Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Lenten Voices: Beyond Salvation and Resurrection

By Jayme Hegelson

I was sick with the flu earlier this week. For two whole days I was a weak inhuman blob. I couldn't even find much enjoyment in my standard being-sick pleasure regime - hours and hours of entitled TV watching. There was a certain desperation that came when neither the TV nor the medications could improve my misery. Everything just sucked for two whole days.

What I usually like about being sick, and what I particularly enjoyed this time, was the part after being sick - when I felt well again. The relative absence of life for two days made the life I was now experiencing exquisite. Normal everyday lunch fare became nirvana incarnate. The taco truck's tacos were more than orgasmic. My morning two sugars and cream in black coffee was crack-cocaine with none of the disagreeable side-effects. Colors had more color, time had meaning, pain became bliss. And I swear my vision was sharper than ever.

That got me to thinking more on the subject of what it is to be human. Humans are unique animals, I believe, in their ability to be both less and more than a mere mammal. Other animals, like the squirrel, just are what they are. A squirrel is just a squirrel. A sick squirrel is a sick squirrel and it cannot deviate from this certain reality determined by it's genetic code and parental conditioning. Humans are profoundly different in that we can choose to be inhuman or to be extraordinarily human. I have the ability and gift to evolve well beyond my programming, to spurn my genetic code and traumatic upbringing, to truly become more than what Fate had destined for me to be. I am in my deepest essence a creative being who can be profoundly affected by the actions of creative beings. So too am I uniquely able to self-destruct or be outwardly violent well beyond any inherent genetic or character defects dealt to me by heredity or history. If I embrace the human legacies of depravity I can reduce myself to an existence equivalent to a duck in Central Park begging for trash and stale bread crumbs.

I have what would some would rightly proclaim to be a profound set of character defects. Until recent years I lived as a slave to these defects; a life of utter and total dis-ease. There were many reasons for this putrid state of affairs both in my control and out of it, but suffice to say a set of vital interventions have conspired to teach me what it is to be more human than I ever was in childhood or young-adulthood. Just reaching this point of feeling human again, in its most basic animal sense was itself like a revelation. To not be sick with the flu, to not not feel so horribly like nothing, indeed to feel something safe and good again feels like a salvation of sorts.

And so I am saved by Christ by the action of his example, by realizing my inherent design and goodness. It is a point of some debate within my psyche whether I have truly changed or whether I have merely shed all the filth the world and I pasted all over me. But one might very well ask what is the point of this redemption, this salvation, and this Love if I don't get to enjoy it forever? I like being alive, human, and I am eager to do so much more with my life! If I follow a parallel (though hopefully less violent course) to my end as did the Christ (i.e. to my certain and undeniable death) in what can I rest my hope? In merely that I did good works, loved well, and helped the world become a better place? Honestly, I find life to be a less than satisfying story no matter its quality and length if I just go back to being dirt. I felt like dirt last week, and that was no fun. Actually being dirt can't be that fun either.

If we are to embrace the facts of the history of the Christ, of his birth, life, and his violent death and then consider the claims he made about himself (that he was God), then he better be more than dirt now too. And what do you know! Our text gives us hope in a bizarre and truncated story about this Christ who reverses 3 days of decomp, comes to life slightly less solid than before, orders some of his old heavenly work-hands to get the rock door out of the way, and then appears to thousands and doesn't bother with the physics of solid doors, walls, and walking any great distances anyway. He appears and then is just gone and there are no bones and no trace of him beyond a host of manic stories about a super hero who wasn't, a God who didn't save the Jewish nation from its own quick and violent end, and a God who promised us to come back in some nebulous future and make everything OK. Apparently a good many, including our patron Saint Paul, saw this God-man come back to life, believed him and ditched marriage "normal" life to tell the good news to many nations. But they never stopped looking over their backs to see if the fire and emanate wrath were striking down the evil Romans as promised. In the end I suppose Paul died lonely and at least a little disappointed somewhere in the bleak deserts of Spain.

So we are left with Love, Faith in the example of His-Story, and Hope for a good ending. Like all the school girls watching the recent blockbuster "Twilight" over and over again, we read our favorite story over and over again, year after year, and hope for a good ending, that all we have seen so far is not the end of the story, that there will be another installment, that there is another better episode in preparation, and that we will live and breathe the air of a new creation as yet shrouded in unknowable mystery. Even Jesus, the one and only God-man Earth has ever known, powerful enough even to overcome death didn't know the timing or nature of this eschatological mystery. The time, it turns out, wasn't as short as originally proclaimed and hoped.

Jayme is a is a 30 year-old St. Paul's parishioner hailing from Montana who loves skiing and hiking in the Pacific Northwest.

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