Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Lifetime of Easters

I grew up Catholic. I attended Catholic School for 16 years, all the way through college. I faithfully attended Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. My mother was a former Catholic Nun. My father was a lector, a choir member and a leader on the parish council, my brother was an altar boy. My Grandparents belonged to an elite Catholic society called the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. I practiced piano in a convent, held my first job in a rectory, and had my first kiss in the choir loft of the church. My entire childhood revolved around the church, and most of my friends' lives did too, especially during Holy Week.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, the Catholic Church shifts into high ceremonial gear. Over the course of one week, the devout Catholic will experience and often participate personally in processions, the waving of palm fronds, foot washing ceremonies, veneration of inanimate objects, candlelight incantations, public baptisms and confirmations, elaborate hymns, multicolored vestments and altar cloths, incense, trumpets and exuberant exhortations in an unrivaled ritualistic feast.

As a young girl with a devout heart and a flair for pageantry and drama, I loved most of the Holy Week ceremony. It offered a change from the usual Sunday routine, and the many hours sitting in the pew were generally offset by free time to romp with friends afterwards while our parents talked or readied the Church for the next event. The only exception, for me, was Good Friday. After the Holy Thursday Mass commemorating Jesus' Last Supper, the altar was stripped bare, the instruments were silenced, and the candles were snuffed. The Friday service was solemn and devoid of all of the trappings that spoke to my soul. It was a cold and lifeless routine in which I was asked, along with the rest of the congregation to play a role in the reading of the passion, reciting, on cue, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" as we shouldered our responsibility for the death of our God. I cringed every time I uttered those words. I believed that had I lived at that time, I would not have been one of the crowd calling for death, that I would have gone against the grain and defended goodness and Truth.

Would I ever have "Crucified Him?"

All these years later, things have changed for me.  I don't participate in the Catholic Holy Week ritual anymore, but it is never far from my mind as these days come each year, and I have given a lot of thought to what it all means and to how I feel the stories of Jesus' Glorification, Death and Resurrection relate to me. What I have learned through my yoga is that we don't need to seek God in any Church or authority because the light of divinity resides in each one of us. It is the part of us that remains unaffected by outside circumstance, that is constant, whole and infinite, unchanged even when our smaller self, the one that holds tight to our constructs of ourselves as individuals with unique and important identities convinces us otherwise. Through the practices of yoga, and specifically meditation, we learn to empower that Higher Consciousness in ourselves, and by doing so, we learn to embody it in our lives and relationships. Even further, we learn to recognize it in all other beings.

Nonetheless, we can never escape the endless cycle of oscillation between the ego self and the Divine Self. This is the human experience, and it shows up in much the same way as Easter Week. When we choose a path of spirituality, we are like Jesus' entering the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, prepared to lead, greeted as wise, in control of the moment and radiating goodness. We cultivate meaningful friendships. We choose our sangha, or spiritual community, carefully and surrender to our intuition and spirit as he did at the Last Supper. We claim our place in the community of Higher Consciousness.

But Good Friday comes for us all, and even when we have identified that "still, small voice within" that guides us to Truth and uplifts our spirit, the fact is, that, for the most part, we all CHOOSE to crucify it. We numb ourselves with unhealthy relationships, with substances, with media, or with any one of dozens of other degrading options. We kill the "Christ," the anointed or highest part of ourselves again and again. Sometimes we fall short of our ideal and do this on a daily basis, sometimes just now and then, but it is part of the experience of being human. And because it is, we need not label it as bad, or evil, or shameful, because the real "Good News" is that no matter how far we bury the light within, no matter how heavy the stone we roll over the tomb, it still shines. When we have faith in the truth of our own light, when we find our way back again and again to its source in our heart, Easter comes, and our highest self triumphs, at least until the cycle begins again: We find the light, we crucify it, it is reborn brighter than before. Many who espouse Eastern philosophies like Buddhism and Hinduism would say that the cycle continues not just in this lifetime but into the next and the next and the next.

And so this year, though I will miss the rituals of my youth, I will still choose to celebrate Easter...the triumph of light over dark, of goodness over evil. I will create my own pageantry as I light candles, do yoga, and meditate. I will offer my gratitude for the fully human aspect of Jesus who showed us the path to our own divinity through his enlightenment, and I will resolve, once again, to roll back the stone and free the light in my own soul.

Kate Mullane Robertson says it so much more beautifully.....treat yourself to a full read of this poem. It is well worth it:

“I am a 
a Phoenix,
a sweet 
never born 
and never dying 

only self-immolation 
and resurrection 

and resurrection 

self-immolation and 

over, and over,
and over
and again.. 

but, I am ready. 

Sometimes it is the 
heart that burns, 
white hot and 
eager for the resurrection 

and sometimes 
it is the body... 

the body of selfish desires,
the body of spectred dreams,
the body of wants and woes, 
sorrows and imaginings 

I am not afraid 
of the 
bring it on...


refuse to 
live in the vestibule of
in between, 
the space 
where the ego 
still stands 
by the 
letting go 

I welcome the 
Phoenix fire,
let it burn 
hot and 
scrupulously --
incineration of 
whatever would 
keep me from 
loving without reason, 
and with abandon 

Let its flames engulf 
the me, 
the my, 
the mine 
and failure, 

of what I think I've earned... 
and what I'll 
never be... 

let the veneer, 
the scarred paint,
the flash of self 
blister and 
in the 
heat of unselfed 

I am weary of 
carrying around 
not quite
incinerated ashes 
of resistance, 
the almost immolated shards
of sharpness and arrogance,
the pulverized
still peppered 
with bits of bone 
and broken incisors,
the bitter fragments of 
that once 
gnashed and gnawed 
at the details of 
who's to blame,
of he said/she said,
of human choices made, 
and what went wrong... 

a limboed 
state of 
regret and pride, 
of what we wanted, 
what could have been... 

I want

no, more! 

I long for, 
I ache to know 
dissolution of 
the veiled ego, 
the clouded past, 
the "what never was" 
and is 
and really 
shouldn't be... 

I can do this,
I know I can

I can walk so fully into the 
that there is nothing 
to carry back out 
but the gold, 
the silver, 
the whatever is essential, 
what lives beyond and 
never dies

no rust... 
no dross... 
no smell of fire... 
just a sweet nestling me
as pure 
as the 
"form of the fourth"* 

There is no flickering ember of 
the past's tinseled 
moments of selfish 
indulgence and accomplishment, 
the genetic grime 
of dark alleys 
filled with ghosts 
sorrows waiting 
to pull me down,
and yet
still further 

no bits and pieces of 
another time, 
a former me, 
a maybe him,
or "what if her" 
left to cling 
to new 
downy feathers,
soft and wet 
as we 
emerge from the 
clean, white 
ash of 

Just dust and 
fine as silt 
to soften the journey 
like a powdery 
just a dusting, 
quickly blown away by 
Spirit --
fresh winds of 
I am --

I am! 

I am 

I am 
the I AM 
that never was a 
and seeks no promise 
will be. 
But sings the 
sweet silver 
song of 
I am,
I am,
I am,
I am 
all that 
right now, 
in this moment 
of grace... 

"here am I, 
send me...” 
― Kate Mullane Robertson

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