April 15, 2017

Easter is in the wind

If you were to ask me about Easter when I was growing up, I’d tell you about the lamb cake my mother made each year.  It was a white-frosted lamb sitting in the midst of a pasture of coconut that had been colored with green food coloring, accented with colored jelly-beans or other bright Easter candy that was left over from the Easter Bunny.

That cake required a double-sided mold, and to me the magic of Easter was how my mother knew how much cake batter to put inside the mold so that it would expand perfectly to fill all the cracks and crevices—up to the ears. 
Easter was usually a time of family gatherings when I grew up, and a busy time because my Dad’s occupation has involved doing taxes that were also always due around Easter.  One year, I think my Mom was distracted and she set the cake mold in the oven upside down and used too little batter because the poor lamb came out faceless.  In the natural world, this would have been a problem for the creature, but it was quickly remedied with various materials and a lot of frosting…and the next day, the lamb had his face, and all was well before we cut him into slices of rich chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.
My brother and I didn’t get a lot of candy during the rest of the year, and Easter was also a time of joy when we searched for our Easter basket that was loaded with jellybeans and chocolate.  We would go to church, but the main memory of Easter Sunday is of spending the afternoon with cousins at my Grandparents’ house. 
Easter was an odd holiday, timewise—first, the visit to Grandma’s house was always a lot shorter than the visit at Christmas, and we cousins had much less time to get out toys or perhaps get in a short game of football if the weather was nice.  It was always over too quickly before we had to get in the car to go home.
And, of course, Easter never arrived on the same date, so there was a mystery around Easter—it would be announced rather than anticipated like its cousin December holiday.  And, as an adult, I have forgotten to put Easter on my spring calendar more than once, which has bewildered my mother to no end. How could you forget Easter?
Easter means different things to different people, but to me it was always a reminder of spring. A promise of new life. The grandest metaphoric myth that provides hope while reminding us of our insignificance in the cycle of life that has happened for all time. Birth and death. Birth from death. Emptiness transformed to wholeness.
For the past 10 years, my job has been to train fledgling biologists to observe, capture, and start to record data on prairie-chickens in Nebraska. For me, this has marked Spring, and usually by the time I have them trained, it is time for Easter to happen.  So, perhaps I haven’t forgotten Easter—in some ways, I have been more in tune than ever in my life with the natural rhythms that are used to describe the timing of Easter—the first full moon that occurs after the vernal equinox, or the first day of Spring.  I’ve been out and watched the moon waning in the morning as the prairie-chickens gather to continue their eons-old cycle of mating in the midst of the prairie.
Except this year. For the first year since coming to Nebraska, I have no field projects to start in the spring. No students to train.  But, I did have a visiting student from Thailand who needed to see the sandhill cranes, and so we took her to the river to watch them dance in the fields and find shelter at night on the sandbars of the Platte.
If anything can substitute for the prairie-chicken, it is the sandhill crane.  Darkness came to the river as thousands of birds descended, and eventually we could tell they were there only because of their calls to each other.  Those birds must have many adventures during the day, because they sure have a lot to talk about when they land in the river and get acquainted with their neighbors again.
As we walked away to our vehicles in the dark, there was a promise behind us.  The sun would rise, the cranes would leave and as darkness descended again, they would return until the spring winds carry them away until next spring when we see them once more. Cycles of life, in our own back yard.
There is a Christian story that will be read in churches on Sunday about a group of ladies who found an empty tomb. But, I have an opinion that if a Christian were to live a life focused solely on the miracle of that empty tomb, without connecting to those around them, they have missed the message of Christ’s life.  Indeed, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew states that the second-most important commandment is to love others. In similar fashion, Buddhism also suggests that we create meaning by helping others. There are many paths with the same message.
The moon has been growing from a slim crescent the last few days, until becoming a full moon on April 11.  It is time for Easter.  How do we find ways to reach out beyond ourselves? I encourage you to start by exploring the sacred spaces around you. Find the connections between the message of Easter and your life by looking at your flowerbed or taking a short walk in a park or a timber.  Find new flowers and new buds on branches. Look up in the sky to watch the geese and other birds migrating north, and find a way to watch the sun rise and set on the same day.

Then, reach out to someone. We can’t all make a lamb cake, but find a way to mark this special time of year.  Football games in the spring mud are good. Family gatherings or coffee with friends also work. Giving someone the surprise equivalent to a basket full of chocolate is a brilliant idea.  The message of Easter is that it doesn’t matter if your effort falls short.  A lamb cake’s face can be repaired, and next year will be here before we know it to try again.

Easter is always in the wind. Happy Easter, everyone!

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