By Lydia Wylie-Kellermann
“Tell me about Easter, Mommy.” Oh, Shit. Has that time come already? How to explain resurrection to a three year old? How do I tell my kid that Jesus died and came back to life? How do I explain our most sacred story?
We’ve spent the last year and a half learning about death, holding it sacred, singing songs, holding fish funerals, burying my Grandma Bea, and visiting my mom’s grave. We’ve tried to hold the tension of telling him the truth and also being gentle with his heart paying close attention to any moments of confusion or fear. We made a decision to be honest with him about the very earthly reality of death, something that even adults in our culture try to ignore. Death is a beautiful, ordinary, and hard part of life.
So, what then is my hesitation in telling him that Jesus died? Is it my own fear that he is already holding too much? Or wanting to keep him from feeling more grief? Or dreading the day he asks about me and Erinn dying? Is it fear? Weariness?
I slowly realized I have no problem telling him that Jesus died or about the women who travel to his tomb bringing their spices to honor his body. What I don’t want to tell him is that Jesus was brutally murdered. I realized that while we have normalized death and dying, we have not normalized violence. And that feels like an important distinction. He does not know the concept of killing. He has not heard the word “gun” or know what it is used for. He knows that people can hurt people on purpose, but that it is never ok and never funny. I don’t know when we will explain killing to him, but when we do, it will be serious. In a culture that teaches boys that violence is play and a quick response to anger, we try for something different. We want him to learn in his body and heart through repeated ritual that death is real and filled with grief. My hope is that once that is felt deeply in him, that “playing” killing games whether with water guns or video games doesn’t make much sense. That it isn’t easy to imagine killing a friend that stands in front of you. So, I am ready to tell him about Jesus dying, but, I am not ready to tell him that Jesus was executed by the state. In the meantime, we will teach him about the cross by going to demonstrations against water shut offs and working at the Catholic Worker House exposing him to the ways that crucifixion and the power of death surrounds us.
Besides all that, how to explain resurrection! Will he start to think people can come back to life? Will he find it confusing? Scary? Hopeful? Misleading? Plus, do I truly believe that Jesus’ body was resurrected? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, I sure believe in resurrection! I’ve seen it.
All winter, Isaac and I have been talking about the dead basil plant that still sits on our kitchen table. He tells me again and again how it has died but that we need to plant it outside and that the seeds will go in the ground and it will come back to life. That is resurrection.
Resurrection is in the laughter in our movements, in the exposure of the powers and principalities, in the sprouts breaking through the dead leaves, in the crocus blooming against the snow, in the urban garden in the shadow of the abandoned factory ruins, in the multitudes of honey bees on our apricot blossoms, in new and local economies, and in the bold and gentle joy of my kids.
These are the places I want to travel to with Isaac. I want him to see, touch, and taste the messy beauty of it. To put his fingers into the wounds. To feel the awe and surprise.
This year, Isaac’s eyes were wide open through the Easter Vigil. He watched the fire burn in the back of the church, carried his candle carefully to the pew, sat in the darkness. His eyes lit up when the lights came back on, the music burst into the sanctuary, and the altar was decorated with flowers. At the end of the service, he told me that his favorite part of the service was when the lights came on and “the sun came back up.” Later, I was humming Jesus Christ is Risen Today and he asked me what the song was about. I looked into his sweet eyes and said “It’s about the lights coming back on.” Resurrection as the light that comes back after the long darkness. I pray that he, and we as a family, can practice paying attention to see the places in our lives and in this world where the lights have come back on.