“Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” Mary Magdalene asked as she arrived at Jesus’ tomb (Mk 16:3). Last night at the Easter Vigil, our priest’s homily focused on the ways that we are entombed by what is not of God in our lives and how amid that darkness, God can offer us hope, rolling the stone away. It was a pretty moving homily for someone who started the week reflecting on her own death. What I think about every Easter though is a moment that is the closest to Heaven I’ve ever felt.
In the spring of 2009, I was living at the St. Francis Newman Center in Muncie as part of a residential internship program. My wonderful, beautiful mentor strong-armed me into volunteering for the liturgy committee and basically every little part of the Easter Vigil. I was carrying flowers and the Alleluia banner in the Mass and I was nervous. It was a stressful year full of disappointment and heartache and growing pains and I was a much less confident woman. I am perpetually grateful for all the love showered on me during that formative year, even as I was a scared stress monster (but those highs and lows are another story). An unusually small congregation came to the vigil that year. I think most of the people were somehow involved in the Mass itself. It was tiny. Everything went off basically without a hitch. And in the closing hymn we sang “I Am the Bread of Life,” one of my favorites. St. Francis is one of the most alive places I’ve ever been. No, the most. The church was a collection of loveable characters and the community participated wholeheartedly. Maybe I’m romanticizing it, but that parish changed me. By the time we hit the last chorus, “I will raise you up, I will raise you up. I will raise you up on the last day,” the thirtyish voices were reverberating, filling the church so that it sounded like the pews were full. There was something transcendent and real and larger than life in the moment. Joy became tangible. Love was palpable. It was how Easter is meant to feel.
It’s one of those moments I go to when I need hope. I can still hear the song echoing in my ears, it was so resonant. The Spirit was there, I have no doubt.
What I remembered this year, however, was all the practice that went into that day. From experience, the priest knew that when nervous I walk and talk too quickly. He emphasized to me the importance of walking slowly. Keeping pace. If I rushed, the entrance of the Alleluia banner would lose its impact. The job was clearly oversold to me, but I practiced walking slowly all afternoon. I had forgotten this process of slowing down until last night. Unquestionably, the spirit would have still been in that moment had I walked too fast with the banner. But I suspect that walking slowly all day fostered enough awareness of myself and space and time that I could feel it. I wasn’t just walking. I was aware of my walking. I’m generally a pretty physical person in my faith. I think and pray best in motion. This semester I’ve been reading about mantra and meditation, developing more awareness of and detachment from my emotions and fears. The lessons of the past are starting to make more sense as they turn up again.
Grad school is also a processes. I think that a PhD in the humanities is a production that, if really done well, demands all of you. You have to think critically and creatively about issues that are as intimate as your identity, your agency, the way you encounter the world. Recently my advisor told me that I needed to stop walking around so fast like I don’t have time to talk to anyone. It’s not that I need to stop and smell the roses. There are a lot of little things that I cherish. Most of my vivid life memories are of random, beautiful moments. But maybe the point is to stop worrying so much. Walk slower. And not be so terrified of being seen or heard. Sing louder. Something about a light and a bushel.
Walk slower. Sing louder.
He is risen indeed.