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Easter: Alleluia

At Easter, we celebrate the light that shines in the darkest corners

A mythic folktale from Madagascar explains how both death and children came into the world. In the story, the first woman and the first man were asked by the Creators what they preferred in the way of death. The primal couple responded that they would like to avoid it altogether. The goddesses and gods replied that was impossible, that life was necessarily fatal, but that they could come back either as the moon does, disappearing then re-emerging, or as the banana tree does, sending out shoots that become other new banana trees.

First woman and man pondered, then discussed. They realized that if they came back as the moon did, leaving the sky dark for a while then returning, they would always just be themselves, repeating themselves over and over. But if they came back like the banana tree, then the world would always be fresh and different. And they wouldn’t be alone; there would be children.

When informed of their choice, the deities responded: “Now that you have chosen it, you are already beginning to die.” But as first woman and man grew and flourished while at the same time walking toward death, they kept close to themselves the idea that they would be leaving children behind. That’s how children came into the world.

If ever there was a sign of resurrection in our midst, it’s the bright promise of children, perennial gifts to us from our God, who St. Augustine called “the ever Ancient, the ever New.” Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart called God novissimus! -- the newest thing there is!

Ours is truly a resurrection religion. We believe the light of Christ shines even into the darkest corners, that new life always follows any death.

To celebrate Easter this year, NCR asked children from St. Mary’s Academy in Denver to draw resurrection pictures, which we display on the cover and on pages 13 to 16.

We also asked people across the country this question:

“We have been bombarded with images of death in the past year, especially in the months following the Sept. 11 attacks and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. What is for you an image, moment or instance of resurrection that has occurred during the past year?”

Light a candle and read their responses.

-- Rich Heffern

Catherine Browning

When the tide rolls out and the full wetness of marine baptism suddenly withdraws, unsightly mudflats are exposed near the place where I live. Blatant barrenness squelches romantic notions held at sunset. Slimy gook repulses joy for living. Stench forces you to think of fleeing from these lands. But just as you are ready to walk away, just as you are ready to call it quits, the universe surprises you with a blessing. Suddenly, out of nowhere, hundreds of pink flamingos arrive on the scene. Sinking their delicate selves into brown gook, these otherworldly beings transmute ugliness into beauty. Perched upon single limbs, they balance gracefully like ballerinas atop dirty junk piles. Leaning strangely toward the thick darkness, flamingos feast on ambrosial treats, trusting the treasures contained within sludge. Flamboyant wings reach high into the air revealing spectacular orange, pink and black undersides. Wow! Only the universe could fashion a phenomenal moment such as this. Only the universe could turn a muddy day into an unexpected colorful ballet. Flamingos in the mudflats, they are a powerful metaphor for life: Be patient. Don’t judge too harshly for things are not always as they seem. Stay with the resistance. Trust that a new form will emerge from the debris. Remember, the Creator creates best out of what seems like nothing.

Catherine Browning lives in Kuwait.

Tom Beaudoin

As if the furious impact of those planes not only broke the backs of the twin towers, but blew into the atmosphere an unholy cloud of fracture, corrosion, decay and death. As if that infected air calmly enveloped my life. As if, when my life imploded last October into a wordless stack of rubble, this was somehow an aftershock five weeks deferred. I will always be tempted to feel the loss I endured last fall against the amputated horizon of dust-covered Manhattan. As if one Armageddon-ish implosion summoned a hundred thousand human relationships to decision: dig in or make a run for it, reinforce the building or raze everything.

Six months later and I am in South Carolina, standing at midnight facing the Atlantic, borne up before the ocean’s majestic inevitability. The infinite gives itself in this milky, unmasterable churn. “Behold, I make all things new.”

Tom Beaudoin is adjunct professor of theology, Boston College, and author of Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X.

Joseph A. Brown

Schoolchildren, here and elsewhere, finding ways to connect with the victims of New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Cookie sales, car washes and other fund raisers. Questions in classrooms and churches. And learning opportunities where they are finding out who and where Afghanistan is, who and why the Muslims are, and so on. I have always believed that our hope resides in the questions we ask. Since Sept. 11, the people who surround me have prayed for healing and asked questions that keep their minds and hearts open.

Jesuit Fr. Joseph A. Brown is director of Black American Studies at Southern Illinois University.

Mary Vineyard

Jesus’ resurrection is a window on the nature of reality, allowing us to see that life and death coexist in everything, and yet all is held within a divine container that transcends what we know as life and death. In the world and in the lives of countless people I know, I am seeing unbearable suffering and hopeless situations. And yet I keep vigil for the resurrection that can happen in any moment. I usually encounter it, not in dramatic events but in small things: the fact that most of us do get up every day and keep trying; the many ways people attempt to be kind to each other; the arguments that end in forgiveness, reconciliation and new understanding; the acts of courage whereby truth is lovingly spoken in the face of oppression; the times when a fiercely entrenched attitude suddenly shifts. To live inside resurrection is to have a faith that looks beyond the surface evidence and inspires actions that flow from and encourage love rather than fear.

Mary Vineyard is a massage therapist living in Downeast, Maine.

Ashle Robinson

An instance of resurrection that means something to me is the hope, courage and strength that everybody has inside of them. After the attacks, people all over the United States were making some kind of symbol to represent the American flag. That courage they had to go on and try to make others feel better really made me feel better. The hope that people had inside themselves to try to make the next day the same as the days before the terrorist attack was really amazing.

After the terrorist attacks, there was a change in the way people treated each other. We suddenly acted kinder toward one another. This represented our strength. This meant that even after the attack the United States wouldn’t be the same, but we will have more faith and hope in our country. Even after lives were taken and hearts were broken, America will stand tall. The American flag represents us all, so we will stand as one.

Ashle Robinson is a sixth grade student at St. Sabina Academy in Chicago.

Philip St. Romain

The images of resurrection most related to the events of Sept. 11 that have stayed with me are the expressions of joy in the people of Kabul when they realized that the Taliban was gone. Simple pleasures like listening to music, shaving an uncomfortable beard and walking around without veiling one’s face became theirs again. Their lives are still far from settled and at peace, but the reclaiming of those ordinary experiences of freedom gave testimony to the enormous potential for finding God in the simple things of life.

Philip St. Romain is an author and spiritual director who lives in Wichita, Kan.

Wayne Teasdale

Amidst the violence and death we have witnessed, and the dark night of the church’s agony over the brokenness of some of her ministers, there is an irrepressible hope bursting forth like the vital energy of a seedling breaking through the pavement of a city street. Or the quiet bond of innocent love expressed so naturally between a 7-year-old boy for his 5-year-old sister (and vice versa) in the Iranian film “Children of Heaven.” Another instance, for me, personally, is the return from the valley of the shadow of death when I had had a bout with cancer. I feel these are each instances or epiphanies of resurrection.

Wayne Teasdale is a lay monk who teaches at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.

William Cleary

Faithful, an evergreen spruce about the size of a man, stands shivering all winter next to the frozen birdbath just outside the double glass doors in our living room. This week, sheltering the robins of spring as they wait their turn to tiptoe through the melting ice, Faithful suddenly has its towering top shoot bulging with sprouts left and right, and on top a triple bud grinning at the sky. Earth’s very life force is resurrecting, pushing from below, forcing upward fresh juices, fresh colors, fresh air-giving emerald needles, all because -- as Hopkins said -- “the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” Hope reigns.

William Cleary is author of How The Wild Things Pray (Forest of Peace).

K. Lauren de Boer

Many people have been jolted from a collective numbness into turning toward each other. The uncertainty and fear of the last year have become the food and fodder for the budding growth of circles of people all over: wisdom circles, community circles, circles for spiritual activism. Whatever they are called, these circles are cells of hope rising amidst despair. They are engaging people in an inquiry into the deeper questions of our time. The hope is that collectively these cells will help transform a moment of violence into energy for change.

This quote from physicist Brian Swimme expresses the essence of the Easter message: “Plunge into the work of living as surprise becomes aware of itself. You are the essence of surprise, the heart and core of play. Show yourself as truly as you can, and you will in that moment shine with the freedom, frolic and fecundity of creative play.”

K. Lauren de Boer is executive editor of Earthlight magazine.

Ashley Merryman

I run a tutoring program for inner-city kids based out of my Los Angeles parish. On Halloween, we gave each child a bag of candy. When a tiny kindergarten child about the size of his bag of treats received it, he was so thrilled that for the next 10 minutes he was bouncing up and down with glee, showing everyone the unexpected surprise. He wasn’t even aware he was doing it. Lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about “resurrection” as being not some transformative event, but an ongoing process that is painful, messy and drawn-out. Even Jesus went to Hell and back for his. So why would that child’s hopping up and down be my image of resurrection? He’s a child; he’s not dead. There was no transformation; if you give him candy today, he’ll still have the same reaction. (Trust me, we gave him cookies for St. Patrick’s Day.) I just kept coming back to that ecstatic look on his face. And that was my answer: joy. If there’s a true resurrection, there’s joy. Joy that cannot be contained or restrained. Joy that overtakes you, body, mind and spirit.

Ashley Merryman is a writer and attorney in Los Angeles.

Gertrud Mueller Nelson

Death and life are sisters at the deepest level. How do we know this? How can we get that message into our bones? Only in flashes of grace, moments of experience that plant us firmly with one foot on either side of the paradox. A grace that came to my family recently was to pray with our mother as she died. To see the one who bore us, laid out in her simple box, wearing the white garment of baptism, barefoot, surrounded by evergreen boughs and a few lilies. We planted her, personally, in the good earth knowing that unless a grain of wheat die, it could not bring new life. She was one who showed many how to live and how to die. She walked in faith, and struggled in faith, created and loved in faith and died faithful to the good news to the end. Did she also see and feel the horrors going on around her? Oh yes. Her faith in turn had a radiating quality that shed light, comforted, refreshed, brought solace, healed, renewed, all with the energy of the Holy Spirit. And finally, the Spirit led her to the joys that never end.

Now the gospel tells me that it’s my work to stand by and water the planted grains and take part, with God’s grace, in the resurrection of new life. As a people our job is the same. What must die, peacefully or violently, must also bring forth new life. And we get to help heaven in that task.

Gertrud Mueller Nelson is a liturgist and writer who lives in Southern California.

Robert Durback

I was seated on a flight from Seattle to Detroit, on my way home from a cruise tour of Alaska, 10 days after Sept. 11. I had slipped into my carry-on a copy of Beldan Lane’s book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes. Still reeling from the unfolding reports of the fateful days past, my eyes fastened on these words in Lane’s book: “In the beginning you weep. The starting point for many things is grief, at the place where endings seem so absolute. One would think it should be otherwise, but the pain of closing is antecedent to every new opening in our lives.” With these words, born of his grief in watching his mother wilt away in a hospital bed, Lane redefined for me the meaning of the losses in my life. And possibly the losses of a whole nation.

Robert Durback lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

Briana Caldwell

A moment of resurrection that occurred during the past year was the World Trade Center flag being brought out at the Olympic Games. There was a lot of commotion going on that day, and the flag was still standing. For God to leave that standing, it’s a sign that America will be just fine. Another moment was when I went to the movies. I thought I heard someone say, “God bless America.” That same day the words “God bless America” were on every fast food sign and other displays. These signs made me feel as if God was on our side and wouldn’t let anything happen to America. In John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That scripture assured me that things would be OK.

Briana Caldwell is a sixth grade student at St. Sabina Academy in Chicago.

Maryanne Hannan

Exactly one week after the terrible events of Sept. 11, our family experienced another loss, the death of a beloved family member from cancer. Standing at his gravesite and watching his wife receive the folded flag in honor of his service in Vietnam, I trembled at the excruciating toll exacted by war and intolerance, generation after generation. Then two birds glided overhead in unison, with much the same freedom and panache my brother-in-law, a graceful dancer, had. At that moment, in the beautiful September sunshine, I had a blessed glimpse that someday our tears would be turned into laughter.

Maryanne Hannan is a poet and writer living in upstate New York.

Janice Sevre-Duszynska

My image of resurrection occurred at the closing liturgy of our Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference in Dublin, Ireland, last July. Along with many other priestly women from around the world, I wore a purple stole as a symbol of our movement. We began the liturgy with our stoles wrapped around our mouths and necks. Then we threw the purple stole from across our mouths as a sign of being released from the male hierarchy’s binding and silencing of women’s priestly gifts.

Janice Sevre-Duszynska of Lexington, Ky., is an activist for women’s ordination.

Rob Johnson

Risen from Prison
Risen from prison
back from the dead
released convicts
rejoin the living.

Alleluia! Alleluia!
They have returned!
It is a miracle!

Every day
A Miracle

Our prodigal sons
and daughters

From the
we call prisons,

Each release
a resurrection
a quest for

For life
to begin

Robert Johnson, professor and chair in the Department of Justice, Law and Society at American University in Washington, lives in Herndon, Va.

Lea Koesterer

I have become involved with the Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Program in St. Louis, teaching a young woman from Iraq to speak English. She has a baby at home and doesn’t get out. I feel it’s something I can do. Even if one person can benefit from what I have to give, it gives me a little more hope that if every person helps just one other person, it would grow.

Images of death have always been with us, it’s nothing really new. The young woman I’m teaching just told me yesterday that two of her children died. I don’t know how yet because she doesn’t have enough English to tell me. If I can bring a little bit of hope and light in her life, it makes me feel like I’m doing my job.

The cataclysmic events of Sept. 11 crystallizes the idea that all the little things we do have a consequence. Taken as a whole, other people form this idea and opinion of us, and how we are perceived makes a big difference in how people are going to react to us. This past year we’ve had the realization that all is not well with the world and we’re partly the reason for it. We have to be careful in what we say and what we do -- it all adds up.

Little things are important. It’s a mistake to assume that what we do is inconsequential.

Artist Lea Koesterer of St. Louis is the creator of the “Visitation” stained glass window, which appeared on NCR’s 2001 Christmas cover.

Joan Chittister

Last June I sat in the home of a traumatized Arab family on the West Bank. Years before, the father, denied work in his homeland, had gone to the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to earn enough to build a home for his growing family. He returned to the West Bank, money in hand, and applied repeatedly over the years for a permit to build on his land. The permit never came. He got no answers at all. The application was simply ignored.

In desperation, he gave up trying to get a building permit and built a home without it. The house was barely finished when the Israeli army bulldozed the house into the ground.

A group called Rabbis for Peace joined the father and his Arab neighbors to rebuild the home. The army bulldozed it again. The rabbis surrounded the property and rebuilt the house a second time.

Now, the rabbis, the family -- including the mother who had suffered a mental breakdown as a result of the violence -- and I and other members of the International InterReligious Peace Council were sitting in the bare little house. Together. All of us of one heart.

I knew without a doubt that I was seeing resurrection, that I was in fact part of it and that no headline would ever make me forget the rabbis who had risen above the political to the stature of the God of the Exodus.

Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, author and lecturer, lives in Erie, Pa.

Marcia Figgs

An instance of resurrection that has occurred during the past year is that America has come together. Every time I hear the song “God Bless America,” I get emotional. Before Sept. 11, the guns, killing and drugs in our community and everyone not loving each other was outrageous. Now the United States of America has come together united and loving one another. Now you see people wearing the colors of the flag. God has shown me that Sept. 11 was a wakeup call for the United States of America. The United States is a country that needs help. All of the killings and drug activity is not helping us. It is killing us. The United States now realizes that no matter what we do, everything is in the Lord’s hands. I was scared the day of the terrorist attacks, but when I prayed to the Lord I knew everything was going to be all right. Sept. 11 was tragic for all of us, but the United States of America will stand strong, and we know that the battle is not ours; it is the Lord’s.

Marcia Figgs is a sixth grade student at St. Sabina Academy in Chicago.

Charleen Marie Pavlik

As I walked around Manhattan in mid-September to counseling appointments with people who had worked at the World Trade Center, it was not the same.

It was quiet.

Except for the occasional horn in semi-deserted streets, there was little else sounding the soul of the city outdoors.

But there were birds.

Singing, fluttering, cardinal, russet, indigo
wings of hope not far from the tomb.
willowy song, sharp scat-jazzy song
in a slivered, saddened place.
flitting ritual alive in the dawn beyond
ancient and postmodern executions

there are always angels hidden, graced power in the soul
but some days require simpler wings
dancing on the cross-winds,
lifting Lazarus to a new nest
on the edge of Eden,

Franciscan Sr. Charleen Marie Pavlik lives in Fayette City, Pa., and is founding partner of Angelspring Retreat and Wellness Center.

Timothy J. Schmaltz

Recently my granddaughter, Kristin, was hospitalized with a severe bout of the flu. It was scary for her parents. It was scary for all of us who love this energetic whirlwind of a 2-year-old. Lying there in the big adult hospital bed, she looked so small, so fragile and vulnerable.

A couple of days after Kristin had gotten out of the hospital and recovered, my wife Linda and I were asked to watch her. Kristin was back to her old self by then. She loves my home office and especially a small table where I keep precious items of sacred memories. She particularly loves a toy given to me many years ago by some colleagues. This toy is an “executive consultant” that has a button that causes flashing reds lights and voices funny phrases. She went and got that toy, jumped up on my lap, pushed the button as she loves to do, and listened to the random phrase and laughed. She did it again and again, laughing louder each time. And the louder she laughed, the louder I laughed.

These moments are not just times of an old man’s sentimentality and love. We are not given these moments of resurrection for ourselves alone. Former President Jimmy Carter tells a story that just when it appeared the Camp David peace talks were failing, the three world leaders happened to be together packing to leave when one of them began showing pictures of his grandchildren, and then the others did the same. Looking at those pictures, President Carter said they all recognized their work was not done. They needed to return to the table for the sake of their children and grandchildren to build peace for their countries.

That’s what small resurrections can do for us; restore our hope and vision. They can tell us again that we must be sources of life for one another, sources of justice and peace for the future. My moment of resurrection with Kristin reminded me of the future we hold in our laps.

Timothy J. Schmaltz, director for Spirituality and Ministry in the Marketplace, lives in Phoenix.

Kathy Coffey

One of my favorite “little r” resurrections occurs daily. I go to bed feeling exhausted; my brain is clogged with details; my creativity has fizzled. I have lost interest in any project I’m doing, and it takes enormous effort even to talk with my kids.

But a deep sleep restores all that seemed lost. The next morning, I’m ready to tackle the world! Bring on the problems -- I’ve got the chutzpah to handle them!

In December I spent the night at a local retreat house. Falling asleep, I felt all my edges had dulled. Waking the next morning to snow that had fallen overnight, I opened my laptop computer with zest and plunged joyfully into some writing that had languished.

Maybe it has something to do with a little jolt of caffeine, but I think it’s more. I suspect that in the morning, the Spirit is stirring, saying, “All is not lost. God who protected your sleep now brings you into daylight, into renewed energy, into work and relationship. Jesus who awakened Lazarus now calls you to arise.” Maybe the final resurrection will have a little taste of this one.

Kathy Coffey works as an editor in Denver, Colo., and is the author of Dancing in the Margins: Meditations for People Who Struggle with their Churches.

Fred West Jr.

An instance of resurrection that has occurred in the past year is an understanding that no matter what, I will always be an American. On Sept. 11, America became silent. I prayed that we should be proud and positive about the situation. Americans need to stick their chests out, be proud and fight for what is right. I’m not afraid anymore. I feel more like myself again. Thanks to God I am proud to be an American.

Fred West Jr. is a sixth grade student at St. Sabina Academy in Chicago.

Conrado Beloso

I find images of resurrection in the parishioners of Sacred Heart. They offer me uplifting graces through their faith, hard work and generosity.

Take this one, for example: For years Sacred Heart’s rectory and hall needed repairs. But every plan to renovate had to be shelved because of lack of funds, and because I thought the parish was not ready for it. I reasoned that if the priest whom I replaced was able to endure the rectory’s dark, depressing walls and its label as “the bowling alley of the diocese” for 13 years, I could also endure it. I underestimated the parishioners’ ability to do something about it.

When I attended the priests’ study days in Kelowna, British Columbia, last October, Cheryl Card and Charlene Collison, both parish council members, convened a group of parishioners and came up with a very good plan that soon caught the interest of the whole parish. The bishop of Nelson approved it and endorsed the application for a loan at Catholic Missions in Canada. Catholic Missions approved a loan of $50,000 and as a bonus gave a grant of $25,000. The parish was able to raise almost $20,000 on its own, and was able to attract volunteer work so easily. Now I have a brand new rectory.

Thus, what I want to say is this: Lay women-led initiatives are instances of resurrection in the parish.

Fr. Conrado Beloso is originally from the Philippines. In 1998 he came to British Columbia to work as a priest.

Philip Berrigan

The Lord’s resurrection was proof that life will triumph in the end -- life over death. Any testimony along those lines is resurrection. I find it most pertinent in a couple of areas: first of all living with people who are devoted to life and who are willing to risk for life, and secondly civil resistance which is always a testimony to the resurrection of Christ, because it’s a testimony against death and for life.

Philip Berrigan lives in Jonah House, a “resistance community” in Baltimore.

Elizabeth McAlister

Life is returning to all of nature, and people are trying. We’re going to a Faith and Resistance retreat with a bunch of college kids who could be off doing whatever during Holy Week, and they’re trying real hard.

There’s a promise of life, and I believe it. They can’t touch it. They try, but they can’t. It’s going to happen.

Elizabeth McAlister lives in Jonah House in Baltimore.

Erik Mansager

Jamie was 4 and a half when he arrived at our crisis shelter. He was the big brother, and came in the company of his two younger half-sisters, 3 and 1. Jamie was dropped off by the police who had pulled him from under the unconscious body of his mother. Her body was so badly bruised and swollen from a beating by the half-sisters’ father that by the time the police responded to a neighbor’s 911 call, they were unable to determine if she were Anglo- or African-American. While our nurses completed enough of the boy’s intake physical exam to learn that he was not suffering any bruises, breaks or abrasions, it was quite understandable that Jamie refused to sleep without his sisters and refused to be bathed or to wear the new set of clothes we provided. It was several days before Jamie could be coaxed, with the help of his favorite ice cream, to try at least a sponge bath and the new clothes.

If that was the not-so-Good Friday experience for our staff, we all experienced a little but very real bit of Easter Sunday when seven months later, a capable and feisty young 5-year-old was offered the carton of his favorite ice cream at his farewell party. He said softly, clearly, without a hint of pathos, “You better keep some handy, in case somebody else is going to need it.”

Erik Mansager is the residential director of Casa de los Niños in Tucson, a child crisis shelter.

Roy Bourgeois

[On the large numbers of students that turn out for talks about the U.S. Army School of the Americas]: Their response is one of compassion, one of really questioning U.S. foreign policy, some for the first time. Their response for me is resurrection. It’s solidarity with the suffering poor. It’s trying to get on this road to peacemaking. I see resurrection for me as this life-giving force happening on college campuses. I’ve come to see that as a sacred moment, a resurrection moment that brings us deeper into the struggle.

Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois is founder of School of the Americas Watch.

National Catholic Reporter, March 29, 2002