Resurrections by Elizabeth Cunningham


Photo by: Douglas C. Smyth

As a minister’s daughter, I grew up almost literally in the church, its red door and ivied walls across the driveway from the rectory. On Easter the church was packed; every family received a pink or red geranium. There were Easter egg hunts, baskets stocked with chocolate rabbits and the jelly beans these magical creatures laid. The church rang with triumphant hymns: Jesus Christ is risen today. Although like all children I reveled in holidays involving excessive sweets, it was not the candy or the or the requisite rejoicing that moved me most.

It was the women, or in the Gospel according to John, the woman, bereft and brave, who went to the tomb to tend Jesus’s body. The male disciples had scattered and gone into hiding. In the Protestant Episcopal Church, Christmas Eve and Easter were the only times women played a prominent role in the story. Those were not the loud, triumphant moments. They lived in my child’s imagination as the quiet, mysterious times, Mary giving birth in the night attended by cows, donkeys, and stars. Dawn in a garden, wet with dew, the only sound birds waking and singing, the only people, the women, or the one woman who captured my imagination and, in my story, has her own apotheosis on that morning.

I did not question the miracle of resurrection. Miracles and magic made sense to me as a child. Theology didn’t. My father liked to expound on Jesus’s utterance from the cross “My God, my God why hast though forsaken me.” He insisted that Jesus was not crying out in despair but quoting Psalm 22, which ends in triumph. The Gospel narratives emphasize Jesus’s rising again “in accordance with the scriptures,” implying that he knew he would come back to life on the third day.

I never believed in this foreknowledge. To me it robbed the story of its power. I also did not understand how, by his resurrection, Jesus had triumphed over death and sin.  Why, I wondered, did people still die? Why were we still so sinful, a sinfulness we repented every week in the general confession in some detail. (“We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.”) As a child in the 1950s, World War Two and the Holocaust loomed large. My own country had dropped two atomic bombs and we lived in fear of nuclear war. I could not comprehend how Jesus’s death on the cross had reconciled us with the Father. You killed my only begotten son, but it’s all right, I raised him from the dead, and now I forgive you?

What I did/do believe is that Jesus suffered, not only the agonies of crucifixion but the anguish of doubt, and yes despair. We may not all have been physically tortured and executed, (though many people have been and still are) but most of us have known times when we were bereft of all hope. Whatever our personal circumstances, if we are paying attention, we are aware of systemic racism, sexism, violence, poverty, war, environmental depredation resulting in climate catastrophe, the loss for so many people and other beings of home, habitat, and sustenance. Matthew Fox speaks of the Earth herself, whom he calls Mother, as Christ crucified.

What remains of my Christian upbringing is simply this: whoever, whatever Jesus is, I find him present in all suffering and all joy. I wanted an incarnate goddess, too, so I imagined her story. She is with me, also. And, for me, they both point the way beyond their personhood to something vaster but no less intimate.

A westerner, raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and on the idea of historic human progress, and a novelist whose stock in trade is beginnings, middles, and endings, it is challenging for me to think in other than linear terms. But now and then I get a glimmering. Crucifixion and resurrection are not a singular event in linear time. They are happening all the time at the same time. Not even just seasonally or cyclically as spring follows winter but simultaneously. In clamor and quiet, mystery and plain sight.

I have discarded several attempts at giving specific examples of this simultaneity. I’m still stretching my imagination.  Instead here are a couple of poems from Tell Me the Story Again.

courage singer, sorrow singer duet

 

sometimes courage comes from the ground.

hush, my children are buried there.

from noticing one plant, different from another.

there is no comfort but the wild blue air.

or a bloom you never saw before.

beauty hurts, why would you wish for more?

a tree bends down to drop fruit in your hand.

my children starved in a barren land.

yes, I remember the salted earth, the poisoned well.

the sickened ones who walked with a bell.

we who remain must mourn and yet—

no more of courage, we owe sorrow a debt.

though the sun is cold, look, a new leaf.

I see the mold, the death beetle, the grief.

there! the grey mouse takes a seed from a stalk.

mice fouled the grain that could have been bread.

ah, sorrow singer, I will sing with you for our dead.

yes, sing with me, friend, no more talk.

sing and walk our rocky common ground.

yes, sometimes courage comes from there.

grey mouse knows the ground, one seed, then another.

 

from courage singer waits

 

it takes courage to open your eyes,

courage to plant seeds,

courage to hope they will grow.

 

I am here in the tiniest cracks.

I am the trickle of water

that greens the rocks’ seams.

I am the hidden spring,

just waiting for someone

to scratch the dirt

and drink.

 

 

Elizabeth Cunningham is best known as the author of The Maeve Chronicles, a series of award winning novels featuring a feisty Celtic Magdalen. Her novels The Wild Mother and The Return of the Goddess have both been released in 25th anniversary editions. She is also the author of Murder at the Rummage Sale. The sequel, All the Perils of this Night, will be published in 2019. Tell Me the Story Again is her fourth collection of poem. An interfaith minister, Cunningham is in private practice as a counselor. She is also a fellow emeritus of Black Earth Institute.



Categories: Belief, Christianity, Christology, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Feminist Theology, God, Resurrection, Violence

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

24 replies

  1. Don’t know how to express myself, but your post had some sort of soothing effect on me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow what beautiful evocation of women’s work since the beginning of agriculture.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, Elizabeth, what an excellent post! “Crucifixion and resurrection are not a singular event in linear time. They are happening all the time at the same time. Not even just seasonally or cyclically as spring follows winter but simultaneously. In clamor and quiet, mystery and plain sight.” You’ve taken the story that shaped you (one of the Christianities) and made it yours, deriving meaning and a degree of comfort from it all. You also wisely note that “…most of us have known times when we were bereft of all hope.” And given the situation in the world, ultimate hope eludes me knowing that crucifixion follows every resurrection.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Esther. Me, too. Sorrow and courage walking together.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Esther, regards where you say: “Given the situation in the world, ultimate hope eludes me.” I understand too, however, it interests me that the Notre Dame Cathedral caught on fire so sadly at this time. Happily, however, there was a huge movement to save the paintings and sculptures, stained glass windows, etc., inside the great cathedral, and I’ve read the workers non-stop did indeed rescue it all.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Gorgeous perfect Easter morning reading. Thank you! <3

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Brava! As always, what you write is both wise and beautiful. And haunting, too.

    I recommend that everyone who reads FAR and your posts also read your four Maeve novels in which this Celtic Magdalen first sees Jesus in a vision, then meets him when they are both studying the sacred Celtic knowledge, and then joins him in his work in Judea. Your description of the Resurrection is breath-taking. Folks–read these novels! You won’t see Jesus the same anymore.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you so much, Barbara! Yes, he is a different in my books, and so is she. Maybe the biggest difference is that the story is hers and he figures in it rather than vice verse! Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So beautiful, Elizabeth, thank you! A wonderful reminder of ongoing miracles.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This morning I went online to search for a nice Easter graphic for my emails. What I saw at the very beginning was the news from Sri Lanka of more than 200 people killed in bombings of churches and hotels.
    My heart is breaking. I feel more like the Marys mourning Jesus’ death than the women finding an empty tomb, or Mary talking with the “gardener”. Where is the Resurrection as world leaders condemn this violence while fostering their own killing of unarmed “enemies” and just plain hatred of those they despise.
    My thoughts around Easter this year were: “From trauma to transformation”. I don’t remember where I saw that phrase – it might have been a post here at FAR. I find it interesting just now that we can suffer, and impose pain on others. Trauma seems to be easily shareable.
    But transformation we can only do for ourselves. It requires an inner opening of my heart to embrace the Spirit of Life, of Love – or whatever I call that invitation to “treat others as I want to be treated”. Transformation is an “open tomb”, energized with Life. It’s available to each of us; and each one of us has the power to bring new life to our world.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I’m uplifted by the rising consciousness about who Mary Magdalene was…and the effort to see her importance and to undo the damage done to her by the patriarchy that took over. I don’t know if you saw the movie “Mary Magdalene” which is now showing…but I felt hope after seeing it. I also really enjoyed the book “The Gospel of Mary of Magdala” by Karen L. King…and also “The Meaning of Mary Magdalene” by Cynthia Bourgeault. The Divine Feminine is rising and I’m very thankful for that!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Thank you so much, Elizabeth, and I relish the thought of reading Tell Me the Story Again.
    Hugs and Blessed Oestre! Cynthia

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Elizabeth, this is a profoundly moving post. I am so glad you mentioned Jesus! Despite my longing for the sacred feminine, my embrace of the Goddess, part of my early immersion in the Episcopalian religion lingers. There’s a hymn that begins, “Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy/Whose trust, ever child-like, no cares can destroy/…” that moves me still. Your post captures the same feeling of peace and trust. Thank you for reminding me of it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Yes, I know that hymn and still sing it! For me Jesus is the baby I did not want to throw out with the bathwater (institutional organized Christianity). Pagan, unrepentant Maeve gave me a way to love him from outside the church.

      Like

  11. I am late to this post. Not long ago, I read Elizabeth Cunningham’s early work and recently republished novel, “The Return of the Goddess.” This post is beautiful foregrounding and back-grounding to that luminous read. The poems are lovely. The Courage Singer poem is arrow through the heart of these times when we all struggle to celebrate what blooms among the ruins of so many communities in the world.

    Like

    • Thank you, Isabella! Hope you have gotten my email. I LOVE White Monkey Chronicles. My morning Lectio Divina with this beautiful,, original work is one of the joys of my day.

      Like

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