Passover/ Easter 2013
I always feel a little lost on Easter Sunday. Growing up in a Catholic home we celebrated the entire season of Lent all the way to the special day of Easter.
Our rituals began with getting ashes on Ash Wednesday and then coming up with a sacrifice for the season of Lent. “What are you giving up for Lent?”
Chocolate or candy was a frequent choice. I don’t remember coming up with anything too deep like giving up holding grievances or judging others.
But it was the idea of giving up something as a symbol of the recognition of the sacrifice God made by giving us “His only begotten Son, who sacrifices his own life for our sins.” The least we could do was give up something we loved like candy.
We also gave up eating meat on Friday. Fridays were the day we ate fish or pizza without pepperoni or sausage.
And then every Sunday during Lent the readings at Mass would be the Biblical stories leading up to the Crucifixion. That took place on Good Friday and supposedly 3:00 was the hour. Thus sometimes we would go to church on Good Friday.
In Catholic school we reviewed the Stations of the Cross, the twelve steps Jesus went through prior to his death.
Of course Easter was a happy event. That is the day Jesus rose from the dead and resurrected his body, mind and spirit to show us that death can be overcome and that his life and love can live within us forever.
I like that part of the story-the resurrection. The symbol of love and peace and Jesus as a link to the Holy Spirit and ultimately God.
After I married my Jewish husband, Easter changed for me. For a time I still went to church on Easter Sunday, but eventually the meaning of Easter changed.
In our home we celebrate Passover, a week beginning with two Seders, when we sit around the dining room table, adorned with symbols that coincide with the Exodus story where Moses battles with the Egyptian Pharaoh to “let my people go.” This story is a reminder of the plight of Jews throughout history to be free from judgment and persecution. After Moses parts the Red Sea, it took 40 years in the dessert to finally change the mindset of the Jews from a slave mentality to one of freedom. We used the old Maxwell House Haggadah, the book each person uses to follow the Seder. I never liked the Exodus story where God smites the Egyptians and in order to help the Jews, sends plagues of insects, frogs, disease etc. We now use a more modern Haggadah.
Both the Lenten Season leading to Easter and the week of Passover are holidays that symbolize pain and victory using the human condition of inner slavery and bondage as symbols to depict the harsh reality that freedom comes after much conflict. Both holidays have both a painful and joyful element. In fact, in the end, they can both be very fun holidays.
Growing up we colored hard boiled eggs the week before Easter. On Easter Sunday we woke up to multicolored Easter baskets full of candy and small toys brought by the Easter Bunny, the giant mystical creature who also showed up in Shopping Malls like Santa Claus.
During Passover children play a wonderful role in the Seder where they sing songs, recite “Four Questions” that ask about the holiday and why it is different from all other days, and why we eat certain foods or do certain things at this time. Traditionally these questions are recited in Hebrew and the youngest child gets to show off their skills making the parents and grandparents glow with pride. The youngsters rarely understand much more about the story other than that insects are yuk, and yet when plastic replicas are displayed around the table can be fun to play with. They also may understand that Moses was a very important character in Judaism and just like them started out as a precious baby. Sometimes families will have a baby Moses to pass around.
For me I made the decision early on in our marriage that we would continue to celebrate Christmas with presents and most recently even a little tree – of course it is decorated with all Hanukah and Jewish symbols.
But Easter was different. It was more about Jesus Christ than any other holiday to me. And it was sacred in a sense. Jesus birthday is one thing. We can all understand celebrating a birtday. But celebrating Jesus death and then his raising from the dead is a stretch to those who do not believe that this ever happened.
So raising Jewish children, I made the decision not to have an Easter bunny and candy and eggs alone. Our holiday is Passover.
Where do I stand with it all. Where is my own consciousness? Every Easter I feel this inner need to go somewhere to celebrate and it didn’t necessarily have to be a Catholic Church. I guess I am again coming to the Middle Way.
For years my Methodist girlfriend, Susan, who also had married a Jewish man, and I would pick a church to go to and then go out to brunch. Then I went through my own spiritual struggle and A Course in Miracles came into my life. I loved the Course because it gave me a Jesus who taught that all of the stories are simply that-stories to make sense of a world that is full of conflict, seems to keep us in bondage, and yet is totally illusory thus we have been free the whole time. It is up to us to realize the symbol of resurrection is the symbol of life and love and God that has never left us and that we have never sinned against.
For some years I found going to a Unity Church on Easter offered some calming of the inner voice asking me to attend a service. But I didn’t quite feel at home there either.
We continue to celebrate Passover every year, by changing our entire kitchen to have special foods of unleavened grains and special dishes. We have two Seders with our family and make them fun. Long ago I got rid of the old fashioned Hagadah and after extensive research found the Santa Cruz Haggadah, written by a woman, who like me, had a spiritual crisis of sorts. She had left her Jewish life to embark on a journey of study of Hinduism and Buddhism and then came back to Judaism, rewriting the old Haggadah to reflect more of an enlightened story where God is a symbol of peace and that all of the symbolism moves us to go inside and ask the deeper questions about life and living.
When my youngest daughter moved to Boston, I had spent the last few years visiting her, and attending a Unity Church nearby. She is my free spirit child. We send her a Passover gift basket, but she does not gravitate as much to the Jewish life. She and I find a peace and bonding in being together this holiday. Although, we both admit that we feel like misfits even at the Unity Church.
I have also found myself gravitating to more Buddhist teachings and the simplicity of following my breath and letting go of the myriad of thoughts that traverse my consciousness as I sit. The Course reminds me there is one problem, the thought that we could have sinned or separated from God. And there is one solution, to forgive that thought and realize we never did anything wrong except think that we could make up a world of separation. Buddhism reminds me that I will never be able to figure out any of the stories to make sense to my small mind. And that the best way to control our world or our thinking is to let it go.
It’s all a process, I know.
So this Easter Sunday again I felt that pull inside that I should be somewhere, at some service, with Catholics-my childhood roots calling me. And yet I find myself wanting something different. Like a Zen Buddhist, Course in Miracles, Catholic Jew who reminds me of the vastness of the journey and the simplicity of celebrating our lives as a human just wanting to belong somewhere. Thus I come to the realization that within me is the teacher and service.
My husband has come a long way. He usually buys me a lily plant and card. And lately he has offered to attend any service with me and take me out to brunch. I spent time Googling Easter events in Cincinnati, Spiritual Easter events in Cincinnati, Buddhist Easter events in Cincinnati and finally Catholic Mass times for Easter in Cincinnati. I found Easter egg hunts all over the city and then a list of church services from denominations of all varieties. Nothing felt quite right.
I woke up and sat Zazen and then listened to various Zen teachers on You Tube. The most moving was a video on the life of a Zen Monk. So simple. Yet I am not a monk, and I have a very hard time sitting. We had breakfast. I called my friend Susan to wish her a Happy Easter.
My brothers and sisters are all going to Church I am sure and then having an Easter dinner of Ham and spring vegetables after their children search for Easter Eggs and enjoy their baskets.
My grandchildren are cute. My son and daughter in law took their children to the zoo yesterday where they saw the Easter Bunny. My other grandchild told my daughter she wanted to have Easter. She wanted to go to church. She remembered one Easter where we went to Chicago to visit my sister and we all went to Catholic Easter Mass together. My daughter had to explain-but “you are a little Jewish girl and we are not visiting Chicago this year.”
And so this holiday goes on to be a paradox and yet it is not forgotten. It’s meaning, whether you believe in rising from the dead or simply raising our consciousness a little more, is significant.
Whatever you celebrate even if you are just having a special meal with family and friends. Enjoy. Feel the freedom within you. And please, please don’t spend it searching for the perfect service.
Thanks for listening.
Addendum-I wrote this on Easter Sunday. I want to share that we went to the Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit at our Museum Center. It was a very appropriate event for Easter Sunday.