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).
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.
Purchase a copy of A Spiritual Rx for Lent and Easter from me, firstname.lastname@example.org, from Wordsworth Books in Little Rock, or from Amazon.