Life, abundantly: on everyday Easters, resurrection, and time travel

Life, abundantly: on everyday Easters, resurrection, and time travel

by Céline Chuang July 25, 2019

The gardens grow into the street
We’re holding the blossoms up high
Saying killers, let go 

- Iron & Wine

 

i

Resurrect me like Christ, unconquerable
brown-skinned body unbroken by empire
returned in tenderness
from imperial brutality, 
uncontained unbordered love
O death-dealing powers, where are your sting?
O bring to life all buried and unburied things.


On Easter Sunday, the Baptist church I attend is a riot of colour: silken banners and lights strung from the ceiling, packed pews and bouncing babies. Generally a t-shirt and jeans kind of church,  people break out their florals and button-ups and lipstick for this service. This is my first year singing in the choir. I sway and swing and clap next to Earl, who comes to church only on Christmas Eve and Easter. Along with the shiny blue choir robes both of us wear, he has his long hair braided, a beaded crucifix, and giant fluffy Easter bunny ears. As I sing, I survey the congregation’s upturned faces, remembering the Easter when I returned to church, pulled by some divine stirring, an elemental magnetism deep in my gut. That Sunday, I sat in the back like so many exiled post-Christians, wore a leather jacket, and judged everyone. I felt the moment the music entered me. I looked up and saw the tapestry of Christ, the gentle brown face surrounded by flowers and children, and believed—not in any doctrine, or even in God—but that I could come back.

One of my favourite practices on Easter Sunday is the greening of the cross. Volunteer congregants hand out fresh-cut flowers to all who want one when they enter the church.  During the opening songs everyone processes up and places their flower somewhere on the cross’ greenery-wrapped silhouette, its stark wood beams transformed from an instrument of execution to symbol of abundant flourishing. As I watch the cross overflow with bright blooms, I wonder about the marvel of resurrection, about how different the world would look if we worked to plant its pervasive power in the dirt of new empires that, one day, too will fall. At some future Easter Sunday, will our descendants place flowers in vine-wrapped shotguns and tasers, electric chairs, sections of crumbling concrete and barbed wire, dismantled tanks swathed in green leaves and wildflowers? 

To me, the power in the resurrection story isn’t that Christ overcame death of the body. After all, physical resurrection and transformation happen all around us, in wild forests and community gardens, in our own cells, and death is a natural process part of the universe, the naturally creative and regenerative world we inhabit. The power in the resurrection story is that Christ overcame systemic death—the death of disconnection, violence, and erasure wielded as weapon by the state, the oppressor, the occupier. That he returned to cook breakfast for his friends and blessed them with the liberating and life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit. That he comes back.


ii


Resurrect me like the mushrooms,
drawing from death to give birth
from decay, dynamic renewal
from rooted collaboration, strength
O deep dark dirt steeped in miracles,
Do your resurrection work.


A few weeks before Easter, I found out I lost my housing. In the cool pastel evenings leading up to moving day, I stood out in the backyard garden, where I’d borne witness to so many signs of life: where tiny sunflower sprouts, planted by my friend Val in an egg carton and nurtured in her bathroom, grew to tower above our heads where we had picked plums from the tree and made velvety sweet plum wine; where I would come, covered in tired sweat after biking back from work, pick raspberries and water the vegetables with juice-stained palms. Last summer, my partner and I thrifted a wooden sign hand painted with the prayer of St. Francis and attached it to a garden stake. After the winter rain, all that was left from the “God, make me an instrument of thy peace” was the “God” and peeling flakes of gold.

When we said goodbye to the place, we lit a beeswax candle, burned cedar incense and said a prayer in every room. We spoke gratitude for the house and the garden, for the scuffed dining room table and the meals that had been served and spilled on it, for the shelter next door and our cussing, kind-hearted neighbours, for the bees buzzing thirstily over the water lines, for the crawling tomatoes that burst bright in your mouth like sex and grace. We released the home with tears and mourning, knowing and trusting that the berries would still grow, the bees would still visit, the table would still be shared. It’s a type of resurrection too, to die to the idea of ownership and know life on the land continues, to be reminded that this territory was never ours.

I’m learning from adrienne marie brown’s book Emergent Strategy about all the ways the natural world teaches us about resurrection and transformation. Like mycelium, the intricate root system that creates mushrooms, which is the largest living organism in the world (and old too—some mycelium mats cover hundreds of miles and are over two thousand years old). Mushrooms feed on decomposing matter to create rich and fertile soil, and can filter out toxins and chemicals. Here too, death becomes life.


iii


Resurrect me, cells from supernovas
atoms and organs composed from the dust of stars,
from everlasting to everlasting, every minute made new 
O Deep Magic,
O Divine Mystery,
resurrect me.


Octavia Butler, she whose brilliance time-travelled ahead of her own era, said God is Change. She also said our destiny is to take root among the stars. Did she know back then that we are rooted in the stars at a molecular level, made up of remnants of explosions at the universe’s birth?[i] Every seven years or sooner, the oldest of our cells is regenerated. We live in a constant state of change and re-creation.

Some physicists say that time is an emergent phenomenon, one that comes from quantum entanglement (defined as when two quantum particles share the same existence despite being separated by distance).[ii] String theory says that nothing is fixed, that all is movement and vibration and music. When Christ said he is making all things new, I wonder if he meant this too. To trust our bodies and the ancient processes that unfurled us into being from dying stars, galaxies away. To think, move, and act outside of linear time. To work to bring resurrection from death-dealing systems like capitalism and the prison industrial complex, and also to have faith that, in the fullness of time, all will be restored. The ancient Greeks, and some Christians, call this Kairos time—God-time, now-and-not-yet time.

Three weeks after Easter, I’m helping to host an event in the church, one that explores decolonial interpretations of the Bible. We’re raising funds for the Unist’ot’en Legal Fund, supporting Indigenous land defenders arrested for protecting their traditional territories from extractive industry (in this case, a pipeline). When we’re setting up chairs, we hear the tinkling of piano keys, a soft voice, the echo of what could be jazz. My friend runs upstairs to see if someone’s playing the piano but no one is in the church but us. Cheryl Bear, a Nadleh Whut'en musician and one of the contributors, laughs knowingly. It’s the ancestors, she says. Here too, time travelling music. Here too, resurrection.

I like to think about Easter Sunday joy like queer dance parties: prophetic liberation, unfettered celebration, anticipating and invoking the re-creation of the world. To guide our way, a nonlinear communion of saints, a constellation of ancestors, teaching us resistance and resilience. A cross adorned with flowers as a sign that one day, all empires fall, everything comes back. Behold, we are making all things new.

 

 

________

[i]  We Are Stardust—Literally: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/01/150128-big-bang-universe-supernova-astrophysics-health-space-ngbooktalk/

[ii]  Quantum Experiment Shows How Time ‘Emerges’ from Entanglement: https://medium.com/the-physics-arxiv-blog/quantum-experiment-shows-how-time-emerges-from-entanglement-d5d3dc850933

 

 

________

Hey, you're gonna like The Story of Ordinary Time.

 

 

 

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash




Céline Chuang
Céline Chuang

Author

Céline Chuang lives and works on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh territory (Vancouver, Canada). A diasporic settler and daughter of Chinese-Canadian immigrants, her familial migration story crosses water four times in three generations. Her writing has appeared in Ricepaper, Geez Magazine, and the Salt Collective, and most recently in Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization (Mennonite Church Canada). Handles: Twitter: @celinechuang Instagram: @celinebythesea



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