Renewal

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.” – Wendell Berry

“I am aware that one should always make room for renewal in politics. A democracy is the healthier for the turnover of the depth of talent there is in its community.” – Bob Brown

“If there are flaws they are in ourselves, and our task therefore must be one not of redesign but of renewal and reaffirmation, especially of the standards in which all of us believe. – Elliot Richardson

Much of LOTRW’s readership is addressing one dimension (or several) of sustainable development. To pursue this Holy Grail is to be obsessed with renewal. The concept has many labels, and they vary from endeavor to endeavor. For example:

When we speak of resources – food, water, energy – we want our resources to be renewable.

We want our communities and our peoples to be resilient to hazards, to recover from catastrophes.

Following a pollution event, or degradation of ecosystem services, we speak of restoration of the environment.

But, as many writers tell us – Bob Brown and Elliott Richardson are but two examples – when it comes to sustainability, the resource, the renewable, that matters most is the human spirit. At the individual level, such renewal is our paramount concern, and well it should be. In our fast-paced, innovative society, we’re challenged to renew ourselves every day, in order to continue to be useful to our families, to our employers, to society. It doesn’t matter where we live or who we are or what we do. From this renewal, all other prospects for renewability will follow.

This renewal of the spirit has degrees. At the quotidian level, the lowest rung of the ladder, there’s recreation and refreshment. Most of us try to build recharging our batteries into our daily, weekly, and annual rhythm. This takes many different forms. It might be a walk through the cherry blossoms or on the beach or along the Appalachian Trail. It might be music or dance or baking. Then, moving up the scale, there’s the idea of revival, revitalization. Add a hyphen to our friend recreation, and you get re-creation, something pretty significant. Such revival might happen a few times over a life span or a career – triggered by a season of formal education, marriage, kids, a move, a change of job, or a retreat.

But there’s one word for renewal that’s in a class all by itself: resurrection.

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. – Martin Luther

“Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,’ but ‘I shall rise.’” – Phillips Brooks

Compared with other definitions and ideas of renewal, resurrection is unique in several respects. To start, it doesn’t mean recovering from a slightly or even a drastically weakened condition. It means coming back from the dead. Second, it doesn’t mean coming back to some former state, or almost to some former state. It refers not to just to coming back, but becoming something better, something perfect, something imperishable. Third, it doesn’t just mean coming back to our current imperfect world. (For many people, the brokenness and dysfunction of our current society is so great that an eternity here – versus living, say, seventy years –might be second prize.). Instead it seems to mean coming back to life under a new arrangement, one that makes living not just tolerable, not just passable, but a joy.

Resurrection is different in another respect. To see this, try an experiment. Go to your computer or other device, google all these forms of renewal, google quotes about all these forms of renewal – and you’ll find a great variety of sources, plenty to ponder and much to like. A cross-section of great thinkers and philosophers have thought long and hard about renewal and have a great deal to say. But google the word resurrection and the sources become less diverse and the quotes a more monochromatic. There really was only one guy whom people seem to take seriously on the subject. He not only talked about it, but demonstrated it – so convincingly to those around at the time that people haven’t stopped talking about it. The buzz has been slowly but steadily increasing for two thousand years.

And at the time, he didn’t stop there. He said something more audacious – he said that this resurrection, this being something or someone better for all time – wasn’t just for him, but for everybody – past, present, and future. (Everybody, that is, who wanted in. He wasn’t going to force this on any one of us, against your will or mine.).

This latter statement, this broader accessibility, taken on its own, might not seem so credible. But coming from someone who’s shown it can be done – that’s a different matter.

There’s a final respect in which resurrection is unique and powerful. Relative to the promised eternity, our finite number of years in this circumstance can be seen in clearer perspective. But resurrection doesn’t imply these years are merely for passive waiting. They’re years of active preparation. Much as the caterpillar prepares to become Lorenz’s butterfly, you and I are constantly in the business of becoming. Resurrection powers all those other forms of renewal. Resurrection also makes it important to build a better world now – providing for public safety, lifting people out of poverty, and preserving nature’s beauty. Resurrection makes renewal for each of us as important at age seventy-two as it is at age twelve or twenty-two. Renewal is not a vain exercise. It doesn’t stop when we die. Instead it hits full stride. Eternity is not stasis.

So, whether your direct inspiration be Martin Luther’s “leaf in springtime” or whether it comes from the still, small voice inside your head, or some special community of family and friends who share your values, or from some other external source, treat today  – Easter – and every day as an occasion for renewal. And along with Phillips Brooks, allow yourself the possibility:

Christ is risen… I shall rise.

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