I didn’t blog for Lent this year. I didn’t really even acknowledge that Lent was happening. Didn’t look for a church to go to on Easter – didn’t really do anything Easter related. In fact, I spent Easter at home, having cancelled all of my work and social plans for that day to rest. I spent Easter in my pajamas, on the couch, not really celebrating at all.
I noticed on Facebook that there were a number of memes surrounding Easter that circulated, mostly dealing with the idea that *gasp* the Christian church STOLE Easter from the Pagans. Anyone who has ever been to the Easter Vigil mass at a Catholic church could hardly question that - it’s one of the most Pagan ceremonies I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve been to Wiccan rituals! They bless the New Fire, they bless the holy water, and HELLO symbolism, they dip the candle into the basin over and over again. The celebration starts in darkness and adds candles, then full light about 30 minutes in. It’s all about rebirth, and spring, and who wouldn’t recognize that these aren’t traditions that were born only 2000 years ago? But I guess maybe a lot of people wouldn’t. Still, I don’t really understand why people are shocked when they find out that what’s old became new again when Christianity was spreading across Europe and the Middle East. I could digress from here into a speculation about why our words for Lent and Easter come from Germanic languages rather than Latinate ones, and how that relates to the roots of the season and its traditions, but I’d imagine no one really wants to read that except for the four other people out there who are as obsessed with words and language as I am.
But I guess the point is that Easter happens whether you celebrate or not. Whether you hide eggs and eat lamb and go to church, or you do nothing at all, you can’t help but experience the season. Suddenly the days are longer, the air is warmer, and a few hardy crocuses are bursting through the earth. You have a craving for asparagus and snap peas and arugula, and you wear skirts even though the evening temperature is much too cold for that, because in the daytime you want to feel that warming breeze as fully as you can. Staying home, resting, that was my Easter cleanse – shedding the winter exhaustion to be ready for the new burst of energy with the spring time. Because whether it’s about Ostara or Christ or just about the Equinox and the physics of living on Earth, your body knows it’s Eastertide, even if you just call it spring.
I was reading over at Ask Mormon Girl, and the question she was addressing was about prayer. And it made me think about how challenging I feel the idea of prayer can be.
When someone asks for prayers, or mentions a death/illness/difficult time I often offer to keep them in my thoughts, or send positive energy/light their way. Because for me, that’s more comfortable than saying “I’ll pray for you.” There are a number of reasons…one is that it would be dishonest – rarely do I speak concrete prayers, and I can’t remember the last time I specifically prayed FOR someone. I also think that prayer can feel very transactional – if I pray, then such and such will happen. And that’s not the way that I feel like the universe works. And as a reiki practitioner, my training tells me that the energy will go where it’s needed, and that when we ask the universe for energy, it should be for the greatest good of the person we are treating – which isn’t always what they want it to be.
I think it’s hard to think of prayer that way, but it’s realistic – if I hold someone in my heart, send them energy, pray for them, whatever I want to call it, I shouldn’t be the one to decide what they need and ask for that. It’s about putting out the thoughts/energy/idea that I hope that whatever is for their best overall good will come.
“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” ~Gandhi
I am a Christian. But I am not a Christian. I am living in the space between. There are a lot of people who can’t understand this. There is a lot of pressure to choose one side or the other. But there’s a lot of truth in the in-between spaces.
Some of my dearest friends are Christians – the kind of Bible reading, church-going, sincerely praying people who many envision when they think of the word Christian. And I love that about them. I love that they are so committed and empowered in their faith, and that it gives them strength. But I am not that person.
Some of my dearest friends are atheists. Secular humanist, science based realists, who think that belief in God is a crutch. And I love that about them. I love that they are so secure in their humanity, so committed to living in the here and now. But I am not that person.
I have friends who are Buddhists, Jews, Catholics, seekers, spiritual-but-not-religious, and Wiccan. I have friends who believe in heaven, hell, reincarnation, karma, one life, many lives, and life ever after.
And I live in the space between. I believe in spirit, energy, connection, love and something that ties us all together in something bigger than ourselves. And sometimes I call that something God. And sometimes I call it Jesus. And sometimes I don’t. Because right now, what is true for me is the journey, and the space between faith and reason, here-and-now and everlasting.
Someone asked me the other day what it is about Easter that appeals to me so much. And my answer was rebirth. Yes, as a baptized and confirmed Catholic, it’s always been about resurrection, but as a mystic (and I do more and more think that’s what I really am) it’s about that, and more than that. At Passover, the celebration is life saved and freedom gained. At Easter, the celebration is resurrection and forgiveness of sins. But as we celebrate all of these things in the early spring, what unites them is rebirth. What brings us bunnies and eggs is the aliveness of nature in the springtime, reawakening as the sun warms the ground and the plans uncurl. And a chance to begin again. Why do we hide the eggs, or the afikomen? So that we can root out what’s hidden, bring it to light, and start fresh.
Happy Easter, Chag Sameach, Blessed Eostre, and Welcome Spring!
“I come to you with strange fire, I make an offering of love, the incense of my soil is burned by the fire in my blood. I come with a softer answer to the questions that lie in your path. I want to harbor you from the anger, find a refuge from the wrath.
This is a message of love. Love that moves from the inside out, love that never grows tired. I come to you with strange fire.” ~Indigo Girls
Easter brings out the Catholic in me – but it also brings out the pagan in me. There’s a love of ritual that is awakened with the birth of spring, and the Easter vigil.
Someone asked me to make plans for the night of the Easter vigil, and out of nowhere, my soul said no. I have to go to church. This is something that I don’t say to people very often, because, well, I don’t really go to church.
But the Easter vigil, where the greens of last year are burned and the new fire is blessed, where the paschal candle is blessed with fire and water, where we begin in the dark and welcome back the light – this is ritual at its best.
Ritual is why I loved being a Catholic for so many years. Ritual is why I am drawn to ancient rites and historical holy places and times. Ritual makes me feel whole again, cleansed, and complete and part of something much bigger than myself.
And once a year, no matter where I am, no matter what my journey has brought in the interim, I need to spend two hours immersed in this familiar and powerful ritual. I can’t wait for next Saturday.
This is powerful…and resonates for me a lot
The first time I ever went to yoga, I came out with a migraine. I swore that it was not my thing, and would never be. When people see me at work, they often notice that I rarely sit still. I bounce from room to room, making notes, observing behavior, weighing in. When I teach, I need a pencil in hand, even if I’m not the one doing any writing. I have never been comfortable with stillness.
My initial attempts at meditation have been on-again, off-again forays into body scans, and sitting meditation, and breathing…and I can do it sometimes. But my favorite way to meditate is authentic movement…spending twenty minutes just listening to how my body wants to move or be still, in its own time, in its own rhythm, and my mind clears in a way that no silent sitting still has ever done.
So why do I keep trying to sit? Because it’s hard. Because even though once a week I stretch, roll, curl up and intuit my way to mental stillness, I know that I have miles to go. And if I can sit for ten minutes on Monday, there’s no guarantee I can sit for another ten on Tuesday. But I can keep trying.
Meditation is not a contemporary Christian practice. It’s not something I learned at my church, but it’s also not something that separates me from my Christian roots. Anyone can meditate, no matter what their beliefs. Growing closer to yourself, and opening your mind can also bring you closer to God. But it isn’t easy. And it shouldn’t be.
Psalm 46:10 tells us to “be still and know that I am God” - and for me, the knowing is easier than the stillness, and it always has been. But both parts are important. Being still is not enough by itself. Knowing God (or universe, or infinity, or peace) is not enough by itself. Because that moment where we can find stillness and peace with ourselves and the universe – that’s rare, and precious and worth striving for. Even though it will always be hard.
“There is a great temptation to suggest to myself or others where God is working and where not, when God is present and when not, but nobody, no Christian leader, priest, or pastor, no monk or nun, and no spiritual director has any ‘special’ knowledge about God.” ~Henri Nouwen
So, there’s an election going on. And while my vocal, political, feminist voice wants to shout to the rooftops that certain candidates who claim to know what it means to be Christian, or right, or moral, are anything but, I’m learning that it’s more complicated than that. My cousin commented one day on Facebook that she hates how Christian has become a word that people use as if it’s bad, tainted, ruined by those who are in the public eye and claim to speak on behalf of Christians. And I want to say that they don’t speak for Christians, I do…but I can’t. Because as much as I want to say that I’m right, I’m moral, I’m Christian, it would be just as untrue as when the other side says it.
No one can tell what mysteries God has planned for us. Whether we call God by the name Allah or El, Inanna or Vishnu, Earth Mother or Adonai, or any other name, none of us has the answer. None of us is right. And yet we all are.
And the high-achiever, the A-student, the reader of books in me wants to rail against this. Wants to scream and cry that there must be a right answer. That’s why I like math so much – there’s a right answer. But here, there is only being in the moment, listening, and exploring. There’s no answer key for this.