It wasn’t the remedy one might expect for these times, watching Donna gently twist the wilted blooms from her Easter lily. Gathered in front of our screens for the (***checks calendar, because what is time anymore***) sixth Sunday in a row, even in this season of resurrection, we spent a moment or two with death—another moment or two, really, in this season of resurrection that is also a season of death. New York experienced something of a second peak in COVID-19 deaths after our initial Holy Week high, and while we knew the death toll would continue to mount, it feels especially Sisyphean to note that the worst was not, in fact, over.
On the second Sunday of Easter, we remembered St. Thomas, and it’s worth noting that, even in traditions less free with the “Saint” title than ours, he’s remembered as a saint. As Valerie pointed out in her meditation, Thomas’s doubt does not exclude him from the communion of saints; it doesn’t exclude him from the band of disciples a mere week after Jesus’s resurrection; and it certainly doesn’t exclude him from the love and regard of Jesus. Thomas remains in the circle despite—because of?—his doubt. His doubt brings him into a new phase of his relationship with Jesus and his fellow disciples, one we don’t see in the Gospels, one in which he will contemplate what it might mean for him to believe without seeing, or discern when to demand proof and when to trust that things will reveal themselves in due time.
Rather like planting a potted Easter lily in the ground, perhaps? Lilium longiforium is a perennial, after all. Those who don’t know better might have watched Donna discarding the withering blooms from her lily and assumed the plant was only inches from the compost bin. (Do they know about composting, either, come to think of it?) But Donna reminded us that you can plant the Easter lily and it will come back, same time next year, with fresh white blooms. It, too, lives in a circle. I usually point to the butterfly in my tattoo as a symbol of resurrection; it occurs to me now that the perennial, the trumpet lily, comes back also. The curled brown edges of the once-iridescent white flowers point toward dormancy, not death. What we cannot see is sometimes dormant rather than dead, waiting for a different time.
Really? Dakota and I went on our masked, socially-distanced walk yesterday and were disturbed to see a handful of folks gathering around Angelica’s Coffee Shop, a neighborhood diner, then walking away looking dismayed. Not the waffle fries! Would this local business make it? We waited a responsible time, then tentatively shuffled up to the door. They were still open for takeout and delivery. We’d ordered from them about two weeks before, part of our rotation of small local joints for which we are trying to do our small part to support them in staying open. Angelica’s is safe, but what about the other businesses on Church Avenue currently closed—the mini-spa whose name I never remember but the only one of the four in a two-block stretch that I’ll patronize (i.e. “you know, the good nail place”), the adjacent sushi restaurants, the sari and shalwa kameez shop, the Orthodox Jewish girls’ school? Are they merely dormant? Can we trust that we are continuing to do the right thing while these businesses’ owners and employees watch the petals fall?
And then there is that which I cannot see, at least not most of the time, but which is far from dormant: a being just a few weeks away from being born, still stretching the skin of my abdomen and testing the limits of my internal organs. Like Thomas, I want to see the baby at every opportunity; I’m disappointed when the obstetrician doesn’t fire up the small office ultrasound machine. So I can see the growth, hear the heartbeat, but I don’t feel especially full of faith in these times: I want my baby in my arms, and then home, and away from the world, for as long as it takes. Jesus only needed a few days, but I suspect we’ll take a bit longer.
And that’s all right. Thomas asks for more than blind faith. So do we. We look at the models; we divide What Comes Next into phases supported by the best medicine and science we have; and then we go home and wait, some more. We watch church on YouTube; we brunch on Zoom; we text and call and write our plague journals. We remain in an earthly circle and look forward, like the lily, to others.