Since hearing Bishop Jenkins speak last weekend I have been looking for some written reflection of his to which I can refer for refreshment. While I have not found writings related to what he spoke to us at our convention I did discover his blog. The blog is mostly newsy, although woven through it one gets a sense of the man's passions, convictions and insight. I could stand to hear and read from him regularly!
What struck me most significantly in his remarks the other day was as he related his personal struggle through, and after, hurricane Katrina. He has been diagnosed with PTSD, and though living with that disorder has its costs, he has been particularly concerned about his spiritual experience.
Bishop Jenkins defined resurrection in a way that I've never heard before. He described it as being in pain and darkness and still having the capacity to praise God. It struck a chord with me because in the years since my "conversion" (more than 20 years ago), my own life has been infused with episodes of pain, darkness and struggle pretty regularly. In the midst of such an existence it is difficult to have much spiritual energy for anything beyond keeping the embers of faith alive. The phrase "the dark night of the soul" is used to describe such episodes (and the "night" is not in human time). It is akin to depression, but strikes a different part of us. Daily functioning continues apace, though impaired, as if a patch were covering one eye. For a person of faith the core of one's being is at risk, and the soul is in anguish.
Theologically resurrection implies that death, or darkness, is left behind, and that transformation and renewal replace the pain of what was. This notion of resurrection dominates our perception and our belief. In search of an image to include with this post I googled "resurrection," and nearly all the images depicted a risen Christ or the evidence of his rising, the empty tomb (the remaining images were either sunrises, or what I would call artistic license with appropriations of the word).
Time to regroup. I was looking for an image that reflected a personal experience of resurrection that somehow depicted the transition from death to new life. I thought of the butterfly and what is called chrysalis--the process of transformation from catepillar to cocoon to emerged being (mostly the latter). Most of those images focused on the cocoon, which didn't reveal the process that was taking place inside it. Images of butterflies emerging from the cocoon didn't capture the pain of transformation, though they did reveal an outer glory.
The problem with resurrection is that while the theology of it is powerful and inspiring, the reality of the experience of it doesn't match its definition. I'm not sure there really is a singular word for what Bishop Jenkins describes as resurrection. While his definition doesn't match the biblical record it is no less real or accurate. It is, perhaps, a still vulnerable step toward the fullness of what the Church claims resurrection to be. And while we experience resurrections of all kinds throughout our lives--new beginnings that follow endings of various kinds--the soul is too complex to reduce to the generalized terminology we use to describe theological beliefs.
"The Church" promotes the idea of resurrection as being done with what was and moving on to embrace what is. It implies closure. You don't ever hear Jesus talking about how his side hurts where he was pierced, or that raising his arms in an outstretched manner brings back painful memories of the crucifixion.
I haven't walked the kind of path Bishop Jenkins has. My own journey suggests that his resurrection experience is still unfolding and that its implications will continue to be profound, not only for him, but the rest of us who are lucky enough to learn from it. I am grateful that as I look back at the road I have travelled there are only pockets of darkness, and that the remainder bears evidence of illumination that made it possible for me to move forward. That is the faith of which Bishop Jenkins speaks. That is the resurrection of being in darkness and not losing the light. That is the hope that keeps the embers hot even when they do not glow. That is the presence of God.