It is a well-known line from Wendell Berry’s Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front: “Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practice resurrection.”
I have been thinking about this enigmatic statement as I consider the challenge of proclaiming the resurrection in our time. The faithful know the insider language such as, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” Earlier generations were steeped in the compressed words of the Apostles’ Creed, summarizing God’s trinitarian embrace of the redemptive project.
The second article of the creed sketches what the church confesses about the life of Jesus the Christ:
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried,
he descended into hell.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
This is insider language, truly. What language shall we borrow to convey the irreducible claim of resurrection? Like the Apostle Paul we know that “if Christ has not been raised, then all of our preaching has been meaningless — and everything you’ve believed has been just as meaningless” (1 Cor. 15:14).
My colleague, Provost Robert Johnson, has likened our present challenge to that of the second- and third-century apologists in that we will need “to articulate the Christian faith and message in a new worldview and a new vocabulary.” More tracks will be necessary for this pursuit.
Using the language of contemporary spiritual quests may be a way forward. Humans, as ineluctably spiritual beings, long for transcendence. Not only do we long to continue personal identity beyond death, but also we long to engage the numinous, the holy, the surpassing reality that transcends human limitation. Humans invariably are constructed for worship; however, locating that which corresponds to this inchoate desire remains elusive. Does the yearning to worship correlate with divine disclosure?
A first step to engaging the “spiritual but not religious” is to recognize the richness of the desire that fires humans. Richard Rolheiser suggests that our spirituality is shaped by how we manage that fire. Spirituality is “something vital and nonnegotiable lying at the heart of our lives,” he perceives. Christians hold no purchase on the claim to be spiritual; such is God’s gift to all humans. St. John of the Cross describes this very human journey as “one dark night, fired by love’s urgent longings.”
Honest skepticism should not shut down conversation with the “nones.” Of course, it will require that we know some and make ourselves vulnerable to their real questions. I recently had a conversation with a practicing Christian who just couldn’t get into the Easter hype. If this is the real perspective of a person who identifies with traditional Christianity, how much harder it must be for those not schooled in the confession of the church to conceive of a dead man coming back to life. The divide between spirituality and ecclesiology is burgeoning, and we must find new intersections to trace.
Resurrection also speaks to the human need for extended community, the realization of enduring relationships of value. It is not good for the human to be alone, and the severing of nearness by death makes us nearly inconsolable. Those who do not make their home in a gathered community of faith are nevertheless in search of meaningful community. One of the reasons the sitcom Friends continues to capture our imaginations is because it portrays ongoing friendship and improvisational family in a fracturing world. A constructive theology of resurrection will address the new community formed in its light.
Resurrection also speaks to renewal, far beyond what our self-help crazed populace can muster. The restlessness of heart, both burden and gift, orients us beyond ourselves to the true source of our desire. The unspooling awareness that ultimately we cannot fix our contradicted selves opens us to divine agency.
Other tracks may engage the real problem of distraction in our day, which makes tending interiority and depth of negligent value. Most of us have a critical problem with being fully present to anyone or any task; with Pavlovian response at the first ding from our devices, we allow the seeming urgency of others to set our rhythms.
Finally, embodying joy and what Rolheiser calls “mellowness of heart and spirit” make the best case for resurrected living. Dour Christians hardly invite belief that they have been drawn into the paschal rhythms of the life of Christ. As we embark on the Great Fifty Days of Eastertide, I trust we will practice resurrection by making some new tracks even if, at times, in the wrong direction.