Do you know the poem by John Updike called "Seven Stanzas at
Easter"? It's posted for you at the end of this Dig. In it
Updike wrestles with the ideas put forth by various ministers
and theologians that the resurrection of Christ may not have
been a bodily resurrection, but merely a believed story that is
only important because it symbolizes some general nice truths
like "You can start over" and "Try freshening things up a bit"
and "Don't give up your hope". In their sense Easter is sort of
a Spring like symbol, but not an actual occurrence.
As a psychotherapist, I'm all for hope and fresh starts and
starting over. But if I were going to use Easter as a symbol, I
would add a few dimensions that aren't quite so delicate and
soft. Now I certainly cherish soft and delicate things. Who
does not delight in flowers, bunny rabbits, and children? But
Easter as a symbol can be harder, louder, and more explosive
because Easter represents much more powerful wisdom.
Ponder the Easter story and I think you'll agree…….
Easter is massive interruption. It is a new world dawning from
out of nowhere. Easter is the idea that you will be helped by a
greatness that is far greater than you. Easter is mind-blowing
alternative—a powerful onslaught to the way you thought things
were going to be. Easter is "this way of being and living is
dead and gone"—here is something else, the totally unexpected,
the fresh beyond imagination new beginning.
In this sense, Easter is one huge stop sign and one unforeseen
giant green light beckoning you to a whole new world.
Easter is an ax.
It is a cataclysm. It is an "Oh my God" phenomena.
Easter is the miracle we need.
Think about your problems. Don't you need more Easter in you
and outside you to demolish those problems? Don't you need some
unexpected reality to come along and move the stone of your
deadness and wake you up to new life?
And is this not what happens so often when we do in fact finally
and slowly change? Here we are chugging along with our problems
and struggles and old habits and foggy ideas when along comes
a movie, a line from a song, a sentence in a novel, a word from
a friend, a shout from a therapist, a firm directive from a
stranger—and suddenly we see the possibility that we no longer
have to live this way and right now we can change and, right now,
miracle of bigger miracles, we do change and, in a certain way,
William James was getting at this when he offered this advice on
how to change our life:
- Start immediately
- Do it flamboyantly
- No exceptions
My first therapist of long ago (the blessed Ralph Fogg from New
Paltz, New York who retired and moved to North Carolina but who
lives in my mind and heart forever) was getting at this when he
used to tell me "Robert, progress is the enemy of getting well
and you don't need progress, you need a revolution."
I offer the Updike poem not as part of a religious debate,
rather as a symbolic warning that we be careful how we water
down things down and make them manageable and cozy and tidy when
in fact what we need is something that will not conform to our
comfort—but instead with its realness bring us the revolution we
Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse,
the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping transcendence;
making of the event a parable,
a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck's quanta,
vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.