Reflections on Easter: A New Orientation


IMG_0303-2By Brian Doak, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies

As a way of reflecting on the core Christian message and connecting that message to a learning process, I often suggest to students that we can think of our journey in terms of three phases: Orientation, Disorientation and New Orientation. I picked up these exact terms from the eminent biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, but others have used them before. For example, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur spoke of “first naïveté,” “critical distance” and “second naiveté” to describe something of the same journey.

In the first state, Orientation, I believe the world is an uncomplicated network of fun. Everything is under control! I approach the world as a child (but perhaps not in a good way). Orientation inevitably must give way, however, to the hard presence of Disorientation. The world actually is complicated and that is painful, which leads to anger, confusion and sadness. Things are broken.

We may think of this path from Orientation to Disorientation in terms of how we see our parents. As children, most of us think of Mommy and Daddy as heroes – as bigger-than-life figures who are helpful and simple. At some point, perhaps in our early teenage years, we overhear a conversation, or have some other experience through which we realize that our parents are human beings – broken and complicated, struggling with their own faults and often failing. Or perhaps the movement from Orientation to Disorientation comes when, after wanting to be a medical doctor all of our life, we realize in our first biology class in college that we have neither the aptitude nor desire to move forward with the coursework.

But what comes after this breakdown?

Life continues, and as we mature intellectually, emotionally and spiritually we may move into the coveted third territory: New Orientation. We know the world is complicated, and life fails, but there is joy on a deeper level than our childlike state of Orientation could have ever provided. We see children grow up. Some time ago my grandfather told me that I was born very near the time his dear brother had passed away, and that provided tremendous comfort to him. People die, and it is truly awful, but others are born, and that is truly wonderful. Life is bigger than failures and pain, and the joy we find in life’s fullness is experienced not in denial of Disorientation’s breakdown but through it – sometimes even because of it.

Sometimes I am prone to wallowing in anger or sadness, nurturing Disorientation, if only because the negativity that is natural to this stage of growth can too easily become an excuse to remain as I am, where I am. The very breakdowns of Disorientation that once felt edgy and painful can come to feel comfortable and safe. New Orientation, however, may amaze or terrify us in new ways; it may catch me off guard, disrupting my pattern of Disorientation with something I could have never hoped or prayed for.

Christians address this journey in the terms of Jesus’ salvific path: life, death and resurrection. On Easter morning, we celebrate in our community this outburst of new life – a New Orientation – right in the face of all that has gone wrong. We can’t fake it or control it any more than we fake or control the major turns in our life’s journey that have made us who we are.

In the Gospels, the story of Jesus’ resurrection and the new life that follows on Easter morning are narrated in different ways. Perhaps my favorite account is in Mark (16:5-8). Here, an individual only identified as a “young man” dressed in white confronts women who come to Jesus’ tomb, and proclaims to them the news that the crucified Jesus is no longer dead. Their reaction? “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” And that, apparently, is the end of the book! (Note that the “longer ending” to Mark in 16:9-20 is very likely not original to the book itself, though it is still printed in Bibles.) Here we get only a glimpse of the resurrection; the moment of realization is raw, and the reaction is “terror” and “amazement.”

This Easter, I’m reminded that not only is resurrection real and possible in our world, but that it can become personal for me at any moment, just as it was for the women on that strange and wonderful morning. May we find the rush of amazement this Easter, and perhaps even a little terror in the notion that God can interrupt our comfortable rituals and beliefs with something wild.