Spring has arrived in my part of the world, a certainty re-appearing within these uncertain times. Among spring’s daily unfoldings, vibrant colors have returned to my garden, visible gifts for gratitude. I have found it reaffirming to welcome purple blossoms this Lent, the color representing both mourning and celebration in the church calendar. The mourning part is particularly meaningful at present.
As part of his sermon, the Rector at our church read the following poem, which I liked a great deal. When the time comes for celebration, I will wear purple.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20
some of her other work can be found at www.lynnungar.com
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.
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.