Easter Reflections

 Dear Henry,

This Lent/Easter did not go according to plan.

Initially, I planned to spend a quiet, prayerful Lent and dig into the season's mysteries. But, unfortunately, that isn't what happened at all.

In January, I signed up for and was accepted into Roanoke County's Master Gardener program. There has been quite a bit of work associated with that course (I don't know why that surprised me), and we moved into our new home at the end of January. So there has been the work of unpacking, organizing, and establishing a home garden. Then, finally, there is the work I've been doing for the Old Lick Cemetery. In addition to the physical chores of "putting the cemetery to rights," I have also been helping the "upper management" of the project pull together historical information to create interpretive signs telling the cemetery's history. As we started digging into the records, we all discovered that the cemetery has more layers than an ogre and an onion combined and that we still need to do quite a bit of digging. 

Because I was *sure* I would be prayerful Lent, I added extra meditations. In addition to my regular daily Mass readings, daily gospel lectio divina, and rosary. I participated in the Hallow app's Pray 40 Lenten Challenge (you can try the Hallow app free for 3 months through this link: https://hallow.com/share/KVD594) that was a great walk through Thomas a Kempis's "Imitation of Christ" and featured readings with the two prominent Jesus actors of our generation (Jim Caviezal and Jonathan Roumie) as well as fasting mediations read by Mark Walburg, faith and trust meditations by Immaculee Ilibagiza, and alms meditations by Mother Olga.   I also reviewed the reflections in the book "Restore," which Sister Miriam James Heidland released last Lent, but I didn't order it in time. To top it off, I have been going through Father Mike Schmitz's "Catechism in a Year" and the Abiding Together podcast. Oh, and I also took a course on the Eucharist by Bishop Robert Barron.

It's been chaos.

There was nothing meditative about this Lent, and when I finally made it to adoration this Lent (something I hadn't been able to slow down enough for), it was clear that I had taken on too much. It also became clear that I was working on things that weren't necessarily part of my goals (to read about those, head to my post "Filling the Bucket")

Despite this chaos, I have a couple of takeaways from this Lent. First, with its history of indigent burials, the Old Lick Cemetery really brought home the gift that St. Joseph of Arimathea bestowed on the Passion narrative. As I explored the history of Potter's Fields, I realized how different the story would have gone if St. Joseph of Arimathea had not given up his tomb to Christ. I have been so struck by this gift that, as the group of us worked among the graves at the Old Lick Cemetery on the morning of Holy Saturday, I couldn't stop talking about it (I hope everyone forgives me). Second, I've realized this Lent how little has been done about the poor, unwanted dead and how precarious their final resting places genuinely are. Worse, I still don't have the faintest idea of how to solve the problems of indigent burials.

My other big epiphany touches on the mystery of suffering and the current trend of finding "healing."

Holy Week, emphasizing Christ's Passion is a challenging week for me. Jesus's physical suffering through the scourging, crown of thorns, and crucifixion is something that hits very close to my heart in a way that only those of us who, due to severe physical trauma, have spent time in the "Valley of the Shadow of Death" can understand (see "The Accident" if you have questions)  and while I don't claim to have the Stigmata, the brutality of the pain Christ went through is an authentic, powerful, and relatable thing to me. Nevertheless, I still can't make it through services focusing on The Passion narrative without dissolving into tears, nor have I ever been able to make it through the movie The Passion of Christ (sorry, Jim).

But suffering is eternal, and everyone has something that makes them uncomfortable.

I'm unsure if it is pride or impatience, but I struggle with the feeling that there is competition in suffering. Society made physical pain and emotional turmoil a badge of honor. And while I will be the first to admit that plantar fascitis, knee arthritis, and degenerative disk disease are painful physical conditions (and, because of the severity of my earlier injuries,  part of my own story), they are not the same as the long term repercussions of severe orthopedic and neurological trauma, and the conditions aren't comparable. So like so many other times, I found myself in confession, expressing my anger about the whole affair.

And that isn't the end of my frustration.

As I've mentioned in the post "The Story of the Great Sourdough Bread Drive," I'm done focusing on healing. I'm bored with it. Instead, I would focus on ways "to be a light" despite my daily issues with chronic physical pain and the mental "flashbacks" accompanying it. I'm sick of whining to the Big G about them and poking at things that hurt based upon some need to "let the Lord in so He can heal them." Some things just are, and one of the significant spiritual truths I have come to honestly believe is that pain is as much a part of the fabric of the universe as hunger and joy and is something we need to master, not indulge.

Pain is how we learn to sympathize with others. Or at least, pain could be a tool to understand that sympathy if we can stop complaining about it enough to live our lives outside of the small bitter caves we crawl into when we are miserable. But unfortunately, it is also unique to each of us, and no one can adequately understand another person's pain. There is no race within suffering, and there isn't a prize for first place.

This is the message found in the Way of the Cross, and this realization brought me to my knees on Holy Friday during the Veneration of the Cross.

Of course, I still have a long way to go regarding sympathy, and I was reminded during my time in confession, I was reminded that not everyone can or does cope with the suffering they have been given in this life, and many are crushed by it.

So, my Lenten lessons this year are this: First, my "bucket list" the Lord and I worked out needs to be my North Star, and I can't allow other "things" to creep into the limited stamina I have, Second, my work with the cemetery is essential and needs to be continued, and finally, suffering competitions are stupid, and I need to spend less time around the type of people who act as if there is one.

Oh, and I definitely need to spend less time watching videos of the psychotic emu named  Karen at Useless Farm.

xoxo a.d. elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at www.takethebackroads.com, you can also read her book reviews at www.riteoffancy.com and US military biographies at www.everydaypatriot.com

Her online photography gallery can be found at shop.takethebackroads.com


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