October 19, 2011

Last Saturday ago morning I rode two hours in a car to reach a little bit of fall, and it was worth it. Tracy, Erin and I went to pick apples. Along the way, we picnicked in the shade, trampled over acorns, and wandered through sweet shops.

But almost the whole time we were there, I couldn’t get a stranger off my mind—a little boy who drowned in a river recently.

I had been thinking about him since I read the news, and my own reaction had surprised me. For some reason, the thought of someone drowning in a river just seemed absurd to me in that moment. And when I think about it enough, it still does.

How could a river, made of water that we can bend down and run our fingers through, take away a little boy’s breath, words, and smile? How could the rocks bruising his arms and the water rushing into his lungs—these material, tangible things—somehow leave him lifeless?

Of course, this is an old question. The relationship between body and soul is a mystery that we have wondered at for thousands of years. I have read about it, discussed it, written about it…but it became something more urgent when I learned about this little boy.

I am beginning to better understand a passage I read last semester in Crime and Punishment. Sonya, who has seen too much suffering for a girl her age, hesitates to speak of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead:

“‘Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany…’ she uttered at last, with effort, but suddenly, at the third word, her voice rose and broke like an overtightened string. Her breath failed, and her chest contracted.”

Sometimes resurrection seems too far removed from our daily experience, and too painful to speak out loud.

When, like Sonya, I can’t seem to get the words out, the Church Creeds help me. Saying the Creeds is a sort of submission, a participation in something beyond me. I recite these words that I do not quite understand:

“I look for the Resurrection of the dead: And the Life of the world to come.”

To deny the reality of death—to refuse to mourn a loss—is dangerous and usually impossible. Father Scarlett reminded us that funerals should be sad occasions. But, though we mourn, “we do not mourn as those who have no hope.” And our hope is not in flying away from this world to sit on a cloud all day, because death is not about escape, it is about renewal. In the end, all creation will be made new.

But until then, we wait. And as Harriet Beecher Stowe reflects in her book The Minister’s Wooing, waiting in the midst of sorrow can be strange. There seems to be a disconnect between the tasks we must keep doing and the truth of what has happened:

“How strange this external habit of living! One thinks how to stick in a pin, and how to tie a string,—one busies one’s self with folding robes, and putting away napkins, the day after some stroke that has cut the inner life in two, with the heart’s blood dropping quietly at every step.”

The Resurrection of the dead means a lot of things, but this week it was a reminder that bodies do matter. When the mother of the little boy who drowned asked to see her son’s lifeless body, her request was not foolish. And now, when what she wants more than anything is to hold him, she is simply being human.


“Then Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” John 20:27