The Slow Way: Easter Life & the Wisdom of Our Own Mortality
Can we celebrate Easter and still lean into our limits?
I remember reading once, years ago, something NT Wright said about the season of Easter, how if we really believe in the miracle of the resurrection, we ought to be drinking champagne for breakfast everyday of the Easter season. Monday, I said something to Chris about this. Why do we have a million guides for Lent and no one is publishing a guide to reflecting and celebrating Easter for the fifty days of the season? We know how to do Easter day, but I’m not sure any of our churches really know how to do Easter season. Champagne for breakfast did not happen over here, friends. I was so worn out and full from the weekend, that I woke up only wanting coffee on Monday morning.
When we celebrate Easter, we literally cheer on a belief that death and finitude don’t define us because we’re invited into a resurrection story bigger than our accomplishments and our limits. We are celebrating that we belong to Jesus, who overcame the limits of humanity. Who overcame death in the here and now and Death in the eternal story. Like I wrote about last week, when Paul in 1 Corinthians asks, “Oh, Death, where is your sting?” my hope is that Paul is pointing to the crushing of hell, and all that hell represents for us. This season of Eastertide is about living into the goodness of all that Hell-Crushing.
I’ve been reading Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals for the past couple weeks. The premise of the book is that there is no life to be found in our obsession with time management, organizational systems, and pressure machines. We can never get all the things done, no matter how well we organize our to-do lists. Wisdom, instead, is found in discovering that our time is limited, and we are limited. Wisdom is found in the choosing of what matters most to us, knowing that we can’t prioritize everything. In fact, making a life means choosing to live in a certain place (and not live in all the others), choosing the people we will be in relationship with (which can’t include everyone), and choosing how we spend our days. There is a world of freedom in acknowledging that we all have small lives, and those of us who are wise will embrace the beauty of the smallness.
Last Monday night I watched a Netflix docuseries with Brooksie about the national parks throughout the world preserving habitats for earth’s most threatened creatures. My favorite scene was of a sloth, curled in a ball during the rain. When the sun came out, he turned green because of the algae growing in his fur, providing a home for an unbelievable amount of microscopic (and not so microscopic) creatures.
The next day was cold and overcast, and I was hit with the kind of migraine I haven’t had in months, after a sweet and beautiful few months without them. I know better than to mess around with a migraine like the one that showed up Tuesday morning. I bowed to it, canceled my day, and curled myself in a ball like a sloth in the rain. I woke up feeling the twinge of guilt I’m always fighting when I rest: Maybe I could have pushed through? I wanted to accomplish more. But then I thought about the sloth and his little green body as he sat completely still preserving his energy, while also keeping an entire world of microorganisms alive and thriving.
It’s seems to me that there’s a story here: the sloth, the migraine, the crushing of hell, the champagne of Easter, and this book I’m reading. Oliver Burkeman explains the trouble with our obsession with modern day “time management” in a way that makes complete and utter sense to my body: “Once time is resource to be used, you start to feel pressure . . . to use it well, and to berate yourself when you feel you've wasted it . . . Soon your sense of self-worth gets completely wound up with how you’re using time . . . [it] turns into something you need dominate or control.” This creates what Burkeman describes as a “rigged game in which it’s impossible to ever feel as though you’re doing well enough.” Our attempts at mastering time, he says, end up mastering us.
I've tried so many times to put words to this when I've written about rest and anxiety and how often religion confuses the spiritual life for another attempt at controlling time: In religion it just becomes controlling time for the sake of doing enough good to come close to God. Burkeman says there's some realness to be found in releasing our attempts to control time and instead receiving our own mortality. He's on to something good and deeply true. So how do we break free from the culture of efficiency we’ve created for ourselves? He says we lean into our own mortality, accepting that we’ll never be able to control our lives and make all our tasks fit.
I think we begin by learning to prioritize the things that actually bring us life and joy and relationship (with ourselves, others, and God). And, as Burkeman reminds us, we release our control of time and lean into the melancholy of our own coming death, what Richard Rohr calls “bright sadness.”
What could this possibly mean for us this Easter season? How in the world do we live in our own limits and as St Benedict instructed his monks, “keep death always before our eyes”? Can we live with our eyes on our death and our eyes on the gift of Easter? Can we celebrate that Death has been overcome and still live in the wisdom of our own mortality?
I’ve spent the past decade pushing back on what I would now call the “toxic positivity” of evangelical Christian culture, pushing from within at first, and now speaking from outside, about the dangers of soul-crushing theology dressed up as personal transformation, and that culture’s tendency to bury the ones who are crushed in the process. There is no room in our beaten up world to celebrate something that isn’t authentic, to prop up men as “godly” who are secretly abusing women in their care. To wrap public policy in language of faithfulness, but use it to give abusive power to a few, and keep those in poverty out of sight and mind. There is too much at stake to preach that Easter should be celebrated, without offering a way toward Real Life, life that’s true all the way through.
What if the way toward Easter life is found in the wisdom of our own mortality, in the real and powerful acknowledgement that we are limited creatures, here for a limited amount of time, and invited to make the world a place that looks like the kind of life Jesus offered in his resurrected body: whole, scarred, on the other side of hell, transformed, and transforming others through forgiveness.
I’ll take that mortality this Easter, please.
A Slow Practice
Let’s practice our Easter celebration by ruthlessly examining our own pursuit of life. Where are we surviving? Where are we thriving? And what does our schedule have to say about what we believe about God?
In other words, does your calendar reflect your belief that relationship (with yourself, others, and God) is a priority? Does your calendar reflect your belief that Jesus came to give us life that is abundant? Of course, there is no way around the frustrating tasks of email checking and to-do listing, but how are you prioritizing the Easter-goodness of the world? How are you authentically living into joy?
Let’s pray through our schedules today. (And before we do, let me assure you: I don’t know how to help us prioritize joy. I only know that living into joy involves leaning into our limits, so let's start there.)
Take a deep breath with me.
I want you to pull out some paper or a journal. Take a few minutes to sketch out a typical day in your life. What is work? What is play? What is relentlessly painful or boring? What is joyful? What builds your anxiety? What releases your anxiety? Write it all down and label it.
Now, take some minutes to look for the presence of the Holy Spirit in your list. The fruit of the spirit of God is listed so beautifully in Paul’s letter to the Galatians as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” As we look at our days, let this list be our litmus test. Is it generous? Does it produce love, joy, or peace? Is it kind to others or ourselves? Is it gentle or faithful? When you participate in it are you controlled or do you feel wildly loose in the wind, untrustworthy?
Let’s close this practice with an acknowledgement that these questions can’t be worked through in the course of a ten minute practice of prayer. This is a long, daily work to look at our schedules and ask hard questions about where we’re inviting God’s presence into our hurried daily tasks.
This, you might say, is Easter work. Fifty days worth of asking the Holy Spirit to show us where our lives are missing love, joy and peace, and beginning the slow work of reclaiming our time for our Easter-lives.
Take some time to commit to examining your days this season of Easter. Close with this prayer: Holy One who brings life, love, and joy, teach me the wisdom of my limits and the goodness of Easter-life in every moment of my day.
A List of Things
FOUND IS 8 YEARS OLD!!! And in honor of my very first book’s 8th birthday, we’re having a book club! I would love for you to join me in reading or re-reading my book together with me throughout May and June. Participants will be invited to Zoom with me once a week to discuss the book, ask questions, and virtually eat popcorn. Here are some details!
Invite your friends to read with you! Know someone who would enjoy a memoir about the intensity of those early days of parenting, or someone who is walking through a faith transition and trying to find their way? This story is for them. Parents or non-parents. Religious or non-religious. My hope is that the story of Found can translate to all kind of lives in all kinds of moments. I’ll provide a discussion guide for small groups that want to meet ahead of our big group Zoom!
Here’s a preview of the docuseries with the sloth. Barack Obama is the host and Brooksie and I can’t stop watching all the episodes. Friday night we all watched as a family and Ace was mesmerized. At one point a flower opened up in time-lapsed footage and he turned to me, made eye contact, and laughed. BEST.
Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals is truly blowing my mind. I’m sure I’ll keep talking about it. But if you want to read it for yourself, by all means join me!