It’s Easter, the Christian celebration of Rebirth, Resurrection, Redemption. Children run around wearing furry bunny ears, collecting brightly-colored candy-filled eggs representing the hatching of a new season for some, and for others, the boulder that was used to seal Jesus’ tomb.
I sit bathed in warm-bordering-on-hot sunlight, fervently contemplating Redemption. Raised by honestly-strong, pragmatically-devout Christian parents – but far from a practicing Christian myself – I’m almost embarrassed to admit that until this year, I never gave the idea of redemption and resurrection much if any thought. It was always presented as something plain, simple, and matter-of-fact: Jesus was crucified, died for our sins, and buried, and on the third day he rose again.
Why this part of the Christian faith was not presented with more excitement, amazement, wonder, and recognition for the mystical miracle that it is in the Christian Faith, I’ll never quite understand, because Holy Shit! It’s quite a series of events!
As God incarnate, Jesus took the sins of the world upon himself and in an alchemical act of absurd bodhi-sattvic proportions, transmuted eternal damnation into salvation.
Several months ago, surrounded by a circle of women, on sacred land, I shakily proclaimed in a barely-audible whisper, “I am the redeemer.” In that moment, I had no idea what I meant, but the words felt hot in my mouth, they sparked as they left my tongue, and as soon as I said them, I wanted to swallow them back down and never utter them again . How could I claim to redeem? Not only is it blasphemy, I thought to myself, it’s way more responsibility than I want to take on.
Since that moment, I’ve engaged in serious inquiry around Redemption. What does it actually mean to me? How do I make sense of it? What does it matter?
A few years ago in my Zen studies, I learned of Dogen Zenji’s teaching on genjōkōan, or whole-hearted engagement. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure if my understanding of genjōkōan actually has anything to do with Dogen; his writing is best digested as poetry, paying close attention to what it inspires in you, rather than getting stuck in the details of what he's saying. Taigen Dan Leighton, one of the foremost living Dogen scholars translates genjōkōan as to “fully or completely manifest, or to express or share… the heart of the matter.”
In my body-heart-mind, this whole-hearted engagement feels like the path to redemption. Maybe it’s too simple, naïve and innocent, but maybe, just maybe, living fully and completely into who we are in each and every moment is redemptive in and of itself.
What does this look like?
In a broad sense, It looks like welcoming every bit of your experience and yourself, rather than pushing some parts away. It means reveling in the shame, resistance, grief, anger and loneliness as well as the joy, ecstasy, pleasure and rapture. Every time we push something away, refusing to look at or relate to it, condemning and damning it as Other, we enslave something that must later be opened up, worked, and felt. Sometimes we are able to do the work ourselves, other times we pass it off to those around us or onto future generations.
The important thing here is that nothing is inherently in need of redemption. The condemnation that splits our experience in half, later requiring redemption, is a function of the human mind, and not the nature of the Universe. From an absolute perspective, nothing is condemned and in need of redemption; everything is perfect, complete, whole just as it is. From the relative, these are two sides of the same coin; redemption would not — could not exist without condemnation. And so, the redemptive act is not to hang out in the absolute where everything is perfect as it is, but to dare to stand in the relative while staying in contact with the absolute, living out the suffering and the salvation with every inhale and exhale.
This is exactly what Jesus did a few millennia ago. Jesus, as God-incarnate, lived whole-heartedly into his humanity, feeling the seething, bursting frustration-beauty-pain-joy of being, while staying connected to the absolute, complete, perfection of his divinity. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus united heaven and hell, salvation and condemnation, life and death.
This union and redemption is available to us in every given moment if we dare to follow in his footsteps, whole-heartedly engaging with life as it explodes in front of our noses and in our bellies.
I’m actively redeeming the one of me who is fiery, feisty, angry, middle-finger-flipping, inflexible, irrational, and irresponsible. She’s the quintessential teenager, defaults to no, and revels in her counter-dependence. As a toddler, she slapped my mom during a church service. The one time my parents tried to spank me, she covered my butt and laughed. She takes no shit and no prisoners, and she was condemned long ago.
I’ve kept this one of me in a dark corner in the recesses of my being and she only reveals herself in frighteningly unconscious, unappealing ways – usually after a few drinks – that stand out in stark contrast to my usual behavior. She continues to throw blue berries after someone clearly asked me to stop, or lights up a cigarette in the house after asked not to. When she feels threatened or insecure (which is most of the time), she either picks a fight or absolutely refuses to speak. She’s so unconscious in me that I sometimes don’t remember what she’s said or done until someone points it out.
I spoke with a dear friend/elder about this one of me. She’s seen her in action, has felt her hardness and cut, and pushed back with fierce love and care. As we spoke, I expected her to participate in the condemnation of this unpleasant, inconvenient part of myself. After all, I’ve been damning her for years, and so has everyone else. I braced myself for the hammer to come down, for the usual, “this is unacceptable, it’s time to grow up and behave,” and I got something completely different.
“We need to know what’s going on for you there,” she said, “so that we can harness her energy and put it to use.”
With that simple, open invitation, the redemption begins.