Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love

Easter Week Visits

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:38-39.

our mother of perpetual help parish

our mother of perpetual help parish

I talk with so many people who do not believe they deserve God’s love. I remember visiting with a very alert, highly educated woman in her 90s, still involved in her successful business, who wanted to start going back to church—but only after she got her life together and felt she was a better person. I told her the famous line that “The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.” But she never returned.

I talk to many people recovering from addiction who feel so much shame for the life they have led. They do not see how God and others can forgive them. So many have been taught to fear a judgmental God who is looking over their shoulder in order to catch them in sin.

I want to let them know that there is another way, a belief in resurrection, an Easter which can redeem after a Good Friday life or experience. If I can, I remind them of Jesus’ disciples who abandoned and denied him. He did not return to them in that upper room on Easter evening and say, “Shame on you.” Instead he said, “‘Peace be with you.’ … When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them. ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven’” (John 20:21-23).

We talk about the difference between shame, “I am a bad person,” and guilt, “I did a wrong thing.” We also talk about addiction not being a moral failing, but a disease. We talk about seeing any sign of God’s love alive and well, working in their life. We pray that the Holy Spirit will lead both of us to recognize this presence alive in each other, so that we will both see and be led by the Christ in each other. Sometimes I tell my story of how God has been present in my life through so many difficulties, to see if they recognize any similarity between my story and theirs. Last, I may share the above mantra from Romans that I used for several years as I became more aware of the harm I had done to others and to myself and was seeking forgiveness.

Joanna. joannaseibet@me.com

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Purchase a copy of A Spiritual Rx for Lent and Easter from me, joannaseibert@me.com, from Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, or from Amazon.

John Updike: Short Easter

John Updike: Short Easter

“The fact that the day is Easter means something to him—something he can neither name nor get out of his mind.” —John Updike, “Short Easter” in The Afterlife and Other Stories (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., and The Penguin Group, 1994). Originally published in The New Yorker (3/19/1989).

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John Updike has written one of my favorite resurrection short stories in The Afterlife and Other Short Stories called “Short Easter,” about a year when Daylight Saving Time begins on Easter Sunday. I first read the story in Volume 2 of Listening for God, a series of short stories selected by Paula Carlson and Peter Hawkins—Carlson then from the department of English and Hawkins a professor of Religion and Literature, both at Yale University. The four-part series includes a DVD about the author of each contemporary short story which can be work well in a book group study using literature as an icon to hear and see God.

In “Short Easter,” this high holy day for Christians becomes one hour shorter when the clocks are jumped forward and an hour of sleep is lost. “Church bells rang in the dark.” Updike goes through the day of a well-to-do man named Fogel (“Fog” is God spelled backwards), who keeps wanting to attend church services on Easter Day but puts it off until—at the end of the day, he has never gone.

At the story’s end, Fogel wakes up from an afternoon nap “amid that unnatural ache of resurrection, the weight of coming again to life,” and realizes that “although everything in his world is in place, there is something immensely missing.”

This is the moment of clarity that God continuously reveals to us. I regularly need to remind myself and my spiritual friends to try to be open to that moment that is often as fearful for us as it was for Fogel. It is like the fear of the women at the empty tomb on Easter Day. It is resurrection. It always speaks to something more powerful than we can understand. We become aware of some love we cannot understand.

We have put something else in our “God hole,” and whatever it is—prestige, money, marriage, work, family, fame, beauty—it will never fill the emptiness inside of us where only the God of love is large enough to live. This is the God who so desperately loves us and relentlessly calls us to be part of his resurrection in this life and the life to come.

Joanna. joannaseibet@me.com

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Purchase a copy of A Spiritual Rx for Lent and Easter from me, joannaseibert@me.com, from Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, or from Amazon.

Easter Child Story

The Child in Us

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”  —Mark 10:15-16.

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I was born on Easter Sunday. My name is Joanna. My parents had intended to name me Jo Anna after my mother’s parents, Joe and Anna. Before my mother woke up from her anesthesia at my birth, my father put Jo and Anna together and added in a middle name, Marie. This is a statement about my parents’ relationship, which most probably began before my birth. Marie was my father’s favorite sister who was married the day before I was born. My father missed most of the wedding celebration because of my impending arrival, so I guess I was his wedding present to his sister!

The first Easter I remember is in a picture that I keep as a sacred reminder on my desk. It was taken the Easter before my brother was born, so I must have been barely two years old. I am standing in front of our first house by the Mattaponi River at the corner of Second and Lee Streets. The screened-in front porch is in the background with maybe an Easter basket on it. There is a scruffy shrub to my right side. My head barely reaches the floor of the screened-in porch. The small photograph is in black and white, and the silver from the photograph has transformed the clear plastic cover over the years to a grayish yellow color, leaving parts of the picture mystically missing. Other parts are without as much light, giving the photograph an overall Easter film noir look.

I think the woven brimmed hat I have on is white with a black ribbon around it. My memory is that the coat I am wearing is a light pink wool with fake pockets and big buttons. The coat falls not quite evenly just above my knees. I am sure that one of my sweet grandmothers made my Easter coat. My left shoulder looks slightly higher than the right. The tips of my hands are barely seen, sheltered under the coat as my arms hang straight, almost at attention by my side.

I am wearing a little homemade corsage on my left lapel. I cannot make out the flower, but I think it may be a small rose. Circling my neck and overlapping the coat is a ruffled white collar with a small black bow that must be the top of my homemade dress, which is otherwise in secret beneath my coat. I cannot see my feet, but my legs are looking good. My eyes are wide open and my straight blonde hair has been curled, most probably with toilet paper the night before. I have a look of serene panic on my face as if I do not know what will happen next, but I will be ready.

This picture depicts for me my inner child. I long to meet her once again someday. For right now I keep her by my side always on my desktop right next to my Apple. I am seeking to let her know that all is well, and that no harm will come to her. It is Easter, a celebration of new life overcoming death. She will never ever be abandoned again.

We will go shopping for her new Easter outfit. I will tell her the Easter story and remind her how much she is loved. I will bring her flowers, violets or tulips or daffodils. We will go to an Easter egg hunt, and I will give her a noisy gong to ring at the Easter Vigil. I’ll gather more flowers for her, maybe azaleas from our backyard, to flower the cross on Easter Day, then ask her if she would like to sing with the other children at the Easter Day service. I’ll secretly leave for her a little extra chocolate at the Easter Brunch, rest with her in the afternoon, play with her on the next day, Easter Monday—maybe even go to a movie.

She is my inner child, born on Easter Sunday. I will remind her that Easter Day next year will again be a celebration of her birthday. Her real name is Jo Anna, and the God who loves her constantly tells her she is greatly loved, especially by those whose name she bears.

Joanna. joannaseibet@me.com

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Purchase a copy of A Spiritual Rx for Lent and Easter from me, joannaseibert@me.com, from Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, or from Amazon.