A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Dying to Live

by Joy Cowley

A Reflection on Easter

Joy Cowley

by Joy Cowley

He was above all, a teacher. Sometimes, we forget that. But if we narrow His story to fit our notions of atonement theology, we make Him too small, and make God too small. This Jesus, this sacred fire in human form, was the greatest teacher this world has known. He taught from His knowledge of God, His knowledge of humanity and something else – His awareness of Himself as the bridge between the two. He was love made flesh.

(This Easter I pray for the grace to remember that I too, am love made flesh.)

What Jesus taught were the truths of life school, so simple that people who lived with superficial complexity, did not understand. He may have used the metaphors of the field and market-place, but they stood for something much deeper. He was saying, This is how life school works. Give and it shall be given to you, a full measure shaken down and overflowing. The last shall be first. The stone rejected by the builders will be the cornerstone. Except a grain of wheat die it will remain a single grain. Loss comes before gain. Crucifixion comes before resurrection. This, my friends, is the way of growth.

And because truth has no application unless it is lived, the great fire of God, burning with love, went through every loss that might we, the little sparks, might suffer, including the darkness of torture and death, to walk out in light on the other side. He literally was the Way, the Truth and the Life.

(This Easter I pray for awareness of the teachings of Jesus when I have times of loss.)

In some respects, it’s a pity we’ve lost the name given to Jesus’ life and teaching. Before followers came up with the word “Christianity” it was called “The Way” and that for me, is a direct connection with the Gospels. It suggests journey with Jesus, a pilgrimage of growth in which we are constantly leaving something behind, constantly meeting spiritual renewal. Every step of The Way, we have Him with us, reminding us that what is resurrected is always greater than what has died.


(This Easter I name all the small crucifixions and resurrections that have brought me to a larger place, and I give deep thanks. )


Angel of Grief

Angel of Grief - Cypress Lawn Cemetery, Colma, California


If you, like me, are of an age where you don’t see well without glasses, you are probably aware that you have 20/20 hindsight. You can look over your years in life school and clearly see the lessons that made you grow. They weren’t always easy. If we try to dodge a lesson it comes back again, and again, each time a little harder, until we take notice. So we take it on board, pass the exam, and perhaps have a brief school holiday before the next lesson is given to us.
When we are young, the lessons involving loss are not understood in the context of growth. How can they be? The young haven’t lived the full process and can only hold on in faith, trusting that all will be well. We need a few decades of experience before we realize what Jesus meant by, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

(This Easter I pray that I may be without judgement as I companion a young person who is in a hard place.)

If we spend a little time in reflection, we can see how loss in our lives broke down to make compost for future growth. Remember all those crucifixions?  Loss of someone we loved? Loss of employment? Loss of status because we were the victims of gossip and/or injustice?  Loss of self-esteem through error and failure? We know that when we actively journeyed through the crucifixion experience, we found ourselves resurrected as stronger and better people. We know too, that the only thing that can prevent our resurrection, is being stuck in the tomb with bitterness, resentment, self-pity.

(This Easter I pray for courage to journey through loss, without putting blame on anyone. )

Jesus in his agony, had a deep understanding of those who nailed him to the cross. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Even then, he could speak the truth of the human condition. We are all little sparks of God, all spiritual beings coping with human existence. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. The people who crucified Jesus were caught up in political propaganda and madness. Jesus understood that. When we are in a situation of stress, it is all too easy to lose sight of the God-light in another person.

(This Easter I pray for a greater awareness of the inherent good in all people.)

For Jesus, his birth must have been a kind of death, the infinite coming into finite limitation. As the awareness of who he was and what he had to do grew, it must have been a burden that he couldn’t share with others, not even his closest friends. No one could possibly understand. It was too big, far beyond the experience of his disciples. Through the anguish of dying, he must also have known that this was a birthing process, and when he cried, “It is finished!” he would not be talking simply about his life in a human body, but about a mission accomplished.

Soon he would be released from a limited form to be with all humankind.

(This Easter I talk to Jesus about the way He guides me on my own way to graduation from life school.)

Shortly before his ride into Jerusalem, Jesus had a glimpse of resurrection on the mount of Transfiguration. Scripture shares that with us. Our personal understanding of resurrection is celebrated on Easter Sunday, with the joyous festival of our risen Christ. For us, this is a day of light, music, flowers, the ultimate triumph over death, and although we wept on Good Friday, we know that Jesus had to die to be with us here and now.

(This Easter I pray for a deeper knowledge of Jesus with me in all the little dyings and resurrections in my life. )

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