If you see me in church this weekend, I’ll be crying.
Wait. Scratch that.
I’ll be weeping.
Hmm. No. That’s not right either.
Try: Sobbing. Bawling. Engaging in a back-pew sort of break-down best reserved for funerals (and only really, really, really tragic ones at that).
I know. It totally doesn’t make sense. In the fairy tale of Holy Week, Easter’s the happy ending. It’s the Resurrection! It’s death undone! It’s every promise rendered right! It’s bunnies and chocolate! Jesus, Jill. Jill—it’s Jesus!
AND YET: The minute that stone is rolled away I lose my shit. Crude, but there’s no other way to put it.
Easter fucks me up.*
A digression, not particularly brief. Indulge, please:
Indomitable faith isn’t my strong suit. I’m pretty good at misgiving; doubt’s my specialty. Trust? A habit I’ve unlearned. My conviction is never convinced and what assurance I do have is never, but never blessèd. Therefore my belief in God comes and goes in the manner of a city train: it chugs from Skepticism as if it were a northern suburb and it runs all the way down to Denial, an outlying town at the end of the line. And while I do indeed disembark at Spirituality Central Station often enough to know which tram will get me to the cathedral without having to look it up in a Frommer’s, at some point I get back on the train. It’s inevitable. To do otherwise would to not be Jill. This is part of the problem.
But even in doubt, I have always prayed. I pray, in fact, in the manner that Sugar advises us to write which is like a motherfucker. I pray like Shaft prays. Eat your heart out, Roundtree. Can you dig it? I pray aloud. I pray loudly. I pray all day long, though my self-appointed hour is five am. I take a pre-dawn walk and speak to the sky. God’s come to expect me at that time.
(Lest you find me too virtuous for my vestments, I ought to confess it took months for me to train myself to pray for other people beyond ‘andgodpleaseblesssoandsoamen.’ Mostly when I pray I’m thrice a singer’s third syllable solfège: Mi, mi, mi. Not so proud, not so pious.)
But I pray. Boldly. Like how Luther says to sin. I’m not very nice about it. I’m adamant. My most-prayed prayer? What Jacob told the angel. I will not let you go until you bless me. To which I add: And then, I still won’t let you go. To which I also add: Dammit.
And so I doubt. And so I pray. I’m ok with that. I don’t think it’s so unusual. I’m not the only one of us who walks and chews gum at the same time. This is a tension I’ve held for years. Tension, you know, is sometimes called for. A guy-wire must be taut to be of any stabilizing use. And what this tensity has taught me is that slackening isn’t always safe. I’m tempted to retell the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, but I won’t. Except to say: Bridegroom awaits. Better watch out, not cry, not pout. Here come da judge. Here come da judge.
It’s not the doubt, then, that ramrods me at Easter exactly.
It’s Easter’s premise.
You wanna get to Heaven? Baby, you gots to die.
I don't believe in death. In the manner of a home owner association president who doesn’t support retail zoning. “I don’t believe in having a Stop-n-Go so close to our school! The children will buy Red Bull and Slim Jims and ruin their suppers!” she might say. Likewise, me. I don’t believe in death anywhere at all. I don’t sustain it, I didn’t vote for it, I didn’t second the motion, canvas the neighborhood, or circulate a petition. No one should ever have to die is I what I think. I reserve the right to think. I feel this deeply, more profoundly than I will ever be able to articulate. Slim Jims, Red Bulls, Slurpees and scratch-off lotto tickets my ass. Take your caskets and your headstones and your lilies and that weird green Astroturf stuff they roll out over by the gravesite so the folding chairs won’t wobble so much and shove those into the subdivision’s clubhouse. I’m going swimming.
But on the third day, according to the scriptures, He rose again.
Let’s think about that.
Nevermind the water, the wine, the walking on the sea, the stilling of the tempest, the healings, the feeding of the thousands from what amounted to a few grocery bags of Lunchables—THIS is the miracle. THIS is the big show. THIS is the magic a-happenin’. We’re in David Blaine territory now. It’s only been Doug Henning to this point.
Several months ago (and I will keep this brief) I was seized with a particular terror that was manifesting (sorry, is manifesting) as atheism. The panic is physical—physics, actually and entirely—and not existential, and it constellates around infinity and the tangible something that nothing is (like, when you take everything away—what’s that?). I’m not the only poet who has wondered where time goes when it’s over or if God is God, then who made Him? This isn’t unique to me. But it’s the center point in a very menacing wheel of ache in perpetual spin. And so I think often (too often) about these horrors. If I ever go truly mad, it will be from pondering this. I promise you.
Because I don’t get it.
Therefore when Jesus jumps out of his Hobbit hole and yells ‘Surprise!’ all I can do is make like a wail and blubber.
Because I don’t get that, either.
And you kind of need to be on board (at least a little bit) with the whole resurrection scenario in order to be a Christian.
I want an answer. I always want an answer. Not a figurative answer. A literal one. A flesh and bone answer. A wrap my arms around it answer. I want my parents back. My dead friends. Other family I’ve lost. The people I’ve yet to lose.
Where did you go, Jesus, I'm dying (ha!) to ask. How did you return? Did it hurt getting stuffed back into your body? Do you remember what happened in between those two events? Where is everyone else? Do they want to come back? Where you gonna put everyone? What happens if someone’s body got burned? Whose do they get? Why do you have to die to live forever?
Yup, I will cry in church. I will weep for fear and the fact of all my failures. What I have done and what, as the order of confession reads, I have left undone (which is much and much). I will cry because when someone says The Lord is risen I will reply He is risen…perhaps?, and that’s not the answer you’re supposed to give. I cry over orphans and widows. How it’s indulgent to be so vexed when there are those in the world with traumas more dire than this. I’ll cry because I wasn’t there when Jesus came back but Thomas was and even he doubted. That ain’t right. Because I’m 40, and everything I should know better than, I don’t. Because the only thing that comforts me is God. But we’ve reached an impasse, us. Because I feel safer in the dark than I do in the light and there’s something very wrong with that. I’ll cry because when Mary gets to the tomb she mistakes the risen Christ for the gardener, a detail that’s always bothered me—is Jesus pulling a fast one? That's not nice. I’ll cry because I’m noisy and slobbish and hypersexed and a hypochondriac. Because grey areas are lost on me. I’ll cry because I’m worried that my Easter dress makes my ass look fat and then I’ll cry because I am a vain, vain woman. Because I’m tired. And I always bite off more than I can chew. Because I want you to like me. I want God to like me. Because I want God to be. That’s my new most often supplication: Be there. As if the absence of God has ears. Because fuck this shit about Christ giving us our bodies back—don’t take them from us in the first place. I’ll weep because Easter Vigil is a beautiful service and I carry my emotions just under the skin. Because I hide nothing. Because I can’t. I’ll cry for the impossible mechanics of a resurrection and the terrible physics of infinity.
And the dead. I'll cry for the dead. The dead. The dead. The goddamned dead. Or is it the godblessed dead? Which is it, Lord? Tell me. You tell me now which it is. I will not let you go until you tell me which it is.
And even then…
* I actually gave up the f-word (saying it) for Lent. Or, tried to. I've found, however, that as Easter nears and I get more tweaked about this stuff... well, I get more tweaked. There's no other way to put it. Easter fucks me up.