by Olivia Garrett-Stoopack
Easter Sunday is a time of memories. Beautiful sashes on floral print dresses. A crisp white shirt and tie. New, patent leather shoes with their shiny gleam. We are memorized by the ribbons on little girls' hats, the taste of milk chocolate rabbits, and the idea that there is treasure waiting for us in the tall grass. Church sermons talked of holding joy for the day. Joy for renewal that comes with the risen Christ. Rejoicing that the tomb is empty, that life conquers death, and we are made whole.
Memories become bent as we age. The ribbons and shoe gleam are just annoyances for making public appearances. Treasure holders are cheap, plastic ovals that aren't good for anything when they are empty. Sermons become words that leave us uncomfortable in our skin. Experiences in life have made it seem we've moved beyond those who qualify for salvation. For years, even after becoming baptized in the Episcopalian Church at twenty-three, I had this feeling that I didn't fit in to what the preachers said was Christ's design. We are all one, but at the time Paul didn't seem very female friendly. It was a journey that I thought was done after rebellious, soul-searching teenage years spent in pagan practice. I took my expanded world view back to where I felt I belonged, only to run in to a synagogue to have to fall in love with God all over again, and the long way around. One of my most recent Easter memories involves a woman I was coming to appreciate as a second mother standing and walking out of a church when acceptance of sexuality was preached. There was a fear of losing something I'd only just begun to find in creating this new, expanded family consisting of the man I love very much, and the one who gave birth to him. Guilt left me feeling once again to be rendered lacking in an evangelical context.
Years of hell-fire fear secretly licking at the back of my heels, only to be stomped down by taking what I thought didn't fit in Christianity away from it: bisexuality, feminism, ardent social justice, and the belief that all are God's children, loved and whole. Those years of abandonment, rejection, confusion, anger, and bold running in to the unknown have left their fair share of marks. Even a life filled with hardship, fear, and pain has done much the same in recent days. Stretched skin of growth around skin split without a choice. Verbal beatings with the constant scritch-scratch of voices in my head. The literal old scars of self-inflicted cuts. Inside and out, all of it wounded, all of it boiling down to the fact that supremely? If Christianity presents perfection in its “new” creations? Then myself, and maybe those like me, have turned themselves inside out, upside down, and folded every which way to try and show a part that looks like the pristine white-wash we're taught that comes with a washing in the blood of Christ. Those are old guard thoughts, in a way, that the “perfection” we supposedly ascertain takes the place of the imperfect. It revives the idea of the curtain separating God from the rest of us.
Easter Sunday came around again. Inside of a small, red plastic egg was a metaphor that sits on my desk so that I can look on it, everyday, and remember what is inside: nothing that isn't supposed to be there. Nothing that doesn't need a definition. Jesus Christ didn't rise from the tomb with crisp, pristine sheets. His skin wasn't without blemish either, and I don't know why in all those years of hearing Easter stories that I hadn't remembered a man put his hand in to the side of the Jesus as offered testament to the darkness he had fallen under. There was no proof offered to who he was more achingly real than this gesture saying, “Look at me! I am one of you; my body has been hobbled, crippled, and bent. I'm still here for you, and will always be. I had to go through a lot, I had to die. None of that is pretty to experience. Symbolism aside, it hurt a lot. But I'm here, and here we are.”
The notion of someone so amazing had to die to give himself completely is suddenly less radical than the fact that the person did die, fulfill his mission, and come back from the other end of it with the most obvious testimony. It is one we are so afraid of we become stagnant in our places without realizing our scars show much like the Lord's that we've moved on. Life is a fluid, rushing experience. When it goes down in to a season of darkness and sorrow, death of the old has to happen to come up new. In that way, we die over and over. When we come back, there is our resurrection. Time and time again our soft, messy flesh takes a beating but it only shows the armor that an embracing soul really is. Maybe that is why it is in us, instead of over us. Maybe the soft, fleshy mess accounts for the active, living testimony behind the stories that we share. Maybe the psycho-social scars account for the fact the mind has learned to embrace its dark season, ride through it, die, and come back again. Easter came around again, and I saw Christ as a little more human for that precious hour. Then, he became incredibly divine. Majestic even. His Passion extended out beyond the crown of thorns and wounds. It took me back to the last night he spent on his knees praying to his Father for a way out, a way through it, or strength if he had to go and do what he knew was coming. Easter is about a movement toward a moment in time that didn't wash away all accounts that it happened by representing a white-washed death. It was bloody, hard, painful reality. Yet, when he came back? He carried the evidence of that with him.
So yes, it is harder to believe in the true meaning of resurrection than the promise of perfection afterwards. I'll take that belief, though, and the scars that come with it because of an affirmation that there is such beauty in our brokenness? The Lord broke himself to demonstrate that.
About the Storyteller: Then Olivia Garrett-Stoopack touches the lives of children and adults with special needs as an instructional aide, her inner nerd is freaking out over Hobbit movies and Comic-Con. You might find her playing dress-up in the fashions of yesteryear, strolling the Encinitas meditation gardens, or volunteering at an animal rescue (yes, they rescued hundreds of chinchillas!) Olivia loves helping with our Little Sojourners on Sunday mornings and they love having her. Plus, she's an awesome writer. Obviously.