Friday, April 18, 2014
Easter: Originally from name of the pagan goddess Eostre or Ostara. She was a goddess of fertility and sex, and her symbols included the egg and the rabbit. The original myth involves Eostre saving a rare bird from a hunter by transforming the bird into a hare, which is why and how the rabbit and egg are tied together. (The bird was only a rabbit on the outside, hence...eggs.) When the Roman emperor Constantine decided to make the Empire a Christian empire, the Easter celebration was changed to include Jesus, new life, and resurrection. But originally, Easter was a pagan celebration of fertility and sex. And on a side note, despite the fact that 80% of people think the Easter Bunny is a dude (largely because he is depicted with a bow tie) the Bunny in question is actually female. But I digress.
I trot this out every year at this time. I wrote it after Carl Sagan but before Neil deGrasse Tyson or Seven Candles. I am still inspired to stand outside at night from time to time so that I can time-travel under the light of distant, alien suns. Hence this, from me, circa 2010 and © Thomas M. Hayes:
A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of being the lay liturgist for the Easter services at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg. Which may seem strange, considering that I am pretty much the most dedicated atheist -- some might even say antitheist -- person you could ever hope to meet. For those who heard it and asked for the text, and for those who might like to read it again, here it is:
Good morning! Happy Easter! I have to tell you -- as an atheist in a pulpit on Easter, you can feel a little bit like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. No matter what direction you take, you need to be very, very careful. Even before I got to where I am now on my spiritual journey, Easter was not my favorite holiday. I’m allergic to chocolate, and I think those little marshmallow chickens are creepy. And everybody knows that Santa can lick the Easter Bunny with both of his mittens tied behind his back. But I digress. And I am not here to disrespect Easter. Quite the contrary. One criticism of atheism which I see frequently on the Internet says that, because you don’t believe in anything, no day is any more special than any other day. I assume this refers to Sundays and religious holidays, but...this is ridiculous. I certainly don’t go through life steadily measuring my progress one day at a time until my inevitable demise. OF COURSE some days are more special than others. The day my daughter was born. The day I married my beautiful wife. The day I heard my first Unitarian sermon. And if I can appreciate a birthday or an anniversary or even a total eclipse of the sun as “special” then I can certainly appreciate an annual celebration of rebirth and renewal like Easter. I can’t speak to the “miracle” of Jesus coming back to life. But I can surely appreciate the new, green life that springs forth from the tomb of a seed’s dark shell. That’s a miracle. In the spring, a simple flower can be its own death and resurrection.
I try to live a life that notices the wonder of these miracles. Another one that comes to my mind, especially on Easter: when I look up at the night sky, light from other stars comes across an unimaginable distance and interacts with my eyes, with my mind. With me. That star may not even exist any more, but its light still lives in my sight. When I was a boy I used to dream of going into space and maybe someday walking in the light of another sun on another world. This was something that, once I became an adult, I thought I could never do. Now I realize that to walk in the light of other suns, I only have to step outside on a clear night. That’s miraculous.
And while I can’t speak to the resurrection that we spell with a capital “R,” I can speak to the fact, the pure fact, that everyone here this morning is made of resurrected stars. Carl Sagan used to say, “We are all made of star stuff” because all of the more complex elements of which we are made were formed in the hearts of exploding stars. Think about that. Stars died so that we can be. We all stepped out of a supernova. How’s that for sacrifice and rebirth?
Those are the miracles that I celebrate this and every Easter. Because of these every-day miracles, I have come to believe that morality is not something that I need to get from outside. I believe that the drive to a moral life is inside me, and is inside all of us as human beings. It grows all on its own, like a seed or a star. It is why, and how, we love one another. It is why the ideals of the Golden Rule, of humility, of charity, of honoring your family, are so important to me. I don’t need the Eternal Reward of Heaven to live a good life. I try to do good things simply because they are good things to do. Besides, like Garrison Keillor said, Heaven is not for Unitarians. We don’t like gated communities.
So I plan to use today to think about the miracles that I see all around me. I will try to treasure the new life that I find both around us and within us. Celebrating miraculous possibilities is what gives Easter meaning to me.