Easter, Spiritually Speaking

Published in The Martha’s Vineyard Times
April 9, 2009

The cycle of death and rebirth, living, dying, and life renewing itself, is something that we humans have mystified, mythologized, and taken for granted ever since we began to record our fragile history. It is our human story and our planet’s story of the evolution of all living species, the agricultural cycle and ultimately the demonstration of continuity of the human race. It is also one of our great religious conundrums: Life is short and finite, so what do we do with it while we’re here – and why bother?

Cultural and religious celebrations to honor and ensure the continuing triumph of life over death and the cyclical greening, blackening and re-greening of the earth are part of most, if not all, human cultural and religious traditions. Maybe that’s why so many of us feel called to mark and honor this time of the year, in the faith that life as we know it and we would wish it to be will continue.

Every year, usually in early March, I write my annual crocus poem. My adult sons tease me about this little ritual, but if I’m late in sending it, they call to ask me where it is. These poems are not intended to be profound. Often they are little more than bits of whimsical fluff that tumble out of my pen when although the air still feels like winter, the changing light announces the season’s turning – very much like the crocuses themselves.

And really, who can’t love a crocus?

We see them poking through the frozen soil in January as if they just can’t wait to get up and out of the cold and dark of winter. But wait they must. And then one day, I come home from getting the mail and there they are, clustered here and there, bowing and nodding to me in the still chill winds of March.

It doesn’t take much to grow a crocus – put the bulbs in the ground and forget them, and then be surprised by their grace and beauty. They even have the courtesy to wither and die off before I have to weed them. Low maintenance loveliness in several lovely shades of spring. Each flower a little miracle, blooming and withering in its own time, each a part of the sacred harmony of our living.

In the coming days, all around this tiny planet of ours, religiously observant people will honor the greening of our world and the resurgence of life. And in these various rituals we will reconfirm those articles of faith and observance that reminds us of our history as a religious people and a living species.

Some of us will gather on a beach at sunrise and greet the dawn with joyful cries of “He is risen.” Others of us will gather at a Passover Seder and tell the ancient stories of an enslaved people who over the millennia have triumphed over their captors and their torturers, and who survive and continue as a people to this day. Others will honor the turning of the earth with ancient vernal rituals to celebrate and give thanks for the return of the sun and the quickening pulse of the re-greening earth. Still others will eschew any overtly religious ritual, but will faithfully get out the potting soil, turn over the compost, and start the seedlings. However we do this, it is good and right to celebrate and be grateful for this time of year, each according to his/her faith and practice.

I am an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. Religious ritual is my stock and trade. This year, I may or may not participate in a formal religious observance. I haven’t decided. I do know that I will walk on the beach with my grandchildren, and together we will decorate Easter eggs in the tradition of Transylvanian village women who use red onion skins and newly sprouted leaves and snippets of green herbs.

And just so you know, I have already written my annual Crocus poem.

Priorities

To much for me to do today
Packing clothes to go away
Endless lists to write and check
Clean the bathroom, sweep the deck…

But then…beside the garden gate
My crocuses have bid me…wait.

They call to me amidst the flurry
And ask me what on earth’s the hurry?
The socks and undershirts will stay
But we, your crocuses have bloomed today.

Come hear the birdsong
Feel the sun
Today the spring and we are one

Such beauty plays the greater part
Of life
And time on earth is fleeting.
So stay your hand, your feet, your heart
Bend close and breathe our greeting.

A resident of Oak Bluffs and Plymouth, the Rev. Judith Campbell, author and workshop leader, served as pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard from 2001 through 2007.

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