Monday, April 25, 2011

Inclusive Easter

During the week several people commented to me that I must be busy, being Easter week. I explained that I am busy but it has nothing to do with Easter. In the past when I followed the Easter story through the last days and hours of Jesus life it was busy because there were multiple services to coordinate. Now I have less interest in following the literal story of Jesus’ last days. Like many people, the literal version of the story smacks too much of a view of salvation that we have left behind. It’s a view that says we have all fallen short of God’s nature, and Jesus died and rose as part of God’s plan to help us rise above our human nature and attain eternal life. I take almost the exact opposite view. I don’t think it’s our nature that’s the problem. On the contrary, what we need to do is return to our essential nature that we often forget. It’s the fact that you’ve forgotten your nature as a spark of light in the world that’s the problem. You don’t need to be saved by someone outside of yourself. You need to awaken to your true nature that is very much alive and well within you.

For those of us with an inclusive spiritual perspective, Easter is an opportunity to reinterpret the message in a way that is personally empowering and optimistic. The message is one of personal responsibility. Change the course of history from this moment forward by reclaiming your power as a human being with a voice and a call to be all you can be in the world.

What Unites Us?

What is your feeling about Easter? Do you look forward to it, dread it, or do you feel conflicted?

While we come from so many different perspectives on Easter, some following a more literal understanding of the events than others, there is something we can all agree on. We are all looking for a little magic in the midst of life that can be confusing and uncertain. Whether you take the story of resurrection literally or not, the season can provide a little renewal of your belief in possibility.

Let me illustrate with a story from when I was 6 years old.

When I was 6, I found an old car tire and put it in the dirt in the backyard. Every afternoon when I came home from school I sat in the middle of my tire and dug. I dug my heart out with my little plastic spade, shoveling handfuls of dirt over the side, fully convinced that if I dug for long enough I would get to China. I imagined that on the way I would pass through lost cities and find old treasures before eventually arriving at China. I’d heard the phrase, “digging a hole to China” and I thought that was just about the coolest thought imaginable, so I dug. I wanted to know how it could be that you could dig down but then end arrive somewhere by coming up through the ground in some place far away.

I found the world an enchanted but strange place. The hole in the ground was one of the ways I escaped from a world that confused me. There was something about sitting in the dirt that put things in perspective. Around this time, I had some traumatic experiences. One day I found my best friend in the boy’s bathroom at school sitting on a strange man’s lap. I never knew what had happened, but I knew it wasn’t right. Another friend died when he became trapped in an abandoned fridge. He was sitting next to me in his seat in class one day. The next day his seat was empty. This also wasn’t right. Soon after that I walked into the kitchen of my home and found a man from the local pysch hospital holding my parents at knife point. At least that’s how I remember it. Whatever happened, I knew it wasn’t right. How does a six year old boy make sense of a world that turns out to be less certain, less friendly, and less trustworthy than he expected? He digs a hole in the ground. He plays. He makes believe. He talks to imaginary friends. He dreams. He waits for tooth fairies and Easter bunnies to bring chocolates and coins and other magical treats. My hole in the ground was one place I could control.

I gave up tunneling to China after a few weeks. I was a persistent kid, but when I could barely fit my feet in the hole after 3 weeks I lost interest. So much for my trek to China. What are your early memories? When did you first realize that life can be a raw and rough ride? How did you cope with the disenchantment? What place did magic have in your childhood?

The Easter story, whether you understand it literally or as a long lasting myth, has all the elements of life in it. It has betrayal, disappointment, disillusionment, loss, corruption, relief, joy, surprise, forgiveness and so much more. It is a real world story of despair giving way to hope.

Easter As a Pagan Celebration of Nature

The Easter story emerged at a time when people were living with high levels of uncertainty and change. The magical elements of the story were partially a way for first century people to dig a hole to China. At the time of Jesus, magical thinking was closely tied to survival. Druids burned Yule logs in winter to remind the sun god to return; something that was by no means certain. What we now call Easter was for them a grateful relief, the return of the sun. They believed that their nature rituals had something to do with this miracle. At least it gave them a semblance of control in a world that seemed relentless and harsh.

A strong argument can be made that the story of the resurrection was fashioned after these pagan rituals. The word Easter never appears in the Bible. The word comes from Oestra, the pagan goddess of spring and rebirth. Easter is celebrated with symbols of fertility such as rabbits, eggs and spring colors. The fact that Earth Day fell on Good Friday this year is perfect. Eater reflects the pattern of nature. The seed of new life prepares itself in the darkness, ready to flourish in the spring. Jesus was the archetype for the greening of life. Maybe those who spoke about Jesus as the vine had some intuitive understanding of the earth connections, with the imagery of green growth and a web of relationships. Jesus death represented the dark days of winter that give way to the new birth of spring. It may also be no accident that in the story when Mary first saw the risen Jesus, he appeared in the form of a gardener. The earth holds all the same lessons as the Easter story.

Nature holds wisdom for dealing with the ups and downs of life; patience, surrender and acceptance. Nature is the place where so many extremes of human existence play out. At various times we go on personal quests and test extremes of endurance. We find both peace and challenge in the wild. We stand face to face with the most mind blowing beauty in nature, and quake at the feet of her power. It is a giant back yard for self discovery and imagining the possibilities for a better future. Nature has magical qualities.

The Easter story tracks the wild extremes of nature, the changing seasons and enduring wisdom. The story and rituals around Easter include enough magic and miracle to give you space to sit in the ground and dig to China. After centuries of scholarship and science that make a physical resurrection unlikely, the magic is found in a different way. Sometime after I was about 8, I realized that I couldn’t dig to China no matter how long I sat in that tire. I entered a stage of development that children’s author, Beatrix Potter described as “half believing and wholly playing with fairies.” This is the stage where you continue “believing” in Santa Claus to get gifts and you keep “believing” in the Easter Bunny to get candy. You keep the magic alive just enough to benefit without embarrassing yourself.

The same process happens for many adults with stories like Easter and Christmas. As long as you benefit from half believing the stories, and don’t lapse into beliefs that are pre-scientific, you can play in the story and see where it leads you. The benefit of half believing the story is the optimism it engenders that you can change the course of history.

Change the Course of History

Changing the course of history is a good Easter phrase. There was a commercial a few years back. It was for a new video cell phone. Jesus was sitting around the Last Supper table. When he realized that Judas wasn’t there, he called Judas on his video cell phone. He caught Judas downtown telling jokes to some Roman soldiers. In the background, you see one of the soldiers dangling a bag of silver coins. There is guilt written all over Judas’ face. The look on Jesus’ face is, “Aha, I caught you in the act.” Then the caption flashes onto the screen- “So and so brand mobile phone- Changing the Course of History!”

The Easter miracle is that you can change the course of history. You can rise above hurts and trauma from your past, and change the course of your own history. You can face your own wild nature, both the accepting, peaceful aspects of yourself and your vision for change, heal some of the broken parts and move on with determination. The Easter miracle is that a seed of possibility, buried in the darkness of your own psyche, is all it takes to create a massive transformation in your life.

I have been busy, but not because of Easter. I’ve been busy because I’ve been playing a small part in a local production of Pygmalion. Pygmalion is the story better known for its musical version “My Fair Lady”, the story of Eliza the flower girl and Henry Higgins who wagers that he can pass her off as a duchess by teaching her manners, culture and above all else correct speech. It’s a play that holds all the best and most difficult parts of the Easter story. When Higgins attempts to change Eliza against her will it’s a little like the salvation version of Easter where God feels the need to change us from the outside. But the play, and Higgin’s character in particular, have layers of complexity. The play also has elements of the reinterpreted Easter story where Eliza takes control of her own destiny, rises above her past and changes the course of her history. She comes to appreciate that speech is a superficial change, but something far more profound changes inside of her. She learns self confidence. She claims her own worth as a valued human being who offers something significant to the world.

Soaring In Your True Nature

The butterfly is a beautiful symbol for the Easter message. The first stage is the caterpillar which lives close to the earth, grounded and steady. The next stage is the cocoon, which is like time in darkness preparing for new growth. Finally comes the butterfly which emerges from darkness but flies free. Rediscovering your true nature often follows these stages. The Easter story follows the same pattern. Nature models the pattern. Eliza Doolittle experienced this pattern.

The other connection to the butterfly is what is known as the butterfly effect. One small change in your life spreads and impacts all parts of your life, and the lives of those around you. One person’s awakening, though it always begins within, is never independent of others. The Easter message of taking responsibility for changing the course of history applies to the whole world. We’ve seen it in the Middle East. When the fruit seller in Tunisia set himself on fire in front of government offices as a protest just before Christmas, he may have had no idea of the chain of events that have unfolded since in Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Egypt and now Lybia. He had had enough of the corruption and silencing of peoples’ voices. He took extreme action the same way Jesus took extreme action in the story of his life and death.

It is the responsibility of every one of us to continue the legacy of the fruit seller. Even if we aren’t called to extreme action like setting ourselves on fire or going toe to toe with the Roman Empire, we all have our ways and means of changing the course of history. Start as a caterpillar. Inch forward while staying close to the earth. When you spend time in the cocoon, prepare your mind and heart for the inner awakening. Then release yourself to fly and be all that you can be in the world.

Reclaim the magic of Easter in whatever way is meaningful for you. If you find little in the original story that resonates, then take to heart nature’s story. Remember the words of the American inventor Buckminster Fuller, “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to a butterfly.” However frail and fearful you feel right now, rest assured there is a butterfly in you just waiting to soar.

Just like a butterfly, I will awaken to my true nature at the right time. Namaste.

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