Posted by: coloradokiwi | April 11, 2009

Easter for Atheists

I have not been religious for many, many years now. However, one thing I really do miss about my Methodist upbringing is the Easter Sunrise Service in my old community church.  This would take place every Easter Sunday in the quaint and verdant cemetery behind the church.  Although viewed in the right way the place and occasion would seem to indicate something of a “raising the dead” ceremony, it was actually a terrifically pastoral setting:  lilacs coming into bloom, morning songbirds, irises and tulips would be budding or (depending on the year) in full bloom.  In our little mountain town, during that time of the year the sun typically rises right through the very middle of a piece of spectacular landscape called Saddle Mountain, so named because, well, it looks like a a gargantuan western saddle.  Just to the east and south of this was a craggy ridge, the result of prehistoric magma chambers and eons of uplift, which brilliantly reflected the morning pinks and oranges such that it looked to be molten rock once more.  From this direction, a slight dawn breeze would blow:  chilly, but somehow cleansing.  It certainly filled me with awe and peace.

Then there is the singing:  the pleasant, more or less full-throated (and often harmonized) voices of the local community dutifully rendering the usual hymns.  It was a group of between 100 and 300, who included not only us church regulars, but a host of erstwhile Christian citizens, paying their semi-annual homage to their faith (or possibly, just their traditions).  It was a host of earnest voices, themselves awed by the splendorous morning, reverent of the occasion, and enjoying each others’ company.  It sounded good.

Finally, after the service was over, everyone would mosey down to the church annex, where a breakfast feast was on the offering: bacon, eggs, pancakes, toast, coffee, juice, etc.  It was tremendous not only in the fellowship of the meal, but also that peculiar quality of parishioner-prepared food that uneasily mixed the individuated cooking talents of the lay folk and their somewhat amateur approach to the  logistics of feeding a couple hundred people:  delicious and hearty, ample at the beginning and rationed near the end, tasty but not too fancy (and maybe even charmingly underwhelming in certain respects).  These remain among the most satisfying breakfasts I’ve ever had.

And the thing is, and here I do not exaggerate, it was sunny and pleasant every single year but once, when it rained.

Now, I don’t at all miss going to church.  I sure feel a lot of time and energy were wasted there.  But I really do miss the Easter Sunrise Service.  It was nice to have a sense of community coupled with a small gesture of appreciation for our world.  

I was thinking of this as the wife and I packed up food and clothes in order to take the wee sprat out to Brighton beach this morning—Easter Sunday morning.  It was a glorious morning, highly reminiscent of the Easters of my youth:  sunny, clear, temperate.  Brighton beach is not only a great beach in its own right, with fine sand and inviting breakers.  There are also a host of jutting rock outcroppings and sand dunes all over the place, leaving innumerable little cavelets and rock pools available for exploration; there is a small stream that snakes its way down the beach, which itself is fed in part by a tidal pond, providing all kinds of possibilities for splashing, building dams, and enjoying the company of ducks, sand pipers and black swans; there are duney hillocks dotted along the beach such that the whole beach is really a series of mini-beaches, and when the tide is low there are a plethora of secluded spots to stay out of the wind or out of sight.

Suffice to say we all had a terrific time enjoying all of these things, frolicking about.  For lunch we spread out the blanket and snacked on leftover chicken, cucumbers, cheese, crackers, and assorted fruit.  We exchanged pleasantries with surfers, amateur fishermen, rock pool explorers, tidal waders, and so on (but the beach was not at all crowded); at one point a makeshift game of beach cricket—sand-stuck wickets and all—started up, and so the sounds of cheers and laughter wafted across the sea breeze.

It really could not have been a more perfect outing.  And most of all for me, I felt it was an appropriate replacement for the Easter Sundays of yesteryear.  I don’t feel particularly compelled to do such things just on Easter, but I feel it’s nonetheless important to do things like this, that are more than mere outings in some way, in which one invests the event with some sense of specialness.  I do not believe in God, but I think some things are, for lack of a better term, sacred.  And it’s healthy and wonderful to remember that, and celebrate it now and then.  So if like me you are not a Christian, but live in a predominantly Christian nation who by tradition or majority rule has Easter decorations and holidays, go out and do something special.  Be a part of your community, and really dwell in the planet that you inhabit.

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