Easter is celebrated on the Sunday that follows the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. I like the sound of this–after the first full moon. I love how it ties the Christian liturgical calendar to the rhythms of the planet, the migration of birds, the mating of frogs, the amount of light in our days. I realize that the Council of Nicea, established this method of dating so as not, in the words of the Roman Emperor Constantine “to follow the calculations of the Jews” in dating Passover. “We ought not”, said the Emperor, “to have anything in common with the Jews.” What was he thinking!? As if by some anti-Semitic decree Christians might “have nothing to do” with the very ground that birthed them.
Thank God we are transformed in spite of our selves. This is a crucial element of the Lenten/Easter seasons. Whether or not we orchestrate our transformation properly, death will be defeated. The grass will turn green. But we would do well to pay attention. Our Christian, Jewish, pagan, agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, our “spiritual but not religious” bodies unite in the deprivation of winter/lent, and the longing for Easter/spring. It cannot hurt the Christian cause to consider how deeply our faith and our scripture connect us to the cycles of creation. Like Adam (Adamah), we are of the earth. Lent assuredly reminds us of this: “from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”
The words of Ash Wednesday remind us of our mortality, but they also remind us of the nature of our lives as earthly creatures. We are made of dirt according to the story in Genesis, and God’s breath blown into our fleshy lungs–not holy sparkles and some disembodied spirit.
Lent is intimately connected to the coming of spring. It means spring in old English. It means slow in Latin. This is exactly how we experience lent in Minnesota. Spring comes so damn slowly here. We are so deprived in winter– deprived of color, light, sound, smell, vitamin D. Deprivation is not something we need to orchestrate in these 40 days. We hardly have to make a decision to fast (give up chocolate?) we’ve been thrust into a sensory deprivation chamber.
Easter is coming and boy do we need it. Seriously. I don’t know anyone here who is not waiting with all their body and mind, their joints and their serotonin depleted brains, for some sort of resurrection. The church emphasizes that these seasons are holy. That is okay, I think; as long as we open the doors, allow the boundaries to be crossed, when we consider what holy means. God’s work in the word is everywhere apparent if we are paying attention. We need to pay attention. Faith isn’t about striving as much as being awake. I am convinced that it would be good for the life of our faith (and the life of the planet) if we would go outside. Get off the Internet. Be attentive to how Easter comes outside of the walls humans have made.
Before semi’s burned tons of fossil fuel hauling vegetables from Mexico to Minnesota, lent would have been especially difficult here on the farm where I live with my friends and family. Everything around us is so blatantly dead. The salsa and pickles we canned are almost gone. In the old days the larder would be empty. Now there are 24 hour mini-marts, but still. The Lenten fast doesn’t seem theoretical or self-imposed here. If Easter doesn’t come it’s obvious we could starve to death.
Cyndy, one of my farm mates and the best gardener among us, recently gave me the last of her summer carrots. She’d been storing them in their dirt and a plastic bag in the bottom of her fridge. I kept putting the carrots up to my nose to smell the dirt. It will be months before we can grow anything again.
Death is all around us. Some of our chickens froze to death. One of Brett’s goats got into the grain and stuffed itself with feed (not up for the fast I guess) and died of Enterotoxaemia. When you leave your house there is an almost complete absence of smell and sound. The stillness is stunning in December and January but by the middle of March it seems rigid and mean. When I step out onto the porch and smell the smoke from Cyndy and Dana’s woodstove, I am overjoyed by the olfactory satisfaction. This is what a Lenten fast can do for you.
Most days when I look out my office window I see nothing that looks alive–it is all endless drifts of snow, only an occasional bird, nothing green–still, in APRIL. If Easter doesn’t come, I’m sure we will freeze, starve, or unravel emotionally. If we haven’t already. The Minnesota winter provides us with Extreme Lenten Practice. I am thinking we should invite people from Florida up here to intensify their Lenten journey.
Death is everywhere. But if it is warm enough to take a walk at night in the glistening snow death doesn’t seem so fearsome. It has it’s own undeniable beauty. It’s a season. If we could look at it in the face and fear it not, it would change our lives. I’m certain of it. Buddhist monks spend weeks in burial grounds in order to sit with death and contemplate it. This sort of sitting with death is one of the blessings of Lent/winter.
At times I think we should move to a climate more conducive to human life. But there is something about these seasons that insist on our practice. We have no choice. We will contemplate death because everything around us is dead. I am grateful (in a way) for this enforced observance, though I certainly complain. Sometimes I have to work at the gratitude. Sometimes it just hits me, like the smoke from the neighbor’s chimney.
(excerpted from a much longer article at http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2014-03/involuntary-fast)