Miriam Hogan, O.C.D.
When he was a child, my nephew remarked one day that when he grew small again like his baby sister he would be able to play with a certain toy that she was playing with. At the time we laughed and considered it a “cute” remark but it also struck me that we only understand growth going in one direction because of what we have experienced. Thus, mere symbols alone cannot convey the meaning of an important mystery like Easter.
Yet, we realize that certain images may be considered symbols for a deeper reality. Let us consider some of the religious images that we are most familiar with. For Christmas we have, to name just a few: lights, trees, star, mother and child, shepherds, Kings and multitudes of angels. Whereas, for Easter we have among other examples: images of spring lambs, sunrises, butterflies, lilies, bunnies, crosses and angels, and the angels are pointing to an empty tomb.
Symbols/images can only help us to understand things to a degree. They then become useless and our experience has to provide us with meaning. To give a personal example, in my own life, Easter became richer, fuller and more meaningful
after the death of my mother.1 Even though these things that concern us personally are hard to explain or to write about, I think that they keep us in touch not only with the real physical world but also with the real spiritual meaning of our lives. Here, we are going beyond what can be symbolized by mere words or written in books.
The Prayer of Quiet
St. Teresa of Jesus, who had deep respect for education and learning, was also keenly aware of the limitations of trying to express spiritual matters using only these means. In the book of her Life she wrote: “I had no master and was reading these books in which I thought I was gradually coming to understand something. And afterward I understood that if the Lord didn’t show me, I was able to learn little from books, because there was nothing I understood until His Majesty gave me understanding through experience.”2 What St. Teresa is describing is the beginnings of the prayer of quiet. Yet, it seems to me that we also need to pray to God from our own experiences of life and death. Easter helps us to focus on the human death of Jesus and on His rising from the dead. St. Teresa experienced the presence of the risen Christ after receiving communion. While most of us do not share her special kind of mystical experience, we do have a sense, albeit sometimes a vague one, of our beloved who are now in heaven, entering into our present lives.
Finally, concerning Easter, we need to trust our learned experiences. Further, with a giant leap of faith, we dare to enter into a new state of unknowing that is akin to the mind of a child 3 and that transcends all knowledge. 4
1This does not mean that I experience my mother, who died in 1985, as a canonized saint. However, it does mean that, in my own experience, the fact that someone that close to me can now be that close to God restructures my religious understanding of the Paschal Mysteries.
2The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila , Vol. 1, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D., and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. (Washington, DC:ICS Publications, 1976), p. 145.
3 Matt 18: 2-4 (Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.)
4 The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross , trans. Kieran Kavanaugh,