Credit: CreativeCommons / John Singer Sargent.
When I was a young child nurtured in the Methodist Church in Earle, Arkansas, the word “dead” meant nothing to me. But “rose from the dead,” that was something captivating, a phrase I heard far, far more often than just the word. Every Sunday, in fact, I learned to proclaim as an article of faith that Jesus, on the third day, “rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven.” Resurrection.
A six-year-old makes what she will of words and concepts she doesn’t understand. And that is what I did. Because “resurrection” was accompanied by pictures of a risen Christ in white robes, moving toward a light-filled heaven, arms reaching out for me, I could tell that the word meant “life.” I reached in return for Jesus, and for the promise. From the beginning, for me, Jesus was life.
My parents taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be. Even now, I can hear my father saying it, again and again. At the same time, the church taught me that God loved me and would help me grow up into a good person, a loving individual, doing meaningful things, someone to be proud of. God was love. I believed in God. I believed in Jesus. Love and Life.
Much has changed since those days in Earle. Schools and degrees; jobs at home and overseas; marriages – two of those; children and grandchildren. Many joys; many hardships. Through it all, I have grown familiar with the word “dead.” Death, disappointment, disease – I know about them now. And, of course, I know more about life and love as well. Unlike the little girl in Earle, who had never met an atheist or a Jew or a Greek Orthodox or a Catholic or even an Episcopalian or a Lutheran, I have fallen in love with at least one of each of them in my adult life. I observed how their faiths – practicing or not – had molded their hearts in compassion. I could see the light of God shining through them, even as they might not have named it so. The circle of my understanding grew wide and my spirit began to throw off the bonds of exclusivity.