To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go. – Mary Oliver
On a drive through North Carolina this past Easter weekend, I spent most of the hours in the car reveling at newly formed buds on the trees lining the highway. All around us in the southeast, spring is fully alive in the veins of the rising streams, the heart of the opening daffodil, and the skin of the grass coming forth once more. While the sight is familiar, it is a totally new world from last spring, as life manifests in plant bodies never before born. And though it was chilly and kept us inside coffee shops, I enjoyed the rain on Easter weekend as a reminder of nature’s processes, showing that plant buds come up in new forms thanks to the storms.
Each year, no matter how strange climate change makes our weather patterns, spring makes its appearance in our garden beds and forests, minds and sky forecasts alike. The transition from winter to spring sometimes brings a mix of anticipation, excitement, and anxiety. Will it rain or hail today, or will eighty degree sunshine burst forth? I remember bringing three layers to school each day for lacrosse practice, not knowing what to expect for the next eight hours. There is a liberation in not being able to predict the weather. There is also the corollary acceptance of the fact that, as human beings, we are created with a natural anxiety.
Anxiety was born in the very same moment as mankind. And since we will never be able to master it, we will have to learn to live with it – just as we have learned to live with storms. – Paulo Coelho
How do we live with anxiety? Sometimes, I live with an umbrella of thoughts over my head – thoughts of planning ahead and being prepared just in case it rains. This defense mechanism keeps me dry, but it also prevents sun of joy and spontaneity from soaking in. Other times, I avoid going outside entirely, and keep my vulnerable parts high and dry inside. No matter how hard I try to stave it off, however, the flood comes. Here’s what they’ve taught me:
1) Thinking about being rained on is never as bad as actually being immersed in a storm. As the Norwegian bit of wisdom says, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” If rain is like crying, then being caught in depressive thinking is not the same thing as grieving. Grief and healing tears are therapeutic, an opportunity to release emotion and let the process happen.
2) Storms are teachers that shake our foundations of truth. Whenever I see a storm on the horizon, it is natural to want to run inside to a warm, safe environment. I go back to the vices that kept me from feeling pain before. But if I repeat this pattern, I never am forced to question the basis of my reality. Storms tell me that I do not need comfort, security, or certainty from the material world to survive. I just need patience and faith to depend on God with all my being, and to build resilience through faith and trial.
3) Storms are impossible to avoid. Even if we live in the most pleasant of weathered places, plants need water to survive. We, too, need storms to be alive – storms are movement, energy, life-giving and destructive all at once. The fear of storms does not keep them away. Rather, fear makes us paralyzed to move and adapt in the ways that we need to keep growing and living fully.
4) No one is in the exact same bow of the boat when the flood comes, but we navigate as crew members upon the same ship. Each of us perceives the storm differently, and we can only weather it together by communicating, and finding grace in depending upon others’ guidance. Through storms, we learn to sail by applying principles of wisdom that have guided our hearts and fellow humans since the beginning.
5) Divine timing does not mean that God sends us storms, but it does mean that God will guide us to a totally different life through them. I cannot tell you why, or how, or when trial comes. I cannot predict when I will breakdown or what it will mean if I take steps back in recovery. But I do know that recovery, healing, and moving forward is not about regressing to a past image of perfection. It is never a step backward in time, or returning to how life was before the trial period. It is about discovering how we can be more fully alive and vulnerable at the same time by relying upon God through it all. It is always a risk to move forward to a new stage, but we can trust that we are completing another circle around life’s labyrinth with Divine guidance.
Speaking of Divine timing, I remember that in my mind, the spring season and the message of Easter are one-in-the-same lessons. The storm of Good Friday brings a flood of tears, sweat, blood poured across the earth where Jesus stood. On that day, we remember Mary gazing upon her beloved son, the one who had healed her brother, cared for the poor, and fulfilled the scriptures calling for a Messiah, as he was flogged and humiliated before the crowd. She waited and bore the pain, more tortuous and difficult than any labor pain, without understanding the miracle to come. She had to let go of the mortal body that she loved with all of her soul.
On Easter morning, we witness the Truth that pervades all of our existence: sacrificial death and self-giving precedes a new life, a new way of being in the world, a life that is eternal and guided by loving wisdom. Jesus’s death is a moment of total surrender to Divine timing so that all violence could be overcome by grace. The grace of Easter morning is not a shallow, well-thank-God-that’s-over moment of relief. Easter is a deep and sacred mystery of proclaiming that no storm, trial, suffering, or death could ever separate us from God’s love. We do not need our protective egos or battle swords to find peace and eternal life. We just need the patience and laboring faith that Jesus bore through death’s storm. On every morning preceding and following Easter morning, we find hidden reserves of strength to make the resurrection our First Cause, our end, our center, and our joy that we never knew before.
What does it mean to see life through the lens of Easter morning? We look for signs of resurrection glimpses everywhere. Out of the death of a loved one, we trust that there will form a stronger solidarity between the family members who share and grieve together. Out of bitter words and mistakes, we seek opportunities to learn and become humbled in reconciliation. Out of mental illness and the long battle of recovery we seek a deeper compassion, a stronger taste for truth, and an appreciation of life’s fragility. Most importantly, seeing through the eyes of Easter morning gives us the courage to move from mourning to hope, from despair to gratitude, and from holding on to letting go.
Through the storms of every season, I am reminded that Jesus accompanies us and holds us day by day. I hope that, no matter where you are in your journey, you find courage in knowing that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord“ (Romans 8:37-39).
And whatever the storms are teaching you now, I hope you will come to face this trial many more times and learn more with each passing. With each storm, you are invited to let go and sink more deeply into being the beloved child of the Divine that you are. May you keep walking through the season’s circles, and find the strength to love through every storm along the way.
As one of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke writes:
I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.
I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I’ve been circling for thousands of years
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?
Book of Hours, I 2