Resurrections

The other day, I posted a photo on Facebook of a sage bush that is blooming in my front yard. These shrubs are usually pale green, but when it rains a lot (as it has in Texas this Spring and Summer) they blossom with purple flowers. A friend saw the photo and commented that sages are a true resurrection plant. It made me see them in a new way.

In truth, the sages here don’t ever seem to die. They are hearty and drought-resistant. But when it rains, they take on a whole new look and liveliness. Those purple flowers seem to have been waiting for the right circumstances to bring them out. As Summer progresses, the flowers will drop, but the sage will flower again. That is what they do.

In my faith tradition, resurrection is a central belief, yet even those who don’t believe the dead literally come back to life find hope in the theme of resurrection. It isn’t the passing of one soul through many lives – that is reincarnation – but the renewal of one single life or even of a community. In a way, resurrection can be seen as a person or community becoming most fully themselves. That’s why the symbols of resurrection are things like butterflies and eggs and sage bushes – living beings that undergo a transformation but retain the same essence; they stay what they have always been, only better. For some of us, the theme of resurrection is what gives us hope when we face all kinds of small “deaths,” like church attendance going down or changes in leadership. Or bigger “deaths” like racism or the daily indignities of poverty.

Resurrection is hope, transformation, and renewal.

As I work with patients and families at the hospital this summer, the image of my “resurrection” sage is a helpful one. People, too, blossom when the circumstances allow. Many times, those circumstances might be a death or a difficult transition. Sometimes, as I sit with people experiencing grief and pain, they begin to flower with stories, memories, plans, and gratitude. I’ve experienced it at similar times in my own family. In the midst of grief, we’ve recalled old family jokes, planned favorite meals, reached out to disconnected loved ones. And so it is with the families I companion this summer. Thanks to my friend’s comment, I’ll be looking for these resurrection moments every chance I get.

Thoughts on ressurrection

In the past week, I have dreamed about my dad a couple of times. He died in 2007 and these dreams have been so awesome! Not filled with deep meaning or any sense of “prediction.” Just my dad showing up and doing whatever it is I am doing in my dream. Sometimes being really funny. I had started to worry I might have forgotten what his voice sounded like, or how he walked. But it was all there.

Shortly after Dad died, my mom had an unsettling experience–unsettling and a tiny bit comforting in a spooky way. (Is that possible?) Every night, she slept in her bed with a bunch of pillows lined up beside her due to some back problems. One morning, after she had been awake for awhile and had her breakfast, she walked by the bedroom. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw my dad sleeping in their bed.

She didn’t go in. He wasn’t really there, it was the pillows. She knew this in her rational mind. But for so long the lump in their bed had been him. It was so familiar! By staying out of the room, she had the feeling for a short time that he really was there and alive and she’d be able to see him again. She stayed out of the room long enough to feel that thrill and little bit of joy/fear.

In the years that followed–even to now–I see Dad sitting in church. The back of other men’s heads, the slope of their shoulders, look just like him. I never want these men to turn around and be who they really are. As long as they face the altar, they are my dad sitting in a pew.

I’ve heard many times (and sometimes said myself) that people live on through the lives of those they touched and taught. And I believe that is true. But in grief there is sometimes an effort to resurrect the lost one in our imaginations, reconstruct the physical person we lost using the sights and sounds around us.

My mom’s experience raised questions for her about what the disciples must have gone through after Jesus died. Did they have similar spooky experiences? For me, the little glimpses I get of my dad still choke me up…I am tearing up just writing this. I feel like I am actually in Dad’s presence again.

My dad.

I wonder about the experiences others have of lost loved ones. And, vainly, I am curious about what will make others think of me when I am gone. Will the back of a white-haired woman give my son a start? Will my daughter do a double-take when she hears a laugh that sounds familiar? As far as I can tell, it won’t be any of my unique mannerisms or traits or deeds that will make them think I am present with them again. The things that make you special are remembered in conversations and stories and artifacts. But what makes a loved one feel “there” is what is seen or sensed of them in ordinary encounters or routines, part of everyday life. Unlike the accomplishments and relics you leave behind, the way you are “felt” when you are gone is entirely out of your hands except for one thing– really being there before you go.