Breath of the Spirit Reflection: The Inevitability and Precarity of New Life
If we are not careful, Easter becomes a victory party for those of us to have made the “right” choice: Jesus’ victory lap to disprove the doubters (like Thomas). But the resurrection is not a prediction of what will be if we behave. It is a confirmation of what is, how the world was made from its inception in the Divine mind. We minimize the resurrection if we reduce it to a plan for those who persevere. Instead, it reveals the pattern sewn into the fabric of reality: new life from death, a constant regeneration of all creation, of which our individual lives are a part. To celebrate the new life of Jesus, we must nurture that nascent new life in ourselves. A life that is always becoming, always beckoning us to grow and to change: a newness that is as precarious as it is inevitable.
April 24, 2022: Second Sunday of Easter
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
Easter: The Inevitability and Precarity of New Life
A reflection by Jeff Vomund
For years I had basil plants growing in my kitchen. They had been with me so long the trunks of the plants had come to resemble wood. It was as if I had several mini basil trees. They produced big, beautiful basil leaves that I would roughly chop and sprinkle over my stir-fried vegetables or save up and convert large handfuls of leaves into pesto. Just recently I had to pull them out, clean out my pots, and start again. The tiniest little leaves and stems from the new herbs are just now emerging. I had forgotten how small and delicate baby herbs are. They look as if a fly lands on them, they will be utterly crushed. New seedlings, new life is just so precarious. And yet, there are signs of this new life all over. Every spring, no matter how barren the trees outside my windows, delicate little leaves and extravagant flowers emerge from the dormant wood until by summer I have almost forgotten that the world outside my window is not always verdant and lush. This new life is so fragile, and yet also somehow inevitable. …
On another note, does the resurrection ever frustrate you? Why did Jesus have to be so coy about it? Over and over again in the resurrection stories Jesus appears for a moment and then disappears again, only to leave his followers heartened and thrilled, but also confused. In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus both travels through locked doors and invites Thomas to touch his wounded body. What Jesus doesn’t do is linger. Jesus doesn’t show himself to a large crowd of Pharisees, Sadducees, or Romans to prove he has been raised. I used to wonder – perhaps I still do at times – why God didn’t make the resurrection, this miracle at the center of our faith, incontrovertible.
But then, I suppose the resurrection isn’t about proving to the Haters that Jesus was harder to get rid of than they thought; nor is it about what can happen to us if we behave and believe. Instead, the resurrection reveals the pattern of new life that Love has woven into the fabric of reality: buds from dormant bushes, new moss on fallen logs, offspring from parents, and individuals growing, learning, becoming. From death, new life emerges – inevitably, precariously. The resurrection is not God’s plan for us if we stand up to the bad guys, it is the pattern that has been stamped into every atom of the Universe.
New life is inevitable, its promise printed onto the very nature of things. But it is also precarious and ephemeral. The cherry blossoms that explode in springtime around my home bloom for about 14 days, my magnificent tulips for just about that long if I’m lucky. The spectacular dogwoods are relatively hardy, with flowers lasting up to a month. And our own lives are fleeting to be sure, “70 years, 80 for those who are strong,” say the Psalmist (90:10). Not even a blink of the Universe’s 13-billion-year-old eye. Scientists estimate that 99% of the 4 billion species that have evolved on Earth are now extinct. In 2020, we lost 15 species to extinction that we know of. Sadly, we Western, wealthy humans are hastening this process by our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels, but this pattern of death-to-new-life was happening long before we made our appearance. It will continue, I suspect, long after our species has become part of Earth’s distant memory.
The resurrection reminds us that we are created for new life, it inexorably flows around and through us, but the unique life within us, the unique manifestation of life that blooms from our being, that can all too easily be quashed. We all have examples: when another’s thoughtless or cruel words squashed our nascent vision; or when we, afraid that might happen, squelched our own voices. But Easter reminds us that’s not the end of the story. The new life in us – like Jesus – is not so easily put away. Instead, the new life, the inner voice that has been aching to push away the stones within us simply keeps at us. Always trying to come out, always emerging and calling us to whom we can become.
What is that new life in you right now that is aching to break forth? What is that tender, tiny bud that is demanding to bloom in you? No matter how old we are, or how set in our ways; no matter how much we want to stick to our old habits, still Easter reveals the pattern of new life that simply must keep bursting forth, pushing aside the stony hearts that stand in its way. What is that inevitable but precarious vision that we feel destined to become, even as we are afraid of the deaths that such new life may carry with it? New life, new love springs forth all over the world even in difficult and deadly times like these. During this season we are called to celebrate and nurture it. New life inexorably comes but no single manifestation of it is guaranteed. That’s what makes it so precious when the buds actually blossom, and tender shoots become full-grown leaves. And that is what makes the new life that is always becoming in us so sacred, and so worth rejoicing over. Where is the Divine new life blossoming in us even at this very moment? And how can we nurture it with all the awe and joy that such inevitable, precarious miracles deserve?
Jeff Vomund is a member of Dignity/Washington and currently lives in Arlington,VA. After 15+ years of full-time parish ministry and 7 years of teaching students with particular learning needs, Jeff now works at George Mason University as a Graduate Research Assistant and a Graduate Lecturer, while pursuing a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology.