Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter 2012

Today is Easter Sunday, yet again. It is also Passover for the Jews, and in Japan, Hanamatsuri, or the Buddha's Birthday (always celebrated there on April 8, though correlated with the Lunar Calendar in other Buddhist nations). Astronomically, it is the first Sunday after the first Full Moon following the Vernal Equinox, thus aligning solar, lunar, and terrestrial holidays. A propitious time, by any reckoning--if indeed the word "propitious" has any other than fanciful significance. Garrison Keillor has, as always, a good take on this today on his Writer's Almanac, in which he describes the pre-Christian or "pagan" roots of the holiday as a celebration of fertility and renewal of life:

"The word "Easter" and most of the secular celebrations of the holiday come from pagan traditions. Anglo Saxons worshipped Eostre, the goddess of springtime and the return of the sun after the long winter. According to legend, Eostre once saved a bird whose wings had frozen during the winter by turning it into a rabbit. Because the rabbit had once been a bird, it could still lay eggs, and that rabbit became our Easter Bunny. Eggs were a symbol of fertility in part because they used to be so scarce during the winter. There are records of people giving each other decorated eggs at Easter as far back as the 11th century."

Renewal of life. The common theme in all of these equinoctial holidays--Passover (the sparing of the Israelites from the wrath of Jahweh, inflicted on their Egyptian oppressors); the Resurrection of Jesus, the Birth of the Buddha, and of course the Rabbit laying eggs. In each case, stories of something miraculous, breaking the usual pattern of things--whether we believe it or not. And this recurrent theme, I think, hints at the miraculous nature of the life we all take for granted: the gradual unfolding of a tiny seed, fed by little more than sunlight, rainwater, minerals, and compost, into new life, familiar yet unique, pursuing its own path through the world as it staves off death and entropy for a time, as it grows to its own fruition. Here is an Easter Poem by May Sarton that I found this morning in my Earth Prayers anthology:

Easter Morning

The extreme delicacy of this Easter morning
Spoke to me as a prayer and as a warning.
It was light on the brink, spring light
After a rain that gentled my dark night.
I walked through landscapes I had never seen
Where the fresh grass had just begun to green,
And its roots, watered deep, sprung to my tread;
The maples wore a cloud of feathery red,
But flowering trees still showed their clear design
Against the pale blue brightness chilled like wine.
And I was praying all the time I walked,
While starlings flew about, and talked, and talked.
Somewhere and everywhere life spoke the word.
The dead trees woke; each bush held its bird.
I prayed for delicate love and difficult,
That all be gentle now and know no fault,
That all be patient—as a wild rabbit fled
Sudden before me. Dear love, I would have said
(And to each bird who flew up from the wood),
I would be gentler still if that I could,
For on this Easter morning it would seem
The softest football danger is, extreme. . .
And so I prayed to be less than the grass
And yet to feel the Presence that might pass.
I made a prayer. I heard the answer, "Wait,
When all is so in peril, so delicate!"

I love the way she emphasizes both the sheer beauty and splendor of life in this poem, but at the same time its fragility, its vulnerability--a miracle so easily snuffed out, even by a careless footfall. It reminded me of my own afternoon in the garden yesterday, delicately planting or transplanting starts of spinach, mixed greens, collards, kale, parsley, eggplant, and marigolds interspersed amongst them all, while stepping gingerly through the crumbly, newly prepared soil, hoping I would not inadvertently crush any of these tender seedlings.