After Easter

The apples have bloomed,
the cherries and the pears,
and the redbuds along the roadsides.
Now is the time of dogwoods
glowing among the fresh leaves,
whitest white in the purity of resurrection.

 

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The Promise of Easter

On this Saturday of Holy Week, the sun is shining brightly and the spring air is soft. The forsythia and daffodils are blooming, and the maples and earliest apple trees are in blossom. Cardinals and robins are singing, and the message of rebirth infuses the earth.

I think about tomorrow, the holiest day in the Christian calendar, named in our language for the ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and rebirth. And I think about the way many religions, ancient and contemporary, reflect on the cycle of the year through stories of the god who dies and is reborn. Rebirth – resurrection – is the central concept of Christianity, but we are not unique.

There is something very powerful in the turning of the seasons that stirs human imagination. We may explain the seasons scientifically, but they still seem more significant and more amazing than the physical facts of scientific explanation. Perhaps this is because the forces that drive the seasons are so much larger than we are.

But the mystery of rebirth is also larger than we are. We need our myths to help explain the incomprehensible nature of rebirth. And so we have our stories of the god who dies and is reborn. The story in my heart is the story of the passion and resurrection of the Christ. I am a Christian because I grew up in a Christian culture, and the stories of the Christian tradition resonate with me. They help me find my way to God – or, rather, they help me see that God is with me. But I don’t for a moment believe that my stories are the only ones that are true.

We are like the group of blind people in the story of the encounter with an elephant. One person, feeling the elephant’s leg, said that the elephant was very like a tree. Another, touching the ear, declared that the beast was like a ship with a large sail. A third, stroking the trunk, said that the elephant was like a snake. And so on. Every faith has grasped a part of God, but no one has grasped all of God. We are human and limited in our understanding; we can’t fully comprehend the infinity that is God.

And so we waste our energy arguing over our beliefs, assuming that our own way of faith is somehow more true than others. When we believe we know the only truth, we try to convince everyone else to believe exactly what we believe, while those of other faiths do the same. And so we have crusades, jihads, holy wars, grieving God in the name of God.

We try to discover evidence that Jesus really (that is, in physical fact, empirically observable) did die and rise again. Some seem to believe that the truth of the resurrection depends on such physical reality. But the real truth of the story rests in its power to transform us, its power to bring us into an ever-growing relationship with God.

What matters about the story of the god who dies and is resurrected is not its historical accuracy. What matters is not even the story of rebirth’s connection to the cycle of the seasons. What matters is the message of God’s power and love behind the story of resurrection. What matters is the little bit of truth about God revealed in the story.

There are many different theological statements about the significance of the Resurrection of Jesus. The one that one hears most often is that Jesus died for us, to save us from the consequences of our sinfulness. There may be truth in this concept, but I don’t think it’s the whole truth. It may be the elephant’s tail, but the whole truth of the elephant is something else.

For me, the larger truth of the passion and resurrection is the revelation of God’s overwhelming love for us and the promise of God’s presence with us. God chose to suffer and die as we suffer and die. God understands us completely and is with us completely. God promises to go with us into the darkest places of our lives. But even all that is not, I think, the whole truth of the Resurrection. The whole truth is beyond my limited human comprehension. All I can do is experience the power of the story and love God.

Evidence

Thunder at a distance,
And the light fading at the end of day.
The wind stirs in the trees, little new leaves rustling.
I open the door and walk out into cool rain,
The air clean and warm and the wind lively against my skin.
The scent of earth and new growth fills me with every breath. 

God, let those who don’t believe in resurrection or rebirth
Have one May evening of fresh rain and a soft wind!

 

Small Pleasures

The small pleasures of the day
fit themselves into the pulses of my heart:
sunlight warm on the bare branches of the backyard maple,
coffee hot in a forsythia mug, the soft click of the refrigerator,
plump blueberries from Chile, full of flavor and rich with cream.

We live in memory and desire,
but this is the only reality,
this moment,
these pleasures.

The End of Winter

In the last hour of winter,
(forty-seven degrees and cloudy),
I wait for the equinox.
Fifty minutes now to spring.
Snow lasted until ten days ago,
cold lingered longer.
The bulbs are only now showing a little green,
and the buds of the maples are tightly brown.
Will this bleak winter never end?

Of course spring will come, and summer after –
too hot, bleached, drought-defined.
But in the brief transition, longed-for,
awaited without patience,
there will be redbud hiding among the trees,
blazing forsythia and magnolias full of cream,
an Easter glory of dogwood and crabapples.

Tomorrow, the forecasters say,
will be sixty degrees and sunny.
How am I to wait?

Intoxicated by the Sacred

It’s not hard to get high on spring.  After a long winter of stale air inside and scentless cold outside, of monochrome landscapes and dull skies, the colors and scents and sounds of spring are overwhelming.  It’s easy to find the sacred in all this joyful color and music — but the sacred is always, always there, surrounding us with God’s love, even in the dullest of times.

 

Dizzy

You make me dizzy, God –
Dizzy-drunk on the scent of viburnum and peony
Filling the garden, dizzy with birdsong,
With early sunshine, with stars over mountains,
Swept away with the goodness of bread and wine
And the soft, warm rain of the spring thaw.
You fill me up, Lord –
Full of the voices of friends
And the sound of bullfrogs in the spring night,
Full of light spilling like overflowing grace
Through stained glass, full of music soaring
Like the wind of creation across the waters.
You make me dizzy with love, O my beloved,
And trip me up into your warm embrace.

 

The Students’ May-Dance

 

The Students’ May-Dance

I went looking for a poem
For May, for my students, for spring,
For young women half-remembering
A ritual of celebration more ancient than Easter,
Celebration of the Goddess and the rising earth,
Goddess and her phallic consort,
Lovely Maypole adorned with flowers.
I went looking for a poem,
Searched five anthologies,
Rejecting the coarse, slick glimmer of male words
Celebrating cherry-trees, daffodils,
Owls and rings and daisies and their own wonder,
Rejecting also the dark angry assertions of certain women
More tuned to their own deaths than life.
There was no poem.

Enigma:
To be a woman and yet filled with light,
To be filled with light and yet rich and heavy and anchored,
Not filled with lightness floating away like paper balloons
Or Maypole ribbons lifted on the wind.

Question:
What do they mean by it,
What are they thinking, these women
Turning around and around this symbolic pole?
Do they think of spring,
Of the intense green of the uncut grass
And the cups of light dangling from the forsythia?
Or do they remember the Goddess in their blood,
Dark blood of births and beginnings,
The vast earth beneath their feet,
Beneath the warm, slanting light of spring evening
And the brave, airy words of men
Who think the Maypole is the center of things,
The phallic organ of the universe,
Ignoring the dark body of the Goddess
That holds it up, gives it function, purpose.

Problem:
To make of these disparate elements a poem:
Women and spring and light,
Youth and the Maypole, dance and the Goddess,
Ancient fertility rite and the academic year
Drawing to a close as the world is reborn,
Re-bears itself out of the dark womb of the Goddess,
To the sound of academic voices reading dry poems
Washed alive again in light spilling through forsythia flowers.
These elements: women and youth and light
And the sweet green despair that is spring.

 

Note: The women of Wells College have many wonderful traditions. One of them is the annual May celebration. When I was academic dean there, I was asked to read a poem as a part of that celebration. This poem reflects that experience, and it also reflects my conviction that God is not an old man with white whiskers. God is too great for us to know fully. Though we may picture God as Father or Mother, he/she is both and greater than both. God is truly beyond our comprehension. God is a person encompassing and transcending gender. Some cultures have glimpsed God as Mother, and some have glimpsed God as Father. Neither is the complete truth of God. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that God is God.