EASTER – AGAIN
Rev. Don Beaudreault
First Parish Brewster Unitarian Universalist
March 28, 2016
Opening Words: “The Boundaries of Our Being”
The word `resurrection’ has for many people the connotation of dead bodies leaving their graves or other fanciful images. But resurrection means the victory of the new state of things, the New Being born out of the death of the Old. Resurrection is not an event that might happen in some remote future, but it is the power of the New Being to create life out of death, here and now, today and tomorrow…Out of disintegration and death something is born of eternal significance… Resurrection happens NOW, or it does not happen at all. It happens in us and around us…in nature and (in the) universe.
Transition (is) the natural process of disorientation and reorientation that marks the turning points of the path of growth. Throughout nature, growth involves periodic accelerations and transformations: Things go slowly for a time and nothing seems to change–until suddenly the eggshell cracks, the branch blossoms, the tadpole’s tail shrinks away, the leaf falls, the bird molts, the hibernation begins. With us it is the same. Although the signs are less clear than in the world of feather and leaf, the functions of transition times are the same. They are key times in the natural process of self-renewal.
Story: “Resurrection #1”
I believe there are occasional signs of visible amazement in an oft-times chaotic world. They are the antidotes to life when life is viewed in terms of merely muddling through sameness and melancholia. These symbols of a deeper, more abiding astonishment allow us humans to sparkle despite the ennui of existence and the enveloping humdrum of the day-to-day routine.
Perhaps this is what some people mean by having a “spiritual” experience.
Such a sign of spirituality for me was that ugly, stunted growth in front of my former house in Palos Verdes, CA. It is a tree, whose genre I do not know. Just a tiny, nondescript tree at the edge of the road.
The fact that there are trees of the same genetic strain who have flourished into full-bodied, plush and luxuriant specimens up and down the street stands in marked contrast to our little embarrassment.
Why this arboreal nightmare should be what it is rather than a beautiful giant like its siblings is a mystery. Certainly it receives the same amount of rain and sunlight. Perhaps it is the soil which is non-productive of loveliness. Perhaps it is the smog created from a maddening, urbanized pace. The poet’s “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree” is an ironic comment on our stick-like oddity.
For years I would see the thing languishing and wonder how much longer before it would give up the pretense of a prosperous southern California lifestyle.
Then one early morning I woke to the sound of birds. Not to just a mellifluous, tiny reverberation from a few frolicking winged creatures, but to nature’s orchestral arrangement set to musical markings which can only be labeled “presto” and “vivace.”
I got up and followed the sound, discovering that our wisp of a roadside forest had transmogrified into a veritable Christmas tree hung with hundreds of green, feathery ornaments of the parrot variety! What a wonder of nature! Avian choristers clustered on that old stick, vying for position as if those desiccated branches were the choicest seats in the neighborhood. For surely, no parrot sat on any other tree on our block! How wondrous, that suddenly, without expectation, the tree in front of 5510 Bayridge Rd. had become an auditory and visual jewel instead of a pitiable, skeletal twig.
Green parrots in the city? Indeed, we had transformed from an abode in the midst of urban sprawl to a grass hut on a tropical island. As I stood in my front yard I wondered if I were yet awake.
And then I thought of resurrection. That out of seeming death comes life renewed. That we never know about this persona called reality; that so much is hidden to our machinations and attempts to control how life is supposed to be.
The parrots certainly fooled me. From where did they come? And why had they chosen our dying, reed-like representative to alight? Was there conscious intent on nature’s part to festoon drabness and inferiority; to cloak arborous terminal illness with heroic measures?
Curiosity upon curiosity inhabits this world. Symbols of resurrection when you least expect it. Signs of visible amazement in an oft-times chaotic world.
As the Native American spiritual teacher tells is:
It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds.
Story: “Resurrection #2”
Let me tell you another symbolic story about resurrection, this one about people. One day in one of my old lives, I was in my office at the church. There was a feeble knock on my door. I invited the person in. He was a stranger to me — a man in his mid-fifties who looked scared.
“I’m sorry to bother you, Reverend, but I have a problem.”
He told me that although he wasn’t exactly religious, he needed to talk to a minister. He was sick and needed an operation — which was to occur in a few days. He said that the doctor wasn’t too hopeful about his chances of survival.
“I want you to do my funeral,” he told me.
We talked for a long time — about his wife and children; of how he was sorry he hadn’t spent more time with them; about his job and how he hated it; about all those things he had wanted to do. We talked about how he might convince his wife that his end was near.
“She’s too much of an idealist,” he said.
I set up an appointment for him and his spouse for the next day.
The next day came and I saw that indeed, the woman was in utter denial about her husband’s prognosis. A couple hours later, she had at least stated her belief that someday all of us would die — but she couldn’t quite say that her husband’s death would be sooner than “someday” in the far future.
They left me — the man still in a state of hopelessness, the woman still in a condition of terminal optimism. He told me that he would be in contact with me later — in order to plan the details of his funeral service.
I never saw or spoke to him again. But… six months after our meeting, I got a postcard – from Hawaii. “Having a wonderful time, Reverend,” he wrote. “Guess I wasn’t so sick after all!”
When I think of him now, I realize that in a way the guy HAD died. The fear of his own demise had so subsumed him that he was among the walking dead. Given another chance at survival, he had been reborn — whether or not to a more profound sense of purpose and meaning is a moot question. Let us hope he had. Let us hope the lesson had not been lost on him.
Let us hope that he had used this terrifying moment as a springboard from which he could be launched into a place where he might better understand who he yet could still be: the more loving husband and father, someone who might yet find joyful work, a person who would still do all the things of which he had only dreamed. He was given the chance to experience the possibility of the total loss of life, as he knew it. Let us hope he used the time to make a meaningful transition.
Let us hope that our own “near death” experiences — when we are hopeless, lost, disillusioned, bereft; when we feel that there is no meaning, purpose, rhyme or reason to our existence — let us hope that we might use this fallow time, this time of wintry discontent to realize along with Camus that
In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.
Joseph Campbell asserts this idea:
One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.
Closing Words: “Dark into Light”
Dark into light, light into darkness, spin.
When all the birds have flown to some real haven,
We who find shelter in the warmth within,
Listen, and feel new-cherished, new-forgiven