John Gould (license)
Trust in the Dying In spite of Sunday
it feels like all the tombs are still full. Some stone remains in place, a great, heavy thing unrolled away and lodged in my throat, like Lazarus choking on the first words from a tongue that lay dead for days. I wonder about his stumbling outside that morning at Bethany, if he found the birds still singing through the dust-veils,
through the weeping.
Today an oriole flies into the window and I wake to the yellow shock of a dead bright body on the ground. A friend tells me that trust in the resurrection means trust in the dying: trying to imagine what faith should look like these days, I think of the birds, devouring thorns in the night’s passing, and singing,
come the dawn.
The cultural theorist Sianne Ngai writes that the shock of grief challenges our ability to process such emotion through language: our speech turns thick, slowed-down and fatigued. I was experiencing this over an Easter weekend as the world was reeling from the coronavirus pandemic - so many stories of global grief, so much personal loss, all seemed to challenge the story of hope that we associate Easter with. Where do you find the words for praise in a time like this? I had none.
But biblical narratives of resurrection have always been complexly disobedient to the simplicities that even (or especially) believers tend to reduce them to. There is no blithe optimism to the life which flares into being again - resurrection admits the death which precedes it, allows the grief that accompanies it. Thomas despairs and Jesus weeps in the long days before Lazarus walks out of his tomb. I wanted to write a poem about the weeping, the despair, the thickening of speech.
There’s a line from Ada Limon's beautiful poem, 'The Year of the Goldfinches', which treads a similar terrain of resurrection and birds. Discovering that her favourite goldfinches are symbols of resurrection, she muses that 'of course they were, / my two yellow-winged twins feasting / on thorns and liking it'. It made me imagine the way that birds sometimes eat their insect prey by skewering them on the thorns of branches, and what a strange image this must be to anyone watching: as if it were swallowing the thorn whole, impaling its own throat and singing all the while. I thought then of Jesus Christ, himself stuck on that tree, brow pierced by a crown of thorns. He would trade this later for a crown of life; two crowns, then, that the Christian life partakes of and feasts on. Suffering, grief, despair – they remain indelible parts of the fragile hope which presages new life.