Jesus is dead. All our hopes are overturned, the kingdom is not about to be liberated from the forces of oppression and injustice and evil after all. That's not what Jesus came to do, it turns out. This world, this life, is still going to be hard. I don't like to anticipate Easter too much, I like to sit with the devastated disciples in their upper room, grieving the gruesome lynching of their hero, the man on whom they had pinned all their hopes, reeling from the loss of everything they had looked forward to: King Jesus on the throne of a free, just, and holy Israel, blessed by the God who had sent Him to lead them out of darkness. Now Jesus is gone, gone all the way into that darkness. We, the disciples gathered in that upper room, we don't know yet about the resurrection. The holy women haven't yet gone to prepare the body for burial, and found it missing, and angels telling them He is risen. We haven't heard the good news yet, all we know today is that Jesus has been overthrown, betrayed by a beloved friend, scourged (whipped bloody), mocked, tortured, shamed (stripped naked), and hung up to die. It's all over, as far as the disciples know. Our hearts are broken.
That's what this life is like, sometimes, isn't it? This past year, the world has gone through heartbreak all together, which is something rare. But we all suffer some time in our own individual lives, we know what it feels like to have a broken heart. We know how bewildering it is when hopes crash, how unmoored we can feel when an important relationship is broken, or a serious illness is diagnosed, or a job is lost and we struggle to pay the bills.
God did not incarnate into the human race in order to make those problems magically go away. Jesus came, lived, loved, taught and healed, suffered and died. He came not to make our problems go away, but to live through them with us. We all know what it's like when tragedy strikes a friend, and we ache to make it all better for them, but we can't. We know what it's like to go through a tragedy and find that our friends, not knowing what to say, either skirt around the grief or offer useless advice. I want to learn to do what Jesus did: just love you through your pain and grief, just sit down in the ashes with you and hold your hand in silence until the sun starts to come out again and you can find a way to take another step forward. I want to learn Christly compassion, and that requires sitting still with what is. Stay with Holy Saturday. Jesus is no longer in the world. Easter doesn't exist, yet. One day at a time. We're all in this together.
So here we are, a second year in a row, celebrating the Easter Triduum in pandemic conditions. I won't be going to Mass. I thought about it, but no. I'm not vaccinated yet! But I will go out and cut daffodils and forsythia, pear blossom and spirea, and fill the house with flowers. I've got a brand-new tall white candle, and I'm going to sing the Exultet somewhere near midnight, and read the readings, and then I've got a very small bottle of cava and some chocolate Easter eggs to enjoy while blasting out the Alleluia chorus from Handel's Messiah. Then on Sunday morning, I'll watch my monks on YouTube, and I'll call my beloved Mom. The weather is supposed to be gorgeous, and you know what? I think it'll be a very happy hermit Easter.
Lent, on the other hand, has been a bit challenging, especially towards the end, and it was only on Good Friday that I really got clear about what was going wrong. It's the same thing that usually goes wrong: Real Me has been failing to live up to the standards of Fantasy Me. I've been slipping into judging myself against the wrong standard of imaginary Perfection (automatic fail), instead of the right standard of Progress. I am still making progress! Including progress against perfectionism. But it's like Lent just gave Fantasy Me, that artificial painted icon of Holy Hermit, another way to sneak in. I mean, Lent is supposed to be time for a little extra effort within a whole life devoted to progress toward perfection, and it's really easy to mistake that as time for a little extra perfection.
And this all goes on under the surface, you know? That's what gives it so much power. You know, as soon as I recognize it and name it, put it into words, it all becomes clear. The lights come up and I can see how tawdry the dented halo is, how silly I look in that grotesque rubber Yoda mask. My rational mind gets it, but the human brain has layers and layers of irrational mind. Below the rational surface, it's as if I think that when I changed my name and put on the tunic and cowl, I took on a whole new personality along with it. Like, the flawed woman who's doing her best just muddling through day by day, inconsistent and emotional and full of bad habits, that was Regina, that was old me. The new (fantasy) me, Felicity, is a Holy Hermit, a serene sage floating on a cloud, radiating peace and unconditional love, effortlessly balancing Ora et Labora, prayer and work. Something between St. Francis of Assisi (see the wild birds eating from my hands), the Immaculate Virgin Mary, some kind of green-thumbed homesteading Earth Mother, and Yoda. Maybe some Xena, Warrior Princess thrown in for good measure.
The longer the demon goes unchallenged, the more exaggerated the ideal becomes. Like a young girl hating her body because it doesn't look like the anatomically impossible proportions of a Barbie doll, I start to get down on myself for not being this outlandish cartoon version of myself. But like I say, this "stinking thinking" goes on under the surface, unnamed and uncomprehended, shaming Real Me, who is sometimes serene but also has temper tantrums, who failed to make a dent in the spring cleaning during Lent, who, after a surprisingly fruitful meditation on Psalm 2 (out of 150), got distracted and failed to stick with the project. Plus, I end up trying so hard to keep the Holy Hermit mask in place that I can't see through it to other people, their beautiful uniqueness, their hearts and minds, and in that state of mind I couldn't be farther from the wise, welcoming desert mother of my fantasy.
Once I recognize what's happening, once I name and banish the demon of perfectionism, it's kind of like a little Easter for me. The mask is tossed in the trash, the stone is rolled away, the nails crumble, and I have the clarity and energy and grace to actually begin to become a little bit more like the Holy Hermit of my imagination. Truth is very liberating! Taking steps to address the weaknesses in my character requires me to take stock of them and acknowledge them. If I want to move forward, I have to be clear about where I'm starting from. I don't get to just adopt a new personality overnight, but starting from reality, I do get to keep on learning and growing, a day at a time.
So I had this little epiphany while taking my daily walk on Good Friday (which daily walk counts as progress, hey!). I could feel the weight of disappointment with myself lift -- and then I came home and made a start on that spring cleaning, exactly the thing that I had been blocked from doing by the shame of not having it done. Does that make any sense? Do you recognize that in yourself in any area of your life? Shame not only doesn't motivate me to fix the thing I'm ashamed of, it's the exact opposite: it blocks me from taking action to address the issue head on.
Anyway, so I wanted to post this to the blog, because it affects not only me, and not only my relationship with my God, but also my relationships with other people. I go through life, not always but too often, trying to hide behind this ludicrous Saint mask, trying to fool both myself and others. It takes a lot of focus and energy to hold up that disguise, attention that then isn't available for you, who can see right through it anyway. The mask obscures my vision not only of myself, but of the people I look at through it.
Real Felicity does NOT promise not to do that thing any more -- that's the kind of promise Fantasy Felicity would make! Real Felicity promises to keep on working at it, one day at a time. I want you to know that I believe you and I both are beautiful, warts, cracks and all, in our wondrous uniqueness. Over time, I hope to become more and more free to see and love both myself and you as truly and deeply as God loves every one of us.
Right -- there's still time to do a little more spring cleaning before the fresh start of Easter arrives. Keep the faith, my friends! We're all in this together. Even when it seems like all hope is dead, even God is dead ... the sun will always rise again.