gospel way. The mud means I am moving in the right direction, serving and loving in union with Christ.

Yes, let us move out, singing songs of service and love, not afraid of the inevitable mess and muck, because it is part of transformation! Pope Francis encourages us:

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”  – Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium, #49)

And, Alex Street’s song Beautiful Mess can be our anthem as we go:

Amen! Alleluia!

ALLELUIA in abundance

Happy Easter!!

We’re in the midst of the octave of Easter—eight days especially for rejoicing—and then we can celebrate the awesomeness of the Easter miracle for many more days.

I have a personality type that loves to be set to “fun” and “joy,” and I love to celebrate the goodness of God as much as possible.

Still, during this Octave of Easter days, I am making an extra effort to do special things each day to keep the Easter party going on. I made a bunny cake one day. I wore my Easter best dress another. Every day I am praying with praise and gratitude. I am refusing to fast, or diet, or deprive myself.

I am focusing on the freedom that comes from the resurrection. I am worshiping and praising God with joyful tunes and abundant Alleluias. This feels especially freeing after all the penance of Lent gave me such a new, fresh start.

God is so good! Let us praise Jesus and thank him over and over for all he is for us.

Amen!

Photo credit: http://www.puretravel.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Guide-to-How-Easter-is-Celebrated-Around-the-World.jpg

Loving wide open

The gaps are quickly filling in between the branches as more and more leaves open up each day.

"gaps for growth" by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“gaps for growth” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

As more leaves open and crowd the trees with bright color I am reminded how we are also like small leaves–alone, we are vulnerable and hopeful. Together we are strong and form a bold, bright, colorful community.

"new leaf" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“new leaf” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

We must not stay attached to any certain way-of-being. We must be open to growth, to change and conversion.

"new leaf 2" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“new leaf 2” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

The leaves, like Jesus, teach me great lessons. Through their example I see how to give of myself for the sake of others. I learn how to give into growth for the sake of love.

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:12-13

May we all remain open to the growth and sacrifice that God calls us to for the sake of others. Amen! 

When Jesus asked for food (or, how I realized Easter is an ordinary thing)

Sometimes the Easter story is just plain unbelievable to me.

Doubts invade my prayer and distract me from the whole point of the story— of the entire core of my faith. Questions multiply in my mind exponentially. Why did some people recognize Jesus while others didn’t? Why is the Easter story so different in each Gospel? How did it really happen? Did it even happen at all? What if the whole “resurrection thing” is just metaphor? What if Jesus didn’t really come back in his body, but people just explained it that way because they had trouble understanding what they were feeling after Jesus was killed?

Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled?
And why do questions arise in your hearts?”

I guess I’m a lot like Jesus’ friends who had trouble believing their eyes, who remained cynical even when God himself spoke directly to them. Forget “you gotta see it to believe it” or “you had to be there,” sometimes we don’t even believe the goodness that is right in front of our faces.

“Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.
Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones
as you can see I have.”

Maybe I have Easter questions because I am feeling desperate for a big, dramatic miracle. I want some happy headlines that restore all my faith that goodness is the strongest force. Terrorists repent and destroy all weapons. Cancer cure available for free to all in need. Malnourished children restored to perfect health. Billionaires give everything to the poor. Gun shops go out of business.  

Apparently I have high expectations and big dreams. Maybe the truth is that I wouldn’t even recognize a miracle if it happened right in front of my face. Perhaps I need someone to show me what’s real and how God’s masterpieces surround me.

And as he said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.

Yes! God’s beauty is all around me, all the time, in the ordinary things. I don’t have to look too far to find something beautiful. I can easily experience wonder and awe for the goodness of God’s creation. My students are listening and working hard. Buds are opening and flowers are blooming. The food pantry is well stocked. The sun is shining and the sky is a beautiful blue. Life is good!

… they were … incredulous for joy and were amazed …

So much goodness is happening around me, but, how am I part of this? Jesus is God, so above me, so beyond me. I am small. I am nothing. I am just a person with very human needs and wants.

… he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of baked fish; 
he took it and ate it in front of them.

Photo credit: cookingforkeeps.com

And he is human too! He shows up, announces “Peace,” and then asks his friends for a snack! This is the Resurrected Jesus I can get behind, that I can believe in–the teacher who pauses in the profound, steps into the ordinary, and asks his pals for some food. Not only is he alive and human, but he’s a beggar too!

Now I know–or at least I am starting to get it: Easter is actually an ordinary thing.

Even though the first Easter Sunday changed everything, the Truth that must inform my daily living is the part of the story where Jesus models how to be fully human. Easter may not end all human suffering, but it should change how we are with each other. Easter is a human thing, a holy and profound moment that is just as basic as showing up uninvited and asking for a snack!

Amen! Alleluia!

An empty tomb

Happy Easter!

On this Holy Saturday the Easter story, read from the Gospel of Mark, left me more confused than comforted. This is how Mark tells it: early on the third morning, three women come to the tomb with spices to care for Jesus’ corpse. They worry about how they’re going to move that impossible stone. But what do they find? An empty tomb. No angel. No Jesus. No blinding light or writing in the sky. Just a man in white telling them that Jesus is gone, that he has been raised and has gone before them to Galilee. What do the women do? “Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).

Sculpture image printed with permission of artist M.J. Anderson
Image of sculpture (created for Church of the Resurrection, Solon, Ohio) printed with permission of artist M.J. Anderson

And that’s it. The very last words in our earliest written Gospel. “Afraid.” What are we supposed to do with that? Well, usually we skip over it. We prefer the confident glorified Jesus in the Gospel of John. We just don’t know what to do with an empty tomb and silent women that run away. The early Gospel writers even tacked on an ending (Mark 16:9-20) crafted from bits of other Gospel passages, to make people feel better. In this added ending there is a resurrected Jesus standing at the tomb. The disciples still struggle to believe but at least Jesus is visible. What are we to do with silence, and darkness, and an empty tomb?

But what if the Gospel of Mark was meant to end that way? What if the empty tomb itself is enough proof that Jesus is raised from the dead? What if the women’s reaction was actually an expression of faithful witness? What if it is all right that sometimes you cannot find words for the “bewildering” mystery of God? What if to flee the tomb in “utter amazement” is a legitimate way to live our Gospel faith? What if we just speak really poor Greek (which definitely describes me) and the word translated here as “fear” is more accurately and consistently described as God-inspired awe?

Mary, Mary, and Salome did not fail. Because, actually, they did tell someone the good news of Jesus’ victory over death. They told it with their lives. How do we know that? Because the church started, which is something the first readers of Mark would have known for sure. They were the church. They were gathering in homes and telling these mind-blowing stories, breaking bread, healing the sick, and willing to risk their lives for this Jesus they talked about. Sometimes, they even died for him—just ask our brothers and sisters in Syria, Kenya, and Libya what they know about that.

What is enough for me to believe that Jesus has smashed death to pieces? I do not need to see his risen body in front of me. I do not even need any archeological or scientific proof. The overpowering awe that shook those three women on that early morning still reverberates in my own small heart. Their utter amazement was a spark that started a wildfire that cannot be stopped. I know Jesus is alive. I know that he brings freedom, light, and truth to all, usually in unexpected ways. As unexpected as an empty tomb. That is enough.

Laments for Boston, the peace of Christ and the wisdom of Mr. Rogers

We want answers.

When tragedy and violence shatter our peace we want answers. Why?! How?! Who?! How could God let this happen?! Our laments rise like incense, meeting storm clouds of emotion.

Today, the laments are heavy in the city of Boston. The bombings at the marathon yesterday cause our nation to shudder.

Many are crying in Iraq today too. Waves of bombings there yesterday killed at least 20 people and injured more than 200.  The sorrow knows no borders. What about the people who deal with violence in places like the Central African Republic or Syria without much attention or help from the world community? God help us.

The laments are also thick in Iran where there was an awful earthquake just a few hours ago. Christ hear us.

The laments are constant in hospitals and funeral parlors where intense suffering is often too sudden. God have mercy.

Thanks be to God we are not alone in all this. The good news is that God hears our cries and that God is intimately with us as we suffer.

Thanks be to God that Jesus taught us what to do. This is what Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. – John 14: 27

We can have faith. We get to take care of each other. We need each other. We really can only do this together. In community with Christ we can make peace, pray and help one another. With Christ in community we can offer healing and hope. This compassion is the heart of peacemaking and Gospel living.

Mr. Rogers, with his simple wisdom, understood this well. If we look around within the human community, we can quickly recognize the peace of Christ alive and well. We don’t need to be afraid.

Thanks be to God Christ is alive and well and among us. Christ hears our cries and knows our pain. Christ is with us, helping us and healing us through the arms of our loving neighbors.

a regular Easter in broken chains

Happy Easter!

Easter joy is ringing and Alleluias are all over the place. Jesus is alive and we can celebrate! This is the Easter joy I was hoping for, praying for.

I wanted to feel Easter joy because it had been a hard, exhausting Lent. I intensely felt the story of the Triduum this year. Holy Thursday was profound, Good Friday was awful and sad and Holy Saturday was horribly depressing.

Then, on Easter morning, I was giddy with joy. Church bells rang before dawn, at six a.m. I filled candy bowls with jelly beans and danced and sang Alleluias as I got ready to go to church. I was very excited and happy. Jesus is amazing, coming back from the dead and showing how powerful and strong He is! Wow! God is good!

The good news is that Easter is a regular thing, a much more regular thing than we might think.

Holy Thursday sharing is our daily bread. We nourish one another through our sharing in community. Our acts of ministry and daily caring for one another is the living servant-leadership of the foot washing Jesus modeled. Our bodies are holy. Yes, Jesus is the bread of Christ. And, we are the body of Christ. Together, we are Eucharist alive, living the Holy Thursday story on a daily basis.

Good Fridays happen way too much. People are oppressed, hurt, abused and tortured completely unjustly. We turn on each other and look for scapegoats. We force people to carry crosses of persecution they do not deserve. Men and women are killed by death sentences still. Children live in war zones, prisoners are tortured. Violence is found in hearts, homes, neighborhoods and entire nations worldwide. Humanity is cruel and violent. It’s horrid.

The grief of Holy Saturdays are thick too. Worldwide, women weep at graves of those killed unjustly–even their own children. People of faith become clouded by confusion and grief when their visions don’t fit with what God has in mind. We hold vigils and memorials and lean on each other in our sadness. We get frozen in our sorrow and are forced to have a solemn sabbath.

As I am saying, praise be God, Easter is a regular thing! We are fed by our daily bread of Eucharist and times when our bodies are honored as sacred and holy. We cry out for peace and justice when people are oppressed and hurt. We bond in community as we deal with our sorrow and sadness. And then, most importantly, Easter resurrections are regular too. Every day we find our voice, unite, rise up, renew, celebrate freedom from oppression, fear and injustice. God is so good!

Here’s a song- and a movement- all about regular Easters–a song of chains breaking and women gaining freedom and celebration:

“Break the Chain”

Lyrics by Tena Clark
Music by Tena Clark/Tim Heintz

I raise my arms to the sky
On my knees I pray
I’m not afraid anymore
I will walk through that door
Walk, dance, rise
Walk, dance, rise

I can see a world where we all live
Safe and free from all oppression
No more rape or incest, or abuse
Women are not a possession

You’ve never owned me, don’t even know me I’m not invisible, I’m simply wonderful I feel my heart for the first time racing I feel alive, I feel so amazing

I dance cause I love
Dance cause I dream
Dance cause I’ve had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
Its time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain
Dance, rise
Dance, rise

In the middle of this madness, we will stand I know there is a better world Take your sisters & your brothers by the hand Reach out to every woman & girl

This is my body, my body’s holy
No more excuses, no more abuses
We are mothers, we are teachers,
We are beautiful, beautiful creatures

I dance cause I love
Dance cause I dream
Dance cause I’ve had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
It’s time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain

Dance Break Inst.

Dance, rise
Dance, rise

 Sister won’t you help me, sister won’t you rise x4

Dance, rise
Dance, rise

 Sister won’t you help me, sister won’t you rise x4

This is my body, my body’s holy
No more excuses, no more abuses
We are mothers, we are teachers,
We are beautiful, beautiful creatures

I dance cause I love
Dance cause I dream
Dance cause I’ve had enough
Dance to stop the screams
Dance to break the rules
Dance to stop the pain
Dance to turn it upside down
Its time to break the chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain, oh yeah
Break the Chain

Here’s something really fun that you might get a kick out of. Some sisters in my community and I are dancing to our own little music video for the Break the Chain movement. Talk about the Easter story coming alive at a convent!!

Happy Easter everyone! May we all dance with great freedom! Alleluia!

encounters allowed

It’s really hard that living the Gospel and

following Jesus means that we are willing

to encounter the injustices in

society and experience poverty.

It’s not easy that being Easter people-

living up to the resurrection-

means that we allow ourselves

to encounter the uncomfortable

places in our lives and our world.

Loving Jesus makes a mess.

We get into the ugly, awful

places of our lives and societies.

Layered into tombs and crosses,

beautiful newness and Easter

glory glow.

As we allow ourselves

to encounter the stories

of the Truth,

we open ourselves

to encounters with the mysteries

of God’s goodness.

We are united in the mess.

Together we celebrate

the awesomeness of God’s love.

Amen! Alleluia! Amen!