I love Easter! I love everything about it, from Ash Wednesday, the 40 days of Lent, and Holy Week to the new Easter outfits on the little girls in church. I love the eggs and bunnies and the pastel colors coming back. Although I’m not much into candy any more, I still love the Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs that seem to taste better than the regular Reese’s Peanut Butter cups.
The whole season is very special to me! Those of you that know me might think it odd that an Ordained Interfaith Minister would be especially fond of such a traditional Christian holiday. It might have something to do with the fact that it also signals springtime for me. Living in the U.S. , Easter falls in early spring here when the grass is becoming greener by the day, the trees are budding and early flowers are popping up. It is quite beautiful in the Midwest in the springtime.
For me Easter is all about the Resurrection. It reminds me of new beginnings and shedding the old self to be reborn into something new and beautiful. I love giving back and giving up something for Lent, reading and reflecting daily on Bible selections and getting back to my Christian roots. Unlike some folks I know who have rejected their Christian upbringing, mine was not traumatic or disturbing. I was raised to love and respect Jesus with no fear. No guilty, wretched sinner was I!
As an adult, I chose to be confirmed in the Catholic Church and had a wonderful teacher, who also made me feel safe and peaceful as we learned about Jesus and his teachings. I have come to understand more of Jesus’ life and what he was trying to show us. I have picked through the man-made dogma and rules and come to peace with my relationship with Him. Not all would agree with my ways, but it works for me.
Since Holy Week is a special time to me, I had planed to attend a beautiful Holy Thursday service with a good Catholic friend of mine. We did that last year and it touched me so much I wanted to make it a tradition. However on that day my body decided I would be sick. I started coughing and it got so bad that evening I was sure I couldn’t sit through a Mass without embarrassing both of us, so I begged off. I was very disappointed but knew Good Friday and Easter Vigil services were ahead. Well that cough turned into something deeper into my lungs and I knew sitting quietly in church was not an option. So I missed both of the those events. But Easter Sunday was coming! Then I woke up that morning feeling worse than ever. Now I have missed all of the traditional Catholic Holy Week events.
All of this week I had very little energy but still made myself move around a bit. I wasn’t sick enough to be bedridden, but sick enough to feel sorry for myself about it. I was depressed and tired of feeling bad.
Then something unexpected happened. By chance I heard that some Tibetan Monks were coming to Kansas City to build a sand mandala to promote World Peace and Interfaith Understanding. And they were doing it literally five minutes from my house!
Several years ago, I saw them create a mandala and it is really something to behold. The patience and love they pour into their masterpiece, only to sweep it up and give the sand away, teaches us all a lesson in non-attachment. They work for four days to create something beautiful and then bless it and release it. I cried the first time I saw that and I saw others in the audience crying this time too. It is quite a lesson for our western minds. We are taught to acquire more and more and hold on to it tightly, when in reality we never know when those things will be taken from us no matter what we do.
This event was in a coffee shop/art gallery. We went for the opening ceremony and visited every day to see their progress on this fascinating project. With the monks chanting and praying in addition to the coffee shop noise, my cough was not even noticeable. I could sit and sip tea and not feel too bad while I was there. I even made friends with one of the monks. He said they are doing this to encourage Interfaith understanding because too many people are killed in the name of God. Although they never once asked for money, this event and all their other ones are to raise money for their monastery in India. But it feels the mission is bigger than that. It seems they are trying to get people to realize that World Peace is achievable only if we start learning about and respecting all spiritual beliefs and religions.
So this year my Holy Week was spent observing a different sort of spiritual awakening. Watching the Monks creating the symbols of each major religion circling a globe with a dove representing World Peace. The next layer had tiny men and women of all different colors holding hands circling the symbols. Another layer had pictures depicting the four seasons and the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Each grain of sand making up this intricate work of art was placed carefully and purposefully by these patient, sweet spirits of the Drepung Gomang Monastery from Southern India. Just being in their presence was a healing for my soul.
Once they blessed the beautifully colored mandala they calmly just swept it up, put the sand in little baggies and handed them out to anyone who wanted one. Strangely enough, when all of those beautiful colors are mixed together, they just look like a neutral brown. In the end they are all part of the same One and you can’t tell the difference from one grain of sand to the other.
I may have missed my traditional Holy Week activities, but I feel so blessed to have some new ideas to ponder. Peace, acceptance and non-attachment came to visit me for Easter. Maybe I can get them to stay around for a while. I think Jesus would like that!