In my faith tradition this week is our Holy Week. We remember and try to understand the stories of Jesus eating dinner with his friends, being arrested and killed, and then being resurrected on the third day. It can be difficult sometimes to understand the meaning and deep emotions behind the story.
A couple years ago I wrote this:
“And while He was on earth He mended families. He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again. He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest him — a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail.” — Marilynne Robinson, in her novel Housekeeping.
My wife Alicia and I have been married for nearly a year. When we got married we told everyone we’d probably wait a year or so before trying to have a child. Within five months we had become so happy in our marriage and so excited about having kids that we decided to go ahead and start. We then found out that Alicia had already become pregnant a week or two earlier. We started telling everyone right away and planning for our child to be born this coming June. We both thought we were having a boy, and I started looking at baby clothes with my favorite sports teams on them.
After five weeks we miscarried. The grief built up in me for a few hours, and the thing that made it bubble over into weeping and hysterical sobbing was the thought that I wouldn’t get to teach my son to play basketball.
at the foot of the universe
from this body
and pain (a condition
Clothed now in light
clothed in abyss, at the prow
of the desert
Mercy on us all
–“Petition” by Franz Wright
As Alicia and I dealt with our loss it became clear that she was having a harder time with it than I was. I was able to move through the pain and grief fairly quickly, but Alicia, who was carrying the baby, had much more to work through than I did. We both entered a period of anger and doubt and while the loss manifested in me as a kind of quiet personal sadness that would overtake me every now and then, it came out through Alicia’s life in a more open, honest way.
If the day we miscarried was our Good Friday, the last four months have been our Easter Saturday, the day between death and resurrection. The day when I imagine the disciples and especially Mary were overtaken by grief and confusion and doubt. I can imagine what Mary felt and did after she buried her son because I’ve seen Alicia feel and do the same things. Easter Saturday was never a day I thought much about; Christianity often tends to jump right from the crucifixion to the resurrection without thinking about what was going on in-between. But this year I know what was going on in-between because I’ve been seeing it and experiencing it for four months.
“It seems to me that the intent of the gospel writers is not to make the resurrection seem somehow plausible or credible – this could hardly be done without diminishing its impressiveness as miracle – but instead to heighten its singularity, when, as event, it would seem by no means unexampled. I believe it is usual to say that the resurrection established who Jesus was and what his presence meant. Perhaps it is truer to say that opposite, that who Jesus was established what his resurrection meant, that he seized upon a narrative familiar or even pervasive and wholly transformed it.
When, in the Gospel of John, weeping Mary Magdalene stoops to look into the tomb and sees angels, they ask her, ‘Woman, why weepest thou?’ The text creates the dreamy impression that the two angels speak together. Then she turns and sees a man standing behind her, Jesus, whom she mistakes for a gardener. He speaks the same words as the angels did, ‘Woman, why weepest thou?’ and he asks, ‘Whom seekest thou?’ Does he see and hear angels, too? Or does he know her thoughts? Or was it his voice she heard in the first place? Mary herself would not have known. Jesus seems to be teasing her toward delight and recognition, ready to enjoy her surprise, in something like the ordinary manner of a friend. The narrative asserts that he is a figure of unutterable holiness, only pausing to speak to Mary before he ascends into heaven, yet it is his very ordinariness that disguises him from her. Splendor is very well for youths and angels, but when Jesus takes up again for a little while the life he had wept to leave, it is the life of a plain man,”– Marilynne Robinson, “Psalm Eight,” from a collection of her essays.
I have been emailing with a friend about my current type of faith and the things I believe or disbelieve now, and in those emails I came to a conclusion which I had felt myself moving toward for a while: namely, that I am a person who is full of doubt and questions but still hopes that all of this is true. I do not know whether any of it is true in the way a fundamentalist might, and my doubts are always telling me that I’ll never know, but I have this spiritual part that is somehow filled, in spite of my doubts, by hope. I don’t know why our child died. I don’t know why things like that happen. But sometimes I find myself kneeling in a church, or taking the Eucharist, or saying the creeds, or bowing as the cross is proceeded past me, and in those times I realize that I can be open about all of my doubts, and I can let those doubts wash over me and through me and actually keep them with me instead of letting them go. In those times, and when I stop to think about what the resurrection means, that death is not the end, that I hope it’s all true.
There is a verse that says death has no sting and no victory. I can tell you by experience part of that verse is wrong. I know from these last four months that death stings an awful lot. But I can also tell you that there are stories of God mending families, of God having mercy, and of God coming back to earth as a human for a little while after dying. So families and mercy and human life must be important. And I hope it’s all true. Happy Easter.
You might know most of the story of how Alicia and I came to be parents, finally, of a wonderful and perfect son. But no matter how the story goes, it happened. We were deep in the misery and confusion of Easter Saturday for four-and-a-half years, and we didn’t know if Easter Sunday morning would ever come for us.
We didn’t know if we’d live the rest of our life wondering how the resurrection story could possibly be true, because it had never been true for us. We didn’t know if we were doomed to pick up some other hobby to try to fill the part of our lives we had reserved for our children. We didn’t know if we’d ever really understand the idea of God as a loving parent because how could we understand it if we couldn’t be parents? How could a loving parent deny someone the chance to experience parenthood?
But I can tell you that about nine months ago the day turned from Easter Saturday to Sunday. Alicia and I went out for dinner last night, just the two of us, and we were talking about how a year ago things were different. Our life was unhappy and empty and bad, in much the same way I know the disciples must have felt as their awful Saturday must have seemed to have gone on forever.
As we ate really wonderful, soul-restoring food we talked about how everything is different now, how much our lives have changed and how happy we are. How good things are now. We have finally gotten through the long Easter Saturday of our lives and have been able to stumble out into a sunrise, see the large stone moved out of the way, and wonder how we can be so lucky to have experienced a resurrection.