I love the writings of Barbara Brown Taylor, a 65-year-old American Episcopal priest, professor, writer, and theologian. Her books include The Preaching Life, Altar in the World, and Learning to Walk in the Dark. In 2014, Time magazine named her on its annual list of the 100 most influential persons in the world. Currently she lives on a farm in northern Georgia with her husband Ed.
This is a true story she tells in Learning to Walk in the Dark. Somehow, for me, the story seems very appropriate for what we celebrate in our rituals during Holy Week and on Easter. Maybe you will get a similar feeling…
A few years back Taylor and her husband were exploring the dunes on Cumberland Island off the coast of southern Georgia. Her husband was looking for fossilized shark teeth. She was looking for sand spurs so she wouldn’t step on one. This meant they were both looking at their feet when suddenly they came upon a huge loggerhead turtle. She was alive—but barely. Her shell was almost too hot to touch. Immediately they knew what had happened.
During the night the turtle had come ashore to lay her eggs. When she finished her task, she looked around for the brightest horizon to lead her back to the sea. But she had mistaken the lights on the mainland for the sky reflected in the ocean, and she had gone the wrong way. Now her flippers were buried in the sand and she was stuck, half-baked in the noonday sun.
Taylor began to bury the turtle in cool sand while her husband ran to the nearest ranger station. She writes, “An hour later the turtle was on her back with tire chains around her front legs, being dragged behind a park service Jeep back toward the ocean.” The poor turtle’s mouth was filled with sand and her head was so bent, Taylor feared her neck would break. But it didn’t. When they got to the edge of the water, the three undid the chains, gently flipped the turtle right side up, and “watched as she lay motionless in the surf.”
But gradually the waves began to bring her back to life. After a little while as the waves lifted her up, she pushed off with her back legs, and swam back “into the water that was her home.” Taylor concludes: “Watching her swim slowly away after her nightmare ride through the dunes, I noted that it is sometimes hard to tell whether you are being killed or saved by the hands that turn your life upside down.”
The paradoxes in this story… in order to be saved, the poor turtle has to undergo a nightmare of a journey that almost takes her life… In laying her eggs to bring new life into the world, she almost loses her own life in the process…
The story makes me reflect on all those individuals who have had to undergo nightmare journeys of their own—perhaps chemotherapy, bone marrow transplants, and painful treatments or surgeries of all kinds… At times they too must have wondered: am I being killed or saved?
And what about Jesus? Wasn’t his life turned upside down in Gethsemane? Doesn’t the crucifixion raise a million questions like these: Why did he have to die? How was he able to endure the injustice of it all, the mockery, the beatings, the torture, the pounding in of those nails, the hanging in the hot sun for three hours? And where was Abba during all of this?
I pray for those individuals right now who are enduring their own passions… those suffering from famine, wars, violence, racial injustice, human trafficking, religious persecution, natural disasters, abuse of all kinds, and the list goes on and on… And I beg God to be with them… and to move the hearts of good and generous people to aid them and give them comfort… and to move my own heart to reach out to someone in need…
And I pray for a greater realization of the power of the Resurrection… as we make our journey back to our true home, the open sea of God’s mercy and love…
And I wonder: Have you ever had a time when you thought it was the end, but it was a new beginning? An experience where life emerged from apparent death? Where goodness was born from apparent evil?
I chose an ancient hymn for our song today: “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” It was written in the 14th Century in Bohemia–where my ancestors came from! And, with this song, I wish you all a very Blessed Holy Week and a very Happy Easter!
Would you like to share any thoughts on Holy Week, Easter, or this reflection with us? We would love to hear from you!
PS: A big thank you for your prayers for last weekend’s retreat at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Aston, PA. What a beautiful group of participants we had! Quite a few are readers of this blog. My next presentation is Saturday, April 29 at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality in De Pere, WI (920-337-4315). The presentation runs from 8:30 am to noon and is called “How Do I Know If I’m on the Right Path Spiritually?”
I will also be co-directing a retreat with Bishop Bob Morneau from April 30- May 5 for the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross. I ask prayers for both of these endeavors. Thank you!