The Son Also Rises
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”. John Newton, 1773
It’s spring and with it comes an avalanche of Easter lilies, bunnies, egg hunts and hidden baskets. Somewhere off in the distance, floating like buds on a dogwood is the message of redemption. Buried under a benign avalanche of modern day commercialism, resurrection stirs. It may be as subtle as a crocus risking its bloom in an early spring chill or the daffodil bravely signaling that we have once again been reborn from the depths of winter. It is a time of year that activates a latent emotion deep within us, the idea of dying and being born again.
The concepts of redemption and resurrection are essential threads in the fabric of human history and culture. No matter a person’s ideological or theological orientation – atheist, agnostic or fanatical acolyte, the idea that one might redeem themselves and “resurrect” to become a better human being, holds deep spiritual appeal. As children we heard stories that focused on individuals losing and regaining their purpose in life. For those marched to Sunday school each week, we were taught the religious allegory of The Prodigal Son. As a parent, the story of unconditional love resonates more today. In the parable, one of two sons leaves his family, demanding his inheritance early from his father, which the son then summarily goes out and wastes. When the son returns home broken, the father does not reject him but rejoices while the brother who had remained faithful to the father becomes upset. The father explains to the faithful son that he is rejoicing that the “lost” son has returned just as a shepherd rejoices when he finds a lost sheep. Because of a father’s unconditional love, the son rises again.
In life, redeemed sinners have left indelible marks on the world. Bill Wilson was a physician that had lost his reputation, self respect and soul to alcoholism. Through his efforts to help another alcoholic stay sober, he founded the most successful spiritual movement of the 20th century, Alcoholics Anonymous. Bill Wilson was hardly perfect. But through the simple act of sharing his humanity and serving others, he was reborn giving hope to an entire generation of broken souls. Bill W was resurrected.
Literature offers us innumerable examples of the rise, fall and resurrection of mankind. Charles Dickens created our most beloved Christmas fable, a Christmas Carol, a ghost story of redemption detailing the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge. In 1965, Alex Haley chronicled the story of Malcolm Little, a small-time crook and angry hoodlum who discovered Islam during his many years of incarceration. His epiphany led to his reincarnation as Malcolm X, a fire brand minister for the American Nation of Islam that tirelessly labored to advance the moral and social future of the African American community. Most recently, a popular South African movie, “Totsi” offers us the view of a ghetto tough in the shanties of Johannesburg that finds a baby while carjacking the vehicle from the child’s mother. His encounter with the child transforms him and redeems him.
Every culture values redemption and resurrection. Buddhists believe one can improve their karma and achieve enlightenment with personal change and better moral conduct. Hindus believe that Moksha, the release from the cycle of birth and rebirth (reincarnation), can only be achieved through the personal change and improvement – – through meditation, good works, devotion or knowledge. Many Christians worship the teachings of St Paul who prior to his miraculous conversion on the road to Tarsus, was Saul, the “crazed destroyer” of Christians.
As human beings, we are a complicated collision of opposites. We are fascinated by failure and those in our society who fall. Even though we know at our core that everyone is imperfect, schedenfruede and insecurity compel us to watch the spectacular failings of people. We are riveted by the gory public revelations of celebrities, politicians and every day people’s private imperfections. In a bizarre way, we feel better about our own uneven lives.
Yet, within that same psyche that celebrates the fall, we also celebrate redemption. We are irresistibly drawn to tales of emancipation, salvation, and atonement. The most happy among us seem to be able to re-embrace those that they, at one time, had banished. We find ourselves pulling for any person who overcomes self inflicted hardship. Whether it is a pro athlete who was once addicted to pain killers or a celebrity that succumbs to the artificial reality of stardom, we have short memories and a predisposition to forgive. We love a comeback. We have awards for most improved person and the comeback player of the year. We love redemption.
What reassures me is this human capacity for compassion and forgiveness. Vengeance and resentment are social and psychological cancers. Actress Carrie Fischer once remarked that resentment was like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die”. Resentments are warm, familiar mud but they wash away in the fresh water of resurrection. We want to believe in salvation. We pray for the various forms of resurrection – recovery from disease, release from heartache, redemption from corruption or resurrection from failure. The one common attribute in anyone’s recovery and resurrection is the love of others – an individual or a community willing to unconditionally help a flawed person recover and find their way. It is our quest to be part of a society that participates and celebrates in the return of any prodigal “son”.
As my children search for Easter eggs and baskets, I search for something more elusive, a golden egg hidden deep in the tangled undergrowth of my soul. I am reminded on Easter of the value of resurrection. In my church, I will faithfully hear the story of the son of God who rose from the dead. As I ponder the themes of death and resurrection, I try to translate this to my children so they can practically understand that anyone can be reborn. Progress, not perfection is our human quest. The ability for anyone to recover depends on the love of another. Forgiveness and the instinct to celebrate when another lost sheep rejoins the fold, is an essential ingredient of our humanity.
I guess in the end, the “golden egg” I seek is grace – the ability to give it and receive it.