“Practice resurrection.” – Wendell Berry
There’s a school of thought that says that moments of beauty and goodness are escapist – they distract us from life’s hard realities. Sweetness is sappiness, nature walks are flights from reality, anything picturesque is saccharine.
Here’s an example of a moment where that theory fails to explain what is happening:
You watch a young ballerina. Three years old, she pivots gracelessly, clumsily, her brand new padded slippers sliding on a scarred floor. She has asked you to watch her, to appreciate her art as she artlessly performs. Because you are watching, she smiles in her twirls, and her smile engulfs the scene. One of the least of her craft, you are drawn in to her stumbles and smiles, and start to forget the old imperatives of poise and precision. This young girl knows something that you have forgotten, but in this moment you start to recall it. The knowledge that this moment is limited – that this ballerina is riding time’s bullet train toward adulthood & loss – enhances your appreciation of the power of her innocence. In this moment, you see the heart of mirth that may just outlast the darkness, you see a hint of the resurrection of the dead.
An eye for beauty enhances our appreciation of life’s tragedy, and gives the tragic a new place to make sense. Christ’s resurrection is a fact and gives us a way to realistically embrace the beauty and the hard realities of life. As David Bentley Hart puts it, “Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience.” In a world-weary world, the resurrection leads us to embrace what would otherwise be called naiveté. On Easter, we recover the innocent goodness practiced by a child. This is the innocence of new life at the end of life, tested but not tarnished.
An eye for resurrection must be practiced & cultivated – it is part of our vocation. But more than just seeing the resurrection around us, how do we practice it? Like the ballerina, how do we bring an eye for resurrection to our occupations?
Writing about Bob Dylan, Bono reports that Dylan “busted through the artifice to get to the art.” I no longer remember hearing Dylan for the first time, but to the virgin listener in 1962, Dylan’s voice must have sounded artless, his strumming unsophisticated, his vocals like a shotgun through a tin can. But in a public music world of pop art and prefab songs, Dylan busted through the artifice of a typical performance to get to the art. By combining raw woundedness with lyrical insight and melodic simplicity, he brought brokenness and healing together into singular moments of hope.
Resurrection frees us to reinvent the routines and tasks our toils bestow on us – to break through the artifice to get to the art. We know that our tasks do not define us, and that our suffering is not the final word, so we have the freedom to get to the art of what we are doing. There is an underlying art that we can embrace in the innocence Christ’s resurrection restores to us. This might mean conceiving whole new ways of doing things, or it might mean that we finally feel the freedom to fully submit to the routines that will shape us to be excellent proclaimers of the reality of resurrection. This sounds like a childish expectation in the face of our common toil. The resurrection says it isn’t.
My brother operates a Chick-Fil-A drive-through restaurant. Here are some artifices of the world he inhabits: lemon cutting, chicken breading, toilet washing and credit card swiping. But if you asked him what his top priority is as a manager, it is to love each person whose car graces his parking lot. He has created new routines for hundreds of aspects of his restaurant to celebrate his customers. For instance, odds are good if you come by for a sandwich, he will personally stand outside of his drive-through facility and greet your vehicle; he has mastered the routines of the restaurant so that he has that freedom. There is an art to what he does, both in the mechanics of muscle memory, in the freedom of self-expression he feels, and in the content of what he actually delivers to his guests.
Jesus’ first work post-resurrection appears to have been gardening (he was mistaken for a gardener at least). Did he sweat? Did he plant something, or was he pulling up nettle weeds? Later on, Jesus prepares breakfast for the disciples who had betrayed him – breakfast on the beach. I like to think about Jesus making a fire with flint, trying his best to do it well, but not too worried. I like to think that when Peter thanked Jesus for his food, Jesus said, “It’s my pleasure.” (For the unfortunate or uncultivated, “It’s my pleasure” is the Chick-Fil-A substitute for “You’re welcome.”)
Gardening and cooking – simple tasks like those given to children on their way to adulthood, capable of being performed as drudgery or with the wise intuition that they matter.
Several weeks ago for Missio, I wrote:
[We have] few jobs that are vocationally satisfying – we labor far from the earth, with increasingly less time for family and friends, with more difficult upward mobility, in increasingly specialized roles that fewer and fewer people are willing to take the time to understand.
When we talk about vocation and occupation, there are a few hard facts of life that we live – part of work is toil, and during the Great Recession good toil is hard to find. But resurrection – the innocence at the far end of experience – transfigures work. The work we do is important, but it is not all-important, because there is an added fact to our observable world: the Father resurrected Jesus at the far end of death.