During this last week, I participated in a formation day on the theme of spirituality, and particularly the spirituality of the community I (and all the other participants) belong to. A lot of what was said had to do with relationship, with connectedness and ‘seeing each other’, ‘being seen’ by the other. As it is hard to live together in Community, the word forgiveness seemed rather important also. And from there, people moved towards describing a “spirituality of failure” – a spirituality based on making mistakes, being weak, being ‘totally broken’.
I thought this was a horrid idea. As if the only way God can make herself heard was by failure of some sort. As if after Jesus’ death and resurrection, we were still ‘totally broken’. This is part of a tendency I have noticed before in a more general way – the tendency of focusing more on suffering than on joy, on Good Friday instead of Easter Sunday, more on death than on hope. How many books have been written about Jesus on the cross? And how few on Jesus three days later?
The story does not end with suffering, or failure, or weakness – the story ends with this suffering being overcome, strength surpassed, weakness left behind, knowing God – the relationship restored. And yes, absolutely, suffering and weakness and failure are part of our story, and an important and necessary part at that. But these are not what the story is about!
What I want is a spirituality of joy, of hope, of life – I want resurrection spirituality. I want people to actually listen to the Easter story and then take the next step, believing that we are forgiven, believing that we don’t suffer alone, trusting that death never has the last word, and knowing the freedom that comes with seeing the empty tomb.
Where are the symbols of resurrection in the churches? Why is Jesus still dead on the cross in so many of them? They stopped at the point of pain and seem forever stuck in it, blind to the next words that were spoken, paralysed at the horror of what people do to each other, in some dead-end-street of “look how sinful we are”, never realising that this is exactly what Jesus died for – to free us from that! To let us know that we can move beyond that.
We can come alive and find this resurrection in our own lives, we can find joy and celebration and fullness of life, courage and purpose for the way ahead, affirmation of the promises of God to us – but no. Fasting and grieving for Lent, anxiety and depression for Good Friday. And then it’s Easter Sunday, we sing a halleluiah, and then we forget about it again. Eastertide goes on for just as long as Lent, and it leads to Pentecost. It’s all about being alive and passionate, gifted and liberated. That is the end of the story – and the beginning of the next.
And we get there through pain and through joy – don’t read the gospel as if it had all been a terrible experience for Jesus. He lived his life to the full. And he didn’t live it with as much integrity as he did so we could use his suffering as an excuse for filling religion with a “spirituality of failure”. Jesus knew how to laugh and love and live to the full, and he died for a reason and he rose from the dead for us, but we can receive it and live it only if we believe that he did – and if we choose to live accordingly, with a resurrection spirituality that can envelop pain and weakness in the grace and glory of God.
“The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) – does that mean ruminating constantly on sinfulness and guilt and darkness and the ways that God uses suffering to make us rely on her more and trust ourselves less? How do you imagine the kingdom of God? I tell you what I see. I see friendship with God. I see all that is good and creative and joyful. That’s the resurrection. That we can trust that God will help us to move beyond our suffering, that the point of life is not suffering, that what God wants us to have is joy, fullness of life, happiness,compassion, love.
Jesus spent his days healing people, encouraging trust in the goodness and mercy of God, telling everyone that God is faithful and generous and loving, and that he trusts us to spread the good news and to take care of each other. And to move on to that kind of spirituality is a choice we have – and that choice was given to us because Jesus lived it for us first so we could follow. We were not taught to focus on failure, on weakness, on limitations and suffering. These things are part of life, and we all struggle to make sense of them. But being a disciple is not a form of punishment nor a way to limit ourselves or a ‘corrective method’. It’s an invitation to share God’s joy, it’s a welcome to God’s table, it’s resting with God, being encouraged and affirmed, supported and loved – in our happiness, in our sufferings, in all we do and are and long for. “God loved us first” (1 John 4:19)…failures are not even part of the equation.
And if I believe that, then he is risen indeed. Halleluiah.