Practicing the resurrection? Lord, I believe. Help Thou my unbelief.
A snapshot: Some years back, a former student of mine, who was then working in the State Department, sent a photo to me. It was a black and white, of a priest with arms opened wide, his chasuble (why do I see it in my mind’s eye as green?) hangs from his outstretched arms as he beckons the beloved to come and receive the sacrament of the Body and the Blood. Here is the Lamb sacrificed for the sin of the whole world. The scene takes place in an open field. But behind his back, close at hand and facing the gathered community, wait tanks and troop carriers. What’s about to ensue? What’s the confrontation? (Is it even a confrontation?) I look at it, often. This scene shows what it looks like to practice the resurrection. Or so I hope, so I imagine. This is what I want to be: peaceable in a violent world.
Shouldn’t practicing the resurrection make us a peaceable people? If the Resurrection is the door into that other kingdom (“in which dwelleth righteousness”), shouldn’t we practice its logic, its beauty, its life, in the here and now? Is not the community of the Resurrected a peaceable community? Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. But what about my anger? My contempt? My smug self-satisfaction?
Recent shatterings have knocked much of my shine off. I have been brought low “and am no man.” The peaceableness I believe essential to resurrection practice still eludes me in its fullness. I am sentimentally peaceable. (I cry when Father Gabriel holds the monstrance before the attacking Portuguese mercenaries, when Martin delivers his Dream, when Gandhi stands before the British soldiers and receives the blows always dealt by colonizing powers, etc.) But am I practically peaceable? What about when its call is at hand to me? Do I turn the cheek, pray for those who spitefully use me, love my enemies? Lord, Thou knowest.
A practice: When I met her at college, my future wife was already a vegetarian, and had been since her mid-teens. The motions of her heart toward peaceableness included rejecting the killing and eating of God’s living creatures. I was captivated, even as I enjoyed my meat fest. We have now been married 34 years. I have embraced her practice even as I have embraced her. Why vegetarian? A good theological case can be made for it…the original harmony (“every green thing”), the harmony to come (“the lion will eat straw…”). In a land of such bounty as America, being vegetarian is a practical theological option that is readily available. We can, in the way we eat, embody the peaceableness of that Kingdom which we confess with our lips and believe in our hearts. There will be no killing on all my Holy Mountain, saith the Lord. And Amen, say his people in reply.
We gain a glimpse of that good life as we delight in the gift of His good earth. If the Resurrection overcomes all the permissions granted our weak nature (and eating meat is a post-Noahic grant of permission) and opens up to us “that yet better way,” then why not practice that better way now? But in truth, it is only a glimpse. Too much of life is still concession, compromise, surrender, weakness, passivity; not in terms of what we eat but to those other sub-practices (shopping, preparing, communing) that would more fully fill out this simple practice of consumption. So here, too, is a practice which I can tell myself is a resurrection practice, even here, too much of it is, well, merely mundane; a routine to get through with no Handel choruses attending its performance. (And our children are happy carnivores. The revolution has not caught.)
Peaceableness, vegetarian practice — here are two signs of living in the light of the resurrection. Two signs I believe in. Two signs I want more evident in my living, practices I want to live out. But as in all things, the spirit is willing . . . .
Ashley Woodiwiss teaches Political Science at Erskine College in Due West, South Carolina. He and his family were recently featured by David Brooks in his New York Times column (“The Art of Presence,” January 20, 2014), illuminating more on those “recent shatterings” of which Professor Woodiwiss writes. Missio was honored to have Mary, his wife, contribute an essay for Advent (“Companions in the Fullness of Time,” December 19, 2013).