A Fitting Symbol

Dear Will:

It’s Easter morning and I awaken to a quiet house. The scene is very different from the one I encountered as a boy, when my siblings and I would arise on Easter morning to find a basket set out for each of us, baskets filled with that stringy, green cellophane stuff (what do you call that?), jelly beans, chocolate eggs, and other candy. Then my brothers and sisters and I would scatter about the house and yard looking for the Easter eggs we had colored the night before. Although I don’t remember ever visiting the Easter Bunny at the mall the way kids do these days, I do recall that one year we received an actual bunny on Easter morning. That was pretty cool.

Easter was fun. It was exciting. And the candy was delicious. But this quiet house now feels much more like Easter to me.

That change in perspective has been gradual, to be sure. At some point—at an age I do not now recall—I remember asking what bunnies and eggs and whatnot had to do with the death and resurrection of Jesus. I remember that the answer—some convoluted bit having to do with symbols of birth or life or whatever—seemed contrived and completely unsatisfying. It didn’t really make sense.

The problem, of course, is that bunnies and eggs (and bunny eggs, for that matter) have nothing whatsoever to do with the resurrection of Christ. I’m pretty sure these oddments were adapted from some pagan rites of centuries long ago, but no matter. They might have easily been cooked up by the writers of Seinfeld for all they tell us about the event we celebrate at this time every year. And in that sense they are harmless enough, I suppose. Harmless, that is, if they do not prevent us from seeing and feeling and understanding the larger Truth this Christian holiday (holy-day) commemorates.

The essential, truth-telling symbols of Easter are these: an otherwise nondescript patch of ground in a grove of olive trees, stained with drops of sweat and blood; a cross on a hill on the outskirts of town; linen clothes lying in an otherwise empty tomb, the head-wrap neatly folded, separate from the rest; two hands and two feet made perfect by the scars that now remain as a reminder of who He is and what He did for all of us.

When Mary, Joanna, and others arrived at the sepulcher on that historic Sunday morning, they were met by two men in shining robes who said to them: “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen” (Luke 24:5-6). Later that day, Jesus—the Christ—appeared to Mary, Peter, Luke, Cleopas, and many others of his disciples. The “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was then taken to the world by these eyewitnesses, and it has spread across the globe since that glorious day.

The Apostle Paul, who himself witnessed the Living Christ one day on the road to Damascus, put it this way: “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). In simpler terms, Elder David A. Bednar summarized the message of Easter morning this way: “Jesus died; He is not dead.”

That is good news—fitting for an annual commemoration. And while I treasure memories of my own children dashing about the yard, plucking up fluorescent, plastic eggs, those are not what I would consider Easter memories. If asked to choose, the decision for me would be an easy one: To honor the death and resurrection of my Savior, I will always prefer a quiet house at the dawning of a perfect Sabbath day.

PW

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That’s It?

Dear Will:

A little over a week ago my firstborn, Luke, graduated cum laude from UCLA with a degree in Communications (Mass Communications, to be precise, with a specialization in Computing and a minor in Human Complex Systems—whatever that is). He had originally planned to go to law school after graduating, but in December it occurred to him that he was much more interested in studying law than in practicing it. So in January he began to look for his first real job.

So far, he has had a few nibbles but no job offers. Because he is bright and inquisitive, well-read and articulate (and highly motivated), I’m confident that he will find work in due course. But now that he has moved back home, he and I are both feeling anxious for him to find work, settle into a place of his own, and get on with life.

When I picked him up from Westwood last week, he told me that he was feeling more than a bit disappointed with the experience of graduating from college—like the whole thing was a bit anti-climactic. “I’ve been pointing to this moment my entire life,” he told me. “Before UCLA, it was all about taking the right classes and getting the grades necessary to get into a good school so that I could get a degree from a respected university. Now that that has happened, I find myself thinking: ‘That’s it? I went through all of that trouble just so that I could move back home and be unemployed?’”

In his current state of mind, Luke is having trouble seeing the bigger picture. He can’t see far enough down the road to appreciate what he has learned or what he has become as a consequence of his 16 years of education. He is not yet old enough or wise enough to recognize his good fortune or his exceptional preparation, to see how the last four years have helped position him to become a meaningful contributor to society. Having traveled that road before him, and knowing as I do many who have been neither so fortunate nor so bright, I know much better than he could that the road ahead for him will be brightly lit and lined with promising opportunities. Luke is disappointed primarily because he still has no real sense of what happens next.

Do you ever wonder if, when you reach the end of your life on earth, you’ll find yourself thinking: “That’s it?” Do you imagine that all of the hard work and trial you may pass through between birth and death will prove to be little more than that—a long slog culminating in a huge disappointment? Do you wonder if the difficulties of mortality will prove to be worth it?

It’s easy to get so caught up in what makes life hard that we don’t fully appreciate the ways in which our mortal existence prepares us for something much greater. Like Luke, we have trouble seeing far enough down the road that we can put this life into its proper eternal perspective. But as Thoreau said: “There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a Morningstar.” It was Isaiah who first penned these words made more familiar by the apostle Paul: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). The trick, of course, is to move forward with faith, knowing that God’s promises are always—always—sure.

In the short term, my task is to keep Luke believing in the near future, to help him believe in himself and in his preparation sufficiently to convince an employer to believe in him as well. In a few short months, I’m sure his outlook will be brighter. But until then, he still needs a job. Which reminds me: You don’t happen to know anyone who would like to hire a recent college grad who is bright and inquisitive, well-read and articulate, do you?

PW

As If We Could See Forever

Dear Will:

Earlier this month, my family and I drove to Taos, New Mexico for a little vacation. Although we had read that Taos is a beautiful and interesting place, we weren’t really sure what to expect.

In a word: it was “awesome.” I mean that not in the overused, 21st century version of the word, but in its literal sense—“awesome” as in, “inspiring awe.” I had sort of imagined New Mexico to simply be an extension of Arizona—something like the stretch from Barstow to Vegas. Yuck. And some of it was, to be honest. But as we made the gradual climb to Taos (which sits around 7,000 feet above sea level) we discovered something else altogether.

We went river rafting. We wandered art galleries. We rode horses above 12,000 feet. We hiked down to where the Red River and Rio Grande gorges converge. And we ate a bunch of bizarre and interesting food (for dessert: avocado pie), including the best hamburger I have eaten in my life—bar none. All of which we loved.

But what really took my breath away was the clouds: big, billowy, painted-on-canvas beauties like I had never seen before. Set against a deep blue sky, they seemed to go on forever. We must have taken 100 pictures of them, including at least once when we simply had to stop the car to gawk. Here’s just one of those shots that doesn’t begin to capture the grandeur we beheld:

I’ve thought about it since and I’ve come up with this theory for why the sky seemed so much bigger in New Mexico than it does here. And I think more than anything it has to do with perspective. As this picture aptly portrays, the elevation of Taos, and the flat, barren landscape to the southwest, provide an unobstructed view of the distant horizon. Add to that clear, unpolluted skies and voilà! you have a scene like the one here.

I suppose that is what God has in mind when He challenges us to rise up from our current circumstances and seek higher ground. And how do we do seek higher ground? We do it by elevating our thoughts, raising our standards, choosing to be with those who make us better and to do those things that bring us closer to God. It seems too obvious to say it, but I must: When we elevate ourselves in that fashion, we begin to appreciate the grandeur of eternity and see things as they really are—and we begin to glimpse our own divine potential.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). True enough, but when we start to emulate Him, in even the smallest degree, it’s as if we could see forever.

PW