We are in the season some call Lent, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “the 40 weekdays from Ash Wednesday to Easter observed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern, and some Protestant churches as a period of penitence and fasting”. As a child, I gave up chocolate as a way to pretend I was being pentinent (which wasn’t very difficult since chocolate wasn’t a staple around the house). I hadn’t a clue what pentinent meant, or what Lent was supposed to represent; I just knew that the weeks before Easter were dreary, and the Easter Bunny would soon bring relief.
So how and when did a rabbit become a symbol of Easter, carrying a basket of eggs, when a rabbit doesn’t even lay eggs? According to German Lutheran tradition from the 1600s, the Easter hare was a kind of Santa Claus who dispensed eggs to children who had been good. Rabbits were certainly active in the spring and their talents did not go unnoticed among signs of seasonal awakening. Wikipedia also explains that Orthodox churches had a custom of abstaining from eating eggs during Lent, boiling them to preserve for the end of the fast. Perhaps this is the source of their appearance in Easter baskets, but it still requires a lot of imagination to connect eggs to a hare. We adopted these symbols after Europeans left their homelands in the 1800s, bringing their traditions to America with them.
Enjoying the arrival of spring is a universal pleasure, and there’s nothing wrong with a good story to support festivities. My preference, however, is for the much older story that celebrates renewed life following a period of darkness and distance, after a Lent observed as a remembrance of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. I hope that story of rebirth and resurrection is still being shared with children, and isn’t entirely lost in commercialism and chocolate and cuteness. It has a great deal more staying power, and its source continues to send endless means through which to see the world with refreshed vision. I found renewal at the Arboretum this week, where the message was loud and clear. Hope Springs Eternal. And it is stunningly beautiful.
Easter is over, guests gone, laundry done, leftovers tossed. Return to routine, a check of the calendar to see what’s next. A let down, really. And then I have to think again. I don’t believe the Easter story included a “back to business as usual” message. The disciples had just been through the worst experience possible with their friend and the dreams he brought, and, as our Rector said in his Easter sermon, they weren’t thinking “resurrection” when word came to them that the tomb was empty. They were experiencing desolation, fear, shock, anxiety, anger. An empty tomb created disbelief, a tinge of hope, confusion, the need to regroup, reassess, wonder, talk, wait…. Time was required to process this disaster, taken in small steps, to perceive not only what had taken place, but what they were supposed to do about it. Their lives had been changed, and the trajectory of world history altered, but how much was it possible to really comprehend then or now?
I’m not likely to change my life, and definitely won’t change anything in the world. But I’d like to stay open to new possibilities along with a return to routine. My small steps have to be taken within the world I know and see, and happily digital photography offers me a route to a more receptive mind. Imagining a spring poppy again and again through simple filters (new eyes) is a lifeline to unveiling the renewable, creative energy that permeates our world, as it seems to do endlessly with humor and beauty. I can see “resurrection” every day in small things, no matter how slowly comprehension evolves as to what it all might mean.
It feels good. Windows that shine, wool sweaters banished, diminished clutter, lighter weight. Lots of ways to change pace and focus and move into a fresh season. But without a spring cleaning of my mind, I know I’ll quickly lose touch with that positive shift.
The week between Palm Sunday and Easter is a great time for me to sink into mind cleansing. Even without the theological substance that my tradition offers me to savor, a narrative that begins with a spirit lifting parade, only to cascade swiftly into realities wrought by the complexities of power and powerlessness, and narrow perspective compounded by betrayals, is a cautionary tale for all matters of humanity. I don’t need to look far to find similar stories in the framework of current culture to remind me that we are connected as flawed beings far beyond the boundaries of time and place.
And we are told there is much more to the Easter story, profound to the edges of belief. Whether one considers the narrative historical or hybrid myth does not concern me at all. Gifts of love and hope are freely offered; values to enhance a meaningful life in a complex world are provided: justice, non-violence, forgiveness, compassion, care for the earth and one another. I don’t have to understand, defend, or try to convince; all I have to do is shift for a time beyond self-interest, sit in stillness, and welcome the peace that comes with having chosen to listen. The opportunity to cleanse my mind is not seasonal, but the miraculous beauty of spring invites me to open my eyes, and walk my path with a more hopeful, grace-filled heart.