It is a Serious Thing


It is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world

^ I’ve had that line from a Mary Oliver poem memorized for about a year and it came to mind when I saw this photo this morning.  It’s from a poem called Invitation and it seems fitting for Good Friday.

I’ve been thinking this week about how I’d like to discuss Easter with our boys.  We were out of town last weekend so the conversation didn’t start, as I expected it would, with Palm Sunday.  It hasn’t started at all and here we are at Good Friday.  So we’ll be getting the ball rolling a little later than expected but it’s given me time to consider how I’d like to frame the conversation for my 7- and 9-year-old boys.

When we only have one metaphor for something, it can be constricting.  Limiting.  The Church so often relies on the metaphor of atonement when talking about Easter.  And it can be a helpful and generative metaphor.  But, and this was surprising to me after having been raised in the Church, it’s not the only metaphor.  It’s not the only way to understand the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.   Our sacred texts (the Bible) offer us not one but a whole chorus of metaphors to help us understand a God who surpasses all understanding.

Having multiple metaphors allows our experience of God to be always opening, always expanding.  When we only have one, it limits what we can know about God’s loving kindness.  It closes instead of opens.  So I’d like to give my boys as many metaphors as possible.

Instead of telling them only about atonement and blood sacrifices, which is not a system that our culture understands or embraces, I’d like to tell them something else.  I think I’ll tell them that Easter is when Jesus says no.

Jesus says no.  No, I’m not going to play that game.  I’m not going to respond with hatred and violence when I’m facing violent and hate-filled people.  I’m not going to fight back.  I’m not going to respond with pettiness or fear or anger.  I’m not going to continue the cycle of destruction and despair and death.  I’m going to show you a different way.  Pay attention.

I’m going to flip the script.  I’m going to do something so unexpected, so wild, so crazy, so full of love and openness and beauty, that the very grass will sing under your feet and the birds will burst into song.  The good news of Easter is that we can participate and join with Jesus in ending the cycle and surprising the world with joy, beauty, incandescence.

The resurrection is all around us.  In the song of the goldfinches, the splendor of Mount Rainier, the stillness of Puget Sound, the trees bursting into bloom.  And we get to participate in the resurrection just by witnessing it.  That’s what Mary Oliver’s aptly-titled poem invites us to do.  It invites us to witness the resurrection.  To pay attention.  And then, to change our lives.  To change our lives so that they mirror the love and the openness and the beauty that we see.


Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

-Mary Oliver