Ed and I don’t exactly know when our anniversary is. The night we met? The day of our first conversation (and therefore the beginning of our long distance relationship)? The night of our State of the Relationship Address? Our first “date” shared over the phone? Our first reunion? Kiss? Decision to become exclusive? Mostly we just happenstancely celebrate whichever one we remember, embracing for a moment the occasions of ritual supposedly significant to a relationship. Considering how blurry they are, they can’t exactly be monumental. But they are monuments.
Certainly anniversaries are significant if for no other reason than they offer us a moment to pause and remember where we’ve been, where we are, where we hope to go. They are the recycling of time seen through a lens of recollection and prediction. We pause, see, evaluate, and—often—give thanks. In their singularity we may celebrate the passing of time. The transformation of years. The transformation of ourselves.
I’ve been thinking of anniversaries a lot this week as I have celebrated a rather significant one this past Thursday: Ten years ago March 25, I became a Christian. A decade. Nearly half my life. My decennial.
Catholics don’t usually observe their re-birthday. Catholics usually don’t have one. Traditionally, when we celebrate anniversaries in faith, we celebrate those sanctioned by the Church. Baptisms, weddings, ordinations. We even structure our liturgical year around important anniversaries: consider the annunciation, assumption, Christmas, Easter. Our conversions generally take the form of a gradual realization of Truth, a transformation that can take weeks, months, a lifetime.
Yet, for some of us, rebirth happens in an instant.
In my case, in the throws of adolescent suspicion, I had long been toying with the premise that Jesus was simply seeking the celebrity. At the time, I was the exact, living replication of Mean Girls’ Cady Heron: A hippie-school-implant-to-public-education, who had effectively hogged the spotlight enough to reach school president and, therefore, the celebrity status of assembly director. With this eighth-grade fame, I had no problem juxtaposing my self-centeredness with Jesus’ social status. I mean, assembly director is good, but to claim Godhood… the man must have been epic!
It wasn’t until I saw a reenactment of Christ’s passion that I suddenly gained perspective. The two-man show I saw that Saturday night used no props, no scenery, no special effects. Simply a spotlight, a solitary pianist, and a man with the intensity of a martyr. As the actor gave expression to each individual role and scene of the 24 hours leading up to Jesus’ death, I suddenly considered something new: Jesus suffered. The sweating of blood particularly struck me: during Jesus’ agony in the garden, he prayed with such fervor that the capillaries nearest his skin actually exploded from physical and emotional stress. His blood vessels exploded. Exploded.
That was the beginning of the end. The actor went on to describe the shards of shell and iron that were tied to leather straps and used to whip Jesus’ flesh over and over and over; to describe the way his back was flayed and then tied against a knotted piece of wood; to describe the nine inch long nails rammed through his wrists; to describe his process of breathing while standing up on the nail impaled through his feet; to describe the accumulation of saliva that would trickle down his throat until he drowned in it. With each impassioned description, I kept returning to the thought that Jesus had the opportunity to deny everything. He could have ended that pain at any moment. He could have come down from that cross. But he didn’t.
He wasn’t doing it for the celebrity.
The veil of the sanctuary wasn’t the only thing torn in two from top to bottom. Everything about my life suddenly seemed shallow, hollow, insignificant. Right there, on a pew lined with my peers, I wept myself dry. I may not have sweat blood, but I exploded with the excruciating tears of humiliation. Of humility. If Jesus wasn’t doing it for celebrity, what could his motivation have been except, perhaps, perhaps, love.
From the fertile soil of my humiliated heart grew out a realization that such a good individual had died for such a wretched one as me. I began to barter my life for his, if only to redeem the years of good deed doing he sacrificed for my sake. Over time, that bartering became a steady pursuit of the good for the sake of who Jesus had been and his divine call to goodness. Religious conviction blossomed, as did the knowledge that I was loved regardless of what good deeds I did—or bad ones I avoided. Nothing I could do would ever take back the need for that cross and that death, but I could live joyfully, invigorated by God’s great love for me.
Years later, when I read C.S. Lewis’ deduction of “Lunatic, Liar, Lord,” I suddenly realized that before all other experiences, that argument had been the one that had transformed my life. He could have been a lunatic, but no lunatic could say or do what he had. He could have been a liar—as I had always supposed— but the cross broke that line of thought. So he had to be Lord. And he is. I celebrate the ten years in which I have experienced that Truth. And I look to the next ten years I can shine in the light of God’s great and unending goodness.