An Easter Guest Post by the Rev. Josephine Robertson
Why Are We Here?
I sat on a folding chair, with a plate full of bacon, homemade breakfast casserole, and gooey donuts in front of me. There was a pot of church lady coffee (I was the church lady who brewed this pot so it was strong) on the table, and a half full cup at my place.
I looked around the room. The table was ringed by the anxious faces of this little community. We were there to try to discern their future in a world that is changing too fast for its members to keep pace. “Well,” I asked gently, “why are you here?”
I munched on bacon while they mumbled and stared at one another. They threw around some buzz words like “ministry” and “baptism.” Finally after a long, sad silence the woman across the table from me (in a beautiful Lenten purple beret) said firmly. “I think because we have so much fun together.”
She threw the words into the room like a challenge, daring me to tell her that wasn’t a good enough reason to be a church.
Reader: I did not. I smiled with relief.
That Lenten Feeling
They say misery loves company. So maybe that’s why Christians talk about doing Lent so much, and Easter hardly at all. Lenten challenges might have changed over the years but there is still a heavy dose of sacrifice implied in the season. And a dour kind of satisfaction in our shared suffering (however minor).
But I have never, not once, seen a Christian talk about the joyful practice they were keeping during the great fifty days of Easter. While churches will go on and on about the sacrifices they make to help others (a worthy cause certainly) they rarely so much as whisper about how much fun their potlucks are. They never tell the story of their monthly game night where the youth group helped 80 year old widows roll up D&D characters. (It turns out you don’t want to be an evil liche lord when Betty is at the table.)
It’s a little bit ironic (hat tip to Alanis Morissette) that my faith tradition, founded by a man whose first miracle was copious amounts of really good booze, and who was always eating in some scandalous person’s house (the party is implied), doesn’t have more fun.
Human beings are communal animals, we need community. And our lives are full of various sorts of community. There is our default community, that’s the one we’re born into and don’t have much say over. I was born a MidWestern Episcopalian from a big, loud, redneck Scottish family. I didn’t have any choices about it (not that I’d trade them for anything).
All our other communities from there on out are chosen.
The Christianity in which I grew up was a community of obligation. Everyone was expected to be a member of a church, and your odds of getting a job or running a business without those social ties were pretty slim. But obligation isn’t a great way to hold people together, as the church has discovered.
I have encountered groups that were communities of shame; people forced together by their feelings of brokeness and not much else. Those were dark places, where boundaries were routinely abused and no one wanted to be for any reason. (But shame compelled us back, otherwise how could we ever be loved, worthless worms that we were?)
Have you ever been a part of a community built on joy?
They went home rejoicing
If you’ve been part of a church you have, though those roots of joy are old and maybe hard to see. But I imagine the Mary friends, Salome, Martha and the rest in those first moments after the empty tomb, the angel, after Jesus’ “Mary!”
Their faces are glowing, their eyes are alive, they talk with their hands, they sing and laugh and dance a little. The men are all huddled behind closed doors, these women are having none of it. They sit in the garden singing in the sunshine, trading stories back and forth, taking turns nodding and winking at one another.
And every time a sad woman with downcast shoulders comes into that yard, a woman who hasn’t heard yet, they are up and shouting. They grab her hands and draw her into a wild circling dance while she tries to grasp but they are saying. And then she lets out a whoop of joy and throws off her cloak, and kicks off her sandals so she can dance too.
A community of joy isn’t immune to sorrow. Those brave women did not have an easy road ahead of them. And yet, here I am, thousands of years later, because of their joy.
I wonder as I picture their glowing faces what practices of joy carried them through the questions and doubts of their brothers? What joy practices kept the fires in their hearts glowing through long frustrating days, through danger, and disappointment, and incredible change?
What if we cultivated spiritual practices in Easter with just as much dedication and excitement as Lent? What if we built community around our practices of joy, instead of obligation, shame, or guilt?
The spiritual practices of my youth were very much shame or guilt driven. They emphasized fasting, confession, and studying scripture. And these are all still good practices, but I began to wonder what would happen if we went a little further?
Practices of Joy
I was taught spiritual practices as something separate from my everyday life. They were unique, different, and often a little strange. And all in all, they were generally pretty serious. The Divine I have met throughout my life is big, wild, strange; but also totally wrapped up in my everyday ordinary life.
When I was six I picked up my Dad’s manual film camera (black and white film even). The images I found in the world around me have been my best prayer ever since. And for the last twenty years some of my best meditation has happened on horseback, instead of in church.
And the thing that both of those practices have in common for me is the joy they create and the community they foster.
It takes a little practice, but the gift of such joy filled practices is real. I once led a retreat where I assigned an activity to the women participants. They were to take their cameras (or phones) out into the woods around our retreat house and find something to show the others.
At first there were furrowed brows and shrugs, and they started out almost shuffling onto the trails. But within minutes someone had snapped a picture of a toad, and then someone else had found a weird fungus on a log and suddenly they were running around like children calling “look! Look!” and grinning from ear to ear. Afterward one woman waved her arms to encompass the whole world and said “it’s all so beautiful and exciting!”
What Makes A Spiritual Practice
A spiritual practice is anything that reveals God to us. Simple as that, and as complicated as that. And that means that just about anything can be a spiritual practice if we are paying attention. God is everywhere in our world, just waiting for us to notice.
We don’t have to add new items to our todo list, we can find God embedded in our everyday lives and everyday moments. Which begs the question: where in your joy have you found God, and how can you cultivate and nurture that joy daily?
And maybe the even more important question: how can our communities reflect and foster such practices of joy?
The Rev. Josephine Robertson grew up Episcopalian and spent time at monasteries way before it was cool. She was ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church in 2011 and serves All Saints Episcopal Church in Bellevue, Washington as Vicar. She founded Crazy Whole Life (https://www.crazywholelife.com) (a resource for spirituality and more for modern humans) in 2017. She is a yogi, artist, poet, horse/dog/cat mom, lover of anything that glitters. She is married to the best Tex-Mex cook in Seattle.