Holy Weeks

            As churches this Holy Week celebrate Jesus’ passage from crucifixion to resurrection, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, Lamoille Restorative Center celebrates dying and rising every week of the year.

            The spiritual life of every religious tradition involves personal transformation in this life from ongoing spiritual deaths we die, to some kind of new life. Think of the death of an addiction and resultant downshift to a new non-addicted, non-attached life. Think of the death of a relationship that precedes new partnering. Think of a thief repenting of conscious denial, adapting to a new persona, through process with a reparative board at the Restorative Center. Can we talk about death-resurrection as an archetype of all life, something we come to accept as an inevitable part of life, something we’d be remiss not to do as regular spiritual practice?

            There’s a radical center to be found here between secular humanism and religion.

            When I finally quit tobacco it was because I wanted to quit for myself, not for anyone else. After decades of trying to quit, quitting, relapsing, quitting, relapsing, I realized it wasn’t working because I was encumbered by guilt trips by loved ones and a “should” complex. I had to fully want to quit, combined with an inner vision of a new life without tobacco, a positive vision of my life that wasn’t dependent on nicotine. I’d lost my ability to enjoy life without a smoke. Two brothers and a close aunt had died in quick succession from nicotine addiction. The time had come to choose life or choose slow suicide.

            In that new context, I could see myself rising above my need to smoke. I could die to my dependency. I could resurrect. And after three days of withdrawal hell, I climbed out of my tomb. I light a candle to remind myself of the rising, not just every Easter, but every day. Washing dishes after meals substitutes well for not picking up a pipe. Practical contemplative practices like breathing consciously seal the deal.

            A young man, full of his father’s abusive rage, picks a fight over a parking spot at his condominium village. Charged with disturbing the peace, he is referred by the court to a reparative board at the Restorative Center. As a volunteer, I sit with other volunteers and a staff facilitator to work with this man to bring the harm to light, ask how amends can be made, and, yes, address the anger management issues that contributed to the offense.

            An older woman has gradually lost control of her drinking. She drives intoxicated, crashes her car into another car at a busy intersection. Fortunately, no one is killed. At the Restorative Center, with the patient help of the reparative board, she names the harm, owns her responsibility, and works on repairing what damage she can. Resurrection, in this case, equals addiction recovery.

            These examples are apocryphal composites, illustrative of countless cases of people amending their lives that make up the hidden legacy of restorative programs in every county in Vermont, in most states, and on every continent. Like leaven in the loaf of an archaic punitive criminal justice system, restorative process brings a redemptive, yeasty, orientation not only to correcting behavior, but also, more widely, repairing lives which have been damaged, in many cases, by crucifying trauma.

            The Holy Week mystery is a mystery visible every week of the year. The sabbath day of each week (no matter the day it is celebrated) is our opportunity to recognize the latest identifiable resurrection. In this sense we find another kind of radical center: a center within us that defies death by willingly entering into it, expecting, accepting frequent spiritual deaths as prelude to a perennial freshening of life.

            On yet another level, at the Restorative Center we hit the radical center every time we balance holding offenders accountable with supporting their conscious intentions that preview a new life, a new start. We hit the radical center when we focus on accountability and making amends instead of ineffective retributive punishment. Persons and communities rise again every time we hit the center – a center that makes every week Holy Week.

Michael Caldwell lives in North Wolcott

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