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Living Wide Open

I’d like us to consider two ways to view the Easter story – as history or as parable. To view the story as history means that the events actually happened as the story reports, that if we’d been there with our cell phones, we could’ve taken pictures or a good recording.

The other way is as a parable. Parables are told with the intent to convey a truth, and it doesn’t really matter if the event actually happened or not. The importance lies in its meaning. For me, because there are so many unbelievable things in the resurrection story, and because each of the four gospels tells a slightly different resurrection story, I find it easier to work with the story as parable, leaving each of you to believe what you choose about the Easter story.

Messages in parables can be many and varied. What moved me about the Easter story this week is the message of transformation – transforming sorrow and loss into hope and new life.

In each of our lives have moments that we could consider Palm Sunday moments, of Day of Tears (aka Good Friday) moments, or Easter moments. Our Palm Sunday moments are the high celebrations, the joy and hope of possibilities and opportunities before us. Our Day of Tears moments are filled with sorrow, hurt, suffering, grief and pain. And, the Easter moments are the times we’re reminded that life does go on, that there are second chances, that we can once again find joy and love in life.

Our very human response to our Days of Tears times is to pull in and pull away, to isolate. We're apt to remain guarded even when we begin to engage in life again. We hold back so as to hide our vulnerability and not be hurt again.

Jesus didn’t hold back. Despite all he went through - death threats, betrayal, rejection, suffering, persecution - he didn't hold back. He lived life wide open, living authentically, with integrity to who he was and what he believed his call from God was. He loved, he celebrated, he ate and drank with all kinds of people… he lived life to the fullest. As the gospel of John says, Jesus came to bring life and to bring it abundantly!

In the Easter story in Luke the angel asks the women who've come to the tomb looking for Jesus' body, “Why do you search for the living one among the dead?” The question hooked me this year. Perhaps this is the parabolic message for each of us. We are the living ones but are we yet to be found among the dead? Have we buried our excitement and verve for life with the loved ones we’ve lost? Are we holding back our deepest selves from our friends and family so as not to be hurt so badly again? Do we get caught up in the debris of life and forget what it means to live? Are we letting our fears hold us back?

I know stuff happens. I know we have awful days and awful experiences. Deaths large and small, actual and figurative are part of life. And they hurt. But I believe the message of Easter is that Life goes on and we’re called to live it.

As Mark Nepo said, “[E]very spiritual tradition leads us through suffering to the mystical moment when we’re asked to put down all protection and relax the boundaries of our identity, so we can be touched by the Unity of Life that waits under everything, and so grow and be changed.”

Maybe the three days Jesus spent in the tomb is simply a metaphor for the time we need in the tombs of life to grieve, to rest, to rant, to contemplate, to stop. But then dawn finally comes and we’re confronted with the open door of the tomb and it’s time to walk out and be found among the living again.

Wiboonrat is like any other “normal” person and in a crowd no one would notice anything strange about her. Only a careful look would reveal that she wears a prosthetic leg. She stepped on a landmine one day when she was out with her father, brother and sister, cutting bamboo not far from their village in Thailand. She’d cut 69 bamboo stalks and only needed one more before she could return home. As she reached for that one, she stepped on a landmine. Hearing the blast, her brother and sister ran to help her, but she shouted at them to stay back, as there could be more landmines. She dragged herself about 50 meters to a safe area where she was picked up and taken to the hospital. When she woke up afterwards, she found that she had lost her left leg below the knee. At the time she had two children. Soon after the accident her husband divorced her because of the loss of her leg, and she was left to care for her children alone. Life became very difficult because her mobility was so limited and slow. A job that other people could finish in one day might take her eight to ten days to finish.

But she didn’t give up. With her spirit of courage, strength, resilience and hope, she became an example to others. Eventually, she was invited to join education and training meetings on persons with disabilities at district and provincial levels. There she met others in similar circumstances, and some who had a much more difficult situation. Over time she became the chairperson of the persons-with-disability organization in her district and she continues to work tirelessly for their cause. She has even represented Thailand’s landmine survivors at national and international levels. She tells people, “I may be disabled, but my heart isn’t.” 

And yet, her heart could have been “disabled,” she could have shut down, stayed mired in self-pity, closed off her heart. But, despite her suffering and disability, she is living life wide open.

Sometimes we don’t want to leave our Days of Tears… somehow they give us power, they give us purpose, even if it is grieving. Sometimes we are afraid to let go of whatever is bringing us tears. But then we won’t learn, we won’t grow, and we’ll miss out on the abundance that life still has to offer.

Dawna Markova’s father “climbed the proverbial ladder of success from the slums of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City to become the CEO of Hiram Walker Incorporated in Chicago. When he retired the company “spit him out like over-chewed bubble gum.” His heart was hollow and vacant of dreams. He was convinced he didn’t matter.

At the end of his life he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She went to see him for what she feared might be the last time… or at least the last time that he might know her. She walked in to find a man she hardly knew, once fierce eyes now red and hazy, a strong man now shrunken and locked within himself. He simply sat staring at some distant horizon no one else could see.

When Dawna was a child, her father never told her he loved her, believing in some weird way that it might weaken her. But that last day as she was leaving he finally told her, for the first and last time in her life, “I love you too, sweetheart.”

When he died several months later in a Florida hospital, Dawna was at home in Vermont. The love she felt for him pour through her, turning into a torrent of tears. She wept herself to sleep. At three in the morning she awoke and felt moved to get up and write. Words flowed through her, almost as if they were a final message from her father. She wrote this:

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

The Easter message in each of these stories implores us to live, to allow the renewal and resurrection of our souls, to risk living life wide open, arms outstretched, to embrace people and experiences and even struggles. To risk our hearts in love. To take the seeds that are planted in us, water and nurture them until they blossom and can be handed to another. To take the gift of blossoms and warm them with the sunshine of our souls and the rain of our energy, until they bring forth fruit.

Sometimes to risk living wide open, we have to “engage the paradox of being ourselves and losing ourselves” as Mark Nepo says.

This is Easter.

Love & Light!

Kaye