The first time I saw an icon of the Resurrection it was a bit confusing. It looked to me like Jesus was on a surfboard or skateboard. Huh? When I inquired about the icon, I was told that what appeared to be a picture of our Lord surfing was actually an image of Jesus standing upon the broken Gates of Death.
Despite the clarification, I confess that I still really like the surfboard idea. In many ways, surfing describes our journey through life. The wave, the ocean, the sea represent God and his grace — immense, surging, powerful, and uncontrollable. The surfer corresponds not only to Jesus but to each of us as we learn how to work with the ocean. We do not control it; instead, we work with it, harmonize with it, and move with it. And when we learn how to work with the Immensity, we go places!
The traditional icon image of the Resurrection also resonates with me because I am a Carmelite. The Carmelites were founded in Palestine, on the Mediterranean side of Mount Carmel in present-day Israel. Since our foundation, there has always been an affinity between Carmel and the Eastern churches. In fact, the earliest depiction of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, called La Bruna, is an Eastern icon that was purportedly painted by the first hermits on Mount Carmel and carried by them to Europe. Today, La Bruna is in the Carmelite church in Naples and copies of this icon hang in every Carmelite house throughout the world. Yes, Carmelites like icons.
Carmelite spirituality is in large part about the path of self-discovery. That is the whole exploration schema Saint Teresa of Avila lays out in the Interior Castle. Blessed Titus Brandsma says it this way,
“True pupils of the school of Carmel should be in a high degree wrapped up in themselves, to find and meet God in the innermost recesses of their souls.” This is what I see in the icon of the Resurrection; namely, Jesus breaking open those innermost recesses of my soul.
Mystics down through history—not to mention psychologists in the contemporary world—emphasize how important self-exploration, self-understanding and self-knowledge are. Learning who we are is a life-long journey. That is why there are seven mansions in Teresa’s schema. This is no ordinary trip. We throw up resistance to some aspects of ourselves; we deny or remain clueless about the needs of others. This is where Jesus is needed. He breaks through all those barriers. The gates of death Jesus breaks apart are the gates I have built up against truly living. This is like learning how to surf.
The first time I tried to surf I was a mess. Impossible! But the more I tried, the more I learned how to handle my body in the water; how to use the timing of the waves to get up on the board, how to anticipate the water to keep my balance. The more I learned, the more I could do it.
Yes, this Easter we remember that Jesus breaks the Gates of Death for all humanity. But I have found in my life time and time again, that Jesus breaks my own gates of death so that I can more and more ‘surf,’ I can more and more live.