Here’s to Life!

Whether you’re a “Christmas/Easter Christian” or a churchgoing regular; whether you’re striving to live to 100 or just another day, I say, Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti!
Just a little over two weeks ago it was Easter Sunday. This blog starts off there, and then – as usual – travels beyond the particular to reach for some deeper meaning beyond a single event. But since we are still in the Easter season, I figure starting off on that particular morning is legit, no matter how you look at it.

When I got up that Easter morning – before heading out of the house to celebrate at both St. Martin’s services – I suddenly remembered the Greek Easter greeting that my husband would always start that day with … or at least I remembered a bit of it, but not the whole greeting and response. So I quickly headed for my Google machine and typed in “Greek Easter greeting,” and up popped “Christos Anesti!” (Christ has risen!), followed by “Alithos Anesti!” (Truly, He is risen!). So armed with the Greek call and response, off I went to church – surprising everyone who received my greeting with puzzled expressions, having fun and great joy in the process. It was just a joyful morning all the way around.

Now I have to let you in on a little secret. As a member of the clergy, I recognize that there are what are referred to fondly as “Christmas/Easter Christians.” You know, folks who show up twice a year at these two holidays, coming with family, coming for nostalgic or cultural reasons. But they come. And if you don’t get there early – including the faithful flock who always show up on ordinary Sunday mornings – you simply won’t get a seat anywhere in the church. Period.

I have always maintained, however, that those who show up – especially at Easter – whatever their motives are, still come on that morning with some deep-buried hope to hear some word of life, some word that might give their own lives and struggles some meaning, some sense to hang their hope on, some encouraging word that their life means more than just “getting somewhere.” So it is the preacher’s great and solemn opportunity to preach some word of hope that can fill up some empty place that resides deep inside all of us – some longing for meaning which, as tough as life is, in the end is worth the struggle.

Which brings to mind a New York Times op-ed piece that I read during my last “hiking” vacation at Wintergreen (where I was trapped in a snowstorm on top of Afton Mountain and didn’t get to take a single hike). The entire five days I was there, I was confined most of the time to my condo, reading before a lovely fire in the fireplace (see lead photo) and occasionally sipping a nice glass of Chianti while meditating on the meaning of life.

Anyway, the title of this particular piece was “No Magic Pill Will Get You to 100″ by Pagan Kennedy (Sunday, March 11, 2018). (The second photo below is a scary drawing from that piece.) It was a long piece as the writer detailed our human search for greater and greater longevity – starting off describing all the magic pills or magic bullets (pick your favorite metaphor) for increasing life span. Numerous scientists have tinkered with this and that – pills, extreme diets, and so on – and to this day have their own groupies hoping for the best. Turns out that none of these scientists – beginning in the 1930s with one by the name of Clive McCay – lived all that long, despite all the rigors they subjected themselves to. (McCay himself, modeling his diet on the extreme small nibbles that seemed to make his laboratory rats live extraordinarily long lives, died at 69 from two strokes … trim and fit, but still dead as a doornail. And then there was the famous case of Jerome Rodale, founder and publisher of a publishing house in his name. He was the “guru of the organic food cult,” and was invited on the Dick Cavett Show for an interview. Rodale, then 72, “took his chair next to Mr. Cavett, proclaimed that he would live to be 100, and then made a snoring sound” and dropped over dead. The episode never aired.

Kennedy’s op-ed conclusion is also echoed by my friend Charlie Bryan’s recent commentary titled “Why Modern Americans Live Long and Prosper” (Richmond Times Dispatch, Sunday, April 1, 2018 – third photo below) that most if not all of humanity’s increased longevity over the centuries is primarily due to better public health measures (clean water enforcement, pollution control and the like, taken by especially western governments), increased knowledge in the medical sciences and better medical treatment (if you can afford it!) – and yes, healthier lifestyles like decreased smoking and regular exercise.

Well what am I getting at here in this post-Easter blog? Getting back to Easter morning and the Christmas/Easter Christians who show up – and even considering the likes of Clive McCay and Jerome Rodale, who desperately strive to live past 100 – I think there is something in us all that longs for life, that longs for some transcendent meaning to it all, that longs for some hope that beyond all this struggle and evil and pain we suffer, there is something beyond all this that gives our individual lives some ultimate meaning beyond this “veil of tears.”

Around the time of Easter, another op-ed piece appeared in the Times. (Sorry, those who follow my blogs know that I not only try to read the Times – at least the op-ed essays commenting on current events – I also tend to draw from my favorite writers in these blogs. They inform my think pieces about events in my own life that I think might have some lessons to glean and share.) Anyway, Margaret Renkl wrote a column titled “This Easter, I’ll be Back in Church.”

Renkl starts out stating that, as a Roman Catholic, for years she faithfully attended weekly Mass. But then, partly as a reaction to current politics, she dropped out of the church scene. She had come to recognize that the church as an institution is very flawed (which is true) – but then most of us know that. So anyway, she dropped out and decided to spend her Sunday mornings walking in the woods instead.

But as the title of her piece suggests, this Easter she went back. (The fourth photo below is from Charlie and his wife’s card to me given at our Easter brunch later that day.) Let me end this by quoting Renkl and then adding one observation:

I don’t miss the gleaming chalice or the glowing candles or the sweeping vestments. But I do miss being part of a congregation. I miss standing side-by-side with other people, our eyes gazing in the same direction, our voices murmuring the same prayers in a fallen world … I miss the singing … I will remember the ones I loved who sat beside me in the pew and whose participation in the eternal has found another form, whatever it turns out to be. I will lift my voice in song and give thanks for my life. I will pray for my church and my country, especially the people my church and my country are failing. And then I will walk into the world and do my best to practice resurrection.
I believe there is something in us that longs for the eternal – where our need for each other fills our emptiness and where God fills the emptiness left over. At least that’s my take on our human condition.

Christos Anesti! Alithos Anesti! To life – yours and mine as we travel together in hope across the days we are given.