“Peace be with you…”
Have you ever sat by yourself on the beach
at the ocean, or walked along
its foaming boundary, or stood sentry
on a cliff overlooking its broiling brine?
When you were there
at the ocean,
up close or distant,
did you ever embrace the sound of eternity?
waves of sound rushing over
the curvatures of your ear,
your head now a conch shell
holding the echo of those waves through recall
all these miles and years later?
Have you ever been embraced like that by the ocean?
Have you ever walked
through a dawn meadow
slipping into a robe of dew, wet
with its freshness all over you,
gleaming in the new sun?
Or maybe it was at daybreak
in the forest, with the trees and ferns
dripping the moisture of a new day,
a freshly hung spider’s web glistening
in the light of a single ray
piercing the canopy above?
Have you ever been robed like that in a new day?
Have you ever laid flat on your back
in the grass
under an awning of lights in the night sky,
gawking at the endlessness of time?
Gawking, your mouth gaping
at all the years and miles so far behind you
in the universe?
Have you ever laid there like that, suspended between an endless past and an endless future?
Have you ever fallen into such timelessness?
Have you ever witnessed your own
as a dust mite of nothingness
within the dome of time?
Have you ever been small like that beneath the stars?
Have you ever sat in the arms of a big easy chair
with your eyes closed
holding the soft downy crown
of an infant beneath your nose,
that scent of fresh skin
filling your own mind with awe and gratitude?
Have you ever dozed off like that, cradled
in the power of an infant,
breathing the aroma of sweetness and
engulfed in joy?
Have you ever been held like that while holding a small, little other?
“Once or twice or three times, I saw something
rise from the dust in the yard, like the soul
of the dust, or from the field, the soul-body
of the field – rise and hover like a veil in the sun
billowing – as if I could see the wind itself…”
That Marie Howe poem
(“Once or Twice or Three Times I Saw Something”)
is a stuttering over the kind of moment
we receive as a gift
and want so much to tell someone else about,
but when we do, it disappears
like the rainbow sheen of a bubble popping.
I talk about the “whispers of God” a lot,
my phrase for such fragile moments.
Sometimes it is a very faint whisper
and sometimes a swarm.
It can be a horde of whispers carried
by an air force of lightening bugs
filling the stillness around us
with secret voices
that seem to know us by name.
But as soon as we go to tell about it,
to share it with someone with words
we can’t quite find,
Like the Howe poem,
it hovers and stutters over a moment
that cannot be captured or told.
The window on eternity is obviously
not limited to the four panes through which
I have just invited us to peek –
you have your own portals.
If we put all of our experiences together –
all the moments and all the whispers –
we might have hundreds of them,
times and places and sensations
that wrapped us ever so briefly
in a place beyond our own body,
and beyond our own time,
and beyond our own mind.
What I’m trying to evoke right here
is the opening of a portal
that looks into a dimension
that is actually present all the time,
and in every moment.
I am absolutely certain
you know the kind of moment I mean –
and know what it is like to fall into such an opening –
then re-emerge just as quickly
only to wonder how long we were there.
They are rare, these moments
or whisper of the holy, but we pass by them all the time.
We walk the beach in search of shells
and so pass by eternity while never knowing it.
We walk through the morning dew
trying to stay dry, and so miss the eternity infused in it.
We look up into the night sky trying to figure out
which stars form what constellations,
and neglect to fall into the timelessness
just waiting there for us.
“Peace be with you.”
You and I will never know,
at least not in the body we now inhabit,
if resurrection was the historical moment
that Luke attempts to describe.
Narrative can never do justice to experience,
any more than a movie can capture
the experience the mind creates
when reading a book.
But we do know, from the miraculous-ness
of our own lives,
that resurrection is a mysticalmoment.
You and I have fallen into such moments
and out of them again, in the blink of an eye.
Strain as we might,
we can never give the experience
to anyone else.
The mystical moments we experience
are ours and ours alone.
The best we can do
is tell each other what it was like,
and what we imagine we learned from it –
of our Alice In Wonderland nanoseconds.
That is what Luke
try to do.
They take a particular moment in history,
experienced by people they did not know,
in a place they may never have been,
and they try to describe what happened.
Luke, Matthew, and John
narrate what it was like,
and what it meant.
They’re not up to task though,
any more than any of us are up to it.
Even a stellar poet like Marie Howe
cannot quite do it.
Perhaps that is why the author
of Mark’s Gospel never tries.
Mark’s gospel leaves us at the empty tomb.
For him, that was enough.
The stranger at the empty tomb
telling Jesus’ closest friends
not to count him out,
and then those friends run away afraid.
They say nothing to anyone,
and that is where Mark’s Gospel ends.
That was enough.
Some moments cannot be shared.
Some of us will try
some of us will not.
Both are fine.
Neither one is proof or definitive.
Once, when I was in seminary
flying home for vacation,
I got stuck in the Detroit airport
for longer than expected.
Somehow, I struck up conversation
with a fellow traveler my age
who was an Evangelical Christian
in a seminary as conservative
as mine was progressive.
He kept pressing me to answer questions
I could not answer
or for which I had no answer.
The more I pleaded the poetic awe of mystery
the more he tried to pin me down.
“But what if someone had had a movie camera
right there as they rolled away the stone?
What would the camera capture?”
He had me now, he thought.
Nowhe would find out whether or not
I was a true believer;
meaning of course,
if I believed what he believed.
“It wouldn’t matter,” I answered.
“What do you mean, ‘it wouldn’t matter?’
Of course, it would matter!”
His voice was impassioned.
“No,” I continued, “it would not matter because
even if it was on film
we would both see different things in the film;
we would both experience
the images before us differently.
No two people see the same thing
any more than two people
have the same experience of the same thing.”
He looked crest-fallen.
We were two ships passing in the night
and the best we could do was wave at each other.
Just because that young man
clung to the precise denotation
of every word of the narrative,
rather than the mystical natureof resurrection as I do,
doesn’t make his understanding lesser,
or better, more faithful or less thoughtful.
Because I cling to the mystical nature of resurrection
rather than upholding the historicity of the story,
doesn’t make me better or lesser either.
The entire history of Christianity
will teach us nothing
if we are unable to see that from the beginning
we have all been like those fabled
blind men around the elephant,
each describing the creature
in grand but different detail.
None of us owns the truth. No one does.
There is not one, single truth to be owned;
no one truthavailable to any one human being
or group of human beings.
That is our limitation,
that is our smallness,
that is our reality,
even though we are always
trying to make it different somehow.
Coming to peace with that limitation IS
the beginning of wisdom.
So, whether you are devoted to the narrative –
to the exact and literal words of the biblical text,
or like me, you share a reasoned skepticism about the text
yet have an unshakable faith
in the mystical nature of resurrection…
I bid you peace,
in the name Jesus, who said it himself:
Peace be with you.