by Susan Lynne White, guest contributor
The end of Easter in Prague, Czech Republic. (photo: Leonardo Sagnotti/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
In the Czech Republic, a tradition of spanking or whipping women is carried out on Easter Monday. On Easter Monday morning, it is customary for girls and women to stay at home while the boys and men, usually dressed in nicer clothing and sometimes even in kroj — traditional costume — go door to door of female relatives and/or friends, bringing greetings, singing Easter carols, demanding the right to spank the women with a special handmade whip called a pomlázka and/or splash them with cold water or perfume for good luck and fertility, and demanding “treats” (eggs, chocolate, liquor, or a peck on the cheek) as their reward.
The splashing of water is intended to oblievat — to “water” the females present. Water is the symbol of life and the pouring of water is a gesture meant to bestow year long health, beauty, and fertility. Some men spray perfume instead of water, or both. The splashing of water can range from a teaspoon dribbled on top of the head, to a bucket thrown over the head, to a full body dunking in a bathtub full of cold water.
Pomlázky, willow switches photgraphed at Brno’s Zelní in Easter 2006. (photo: Jesse Johnston/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
A pomlázka consists of eight, 12, or even 24 willow rods, usually measuring from half a meter to two meters in length, which are braided together and decorated with colored ribbons at the end. There used to be a tradition that women would add their own ribbons so the whip would say how many women the particular man has already visited, but it seems to have fizzled out. The spanking normally is not painful or intended to cause suffering. The purpose of the spanking for women to bestow health, beauty, and, most importantly, fertility for the spring and entire year.
Usually women are chased around (if they decide to make it interesting or to play along) or they just stand motionless and allow the male visitors to spank their butt. After being spanked or splashed, the women must give candy or money to a boy, and liquor or a small amount of money to a man as a sign of her thanks.
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by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
A sign hangs on the wall of a Taizé community in Burgundy, France. (photo: forteller/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
It is Easter week. This week, we remember the events from Thursday’s meal to Friday’s torture to Saturday’s silence and Sunday’s mystery.
Years ago, 13 years ago in fact, I fell apart. I was 22 and I had already been sick for a year. It had started with a bad flu that had never gone away. After 12 months, I was bewildered and dizzy and achy, confused with a fatigue and an illness that would take a further five years to diagnose and a total of nine years to recover from.
Up until that point, I hadn’t spent much time contemplating chronic illness. However, after a year of being ill, hearing doctors’ opinions, berating myself with my own opinions, I was firmly contemplating chronic illness. When you are chronically ill, there are some things to learn — you must learn to relate to your sickness, and you must learn to relate to your feelings about being sick. In the face of these two lessons, I was gutted with a raw fear in the face of the unknown.
For Lent that year, I read a chapter of Job every day. It was less a religious exercise and more an exercise of survival. I needed some kind of echo of the bewilderment, loneliness, and confusion. Job became a friend. I heard his grief, and I heard his sadness.
Taizé community celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. (photo: Damien Mathieu/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
And, for the last two weeks of Easter in 1998, I went to a monastery in eastern France for two weeks of silence. Looking back on it, it might seem unwise — responding to a hollowness inside me by going to a place of silence. I don’t know what prompted me to go, but I went. I was welcomed by a gentle monk who showed me to my small room and told me that it might not be a good idea to read all the time.
“Il faut écouter, avec les oreilles de tendresse, à ton propre silence,” he said. “You must listen, with ears of tenderness, to your own silence.”
Ha! I was petrified of that silence. I read The Lord of the Rings in five days flat.
It took 11 days before I began to relax. By that time, it was Holy Thursday, and the time when the Last Supper is remembered. That morning, the brother spoke to the pilgrims gathered for a few minutes after breakfast to set a tone of inspiration for the day. He noted how Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, “I have earnestly desired this meal.”
He didn’t paint a picture of a Nazarene who ran to the arms of Roman torture willingly, but he depicted a character who believed enough in a way of life to take that way of life to the death. The monk spoke about how Jesus lived the last days of his life in a way that was faithful to the life he’d always lived — calling enemies and dispossessed ones “friends,” having concern for his mother, accepting help from a Cyrenian stranger, looking for moments of life while life itself was draining away.
I don’t know what happened, but somehow, I began to breathe. I remember I was sitting in a chapel, listening to a German nun tune an eclectic zoo of musicians into some kind of harmony. Nothing cataclysmic occurred — it was just that I began to fear my own darkness a little less. I began to feel where I had only known numb and lonely survival. I began to feel that if I am here, then perhaps I am here with a companion. There were few words of prayer; there was a deep sense of accompaniment. I began to recognise that I didn’t need the words to describe the chronic illness that was indescribable.
That Easter Sunday I cried. Not because of some miraculous resurrection. I had eight long years to wait before my health began to improve. I cried because, in the words of an old monk, I heard an echo of an understanding that went beyond words, and, in that echo there was companionship.
Tree at Taizé community in France. (photo: etch indelibly in the mind/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
Years later, when studying theology, I came across Hans Urs Von Balthasar. Von Balthasar is noted for many things, one of which is his poetic retelling of Christ’s descent into hell. He said, “Jesus descended into hell. He is dead with us, and disturbs our loneliness. … God, in the weakness of love enters into solidarity with us who find ourselves damning ourselves, in the form of the crucified brother abandoned by God…and in such a way that is clear to the sinner that God-the-Forsaken is so for my sake.”
Each year on Easter Sunday I find myself moved. Not because there is a happy ever after ending to all of our stories. It is quite clear that there is not. I am moved because of a sacred echo of a hope that there is solidarity for those who feel like we inhabit a small hell of our own experience. The hope of Easter doesn’t damn this hell with a bleaching light. Rather this hope enters and squats with us. The celebrations of Holy Week for me are not about cataclysmic resurrections, but about being moved to follow in the life of the Nazarene, bravely entering into loneliness with a small spring of consoling company.
Pádraig Ó Tuama, a native of Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a faith & peace worker of the Irish Peace Centres. His poetry and writing can be found at Hold Your Self Together.
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by Debra Dean Murphy, guest contributor
In a Dominican priory in Salamanca, a relief depicts Mary Magdalene contemplating the empty cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified and searching for Truth. (photo: Lawrence Lew/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
In the beginning was poetry.
The book of Genesis, as Ellen Davis has observed, starts with a liturgical poem. The creation of the cosmos can only be communicated, the ancients knew, through language that speaks to the imagination — that unity of intellect and emotion, which was for the biblical writers the restless human heart.
Images and metaphors are primary speech, conveyers of truth — durable yet pliable, precise yet ever expansive in the vision of the world (and ourselves) they set before us.
That they were describing biological or geological processes would never have occurred to the redactors of the Bible’s foundational stories. Not because they were uninterested in or incapable of such description but because the truths they were telling were not available within discursive speech; the reporting of facts was not the business they were in. For most of the Church’s history, interpreters of biblical language understood this.
And then there were propositions.
With modernity came the quest for scientific certainty and singularity of meaning. Texts were read in the same way that ore was mined from the earth: you dig and dig and the Truth, like a nugget of gold, is eventually dislodged. You extract it with your best tools, dust it off, and hold it up to the light for all to admire. This Truth, this narrowly defined, singular “meaning” of this or that text, became an object of adoration and it wasn’t long before modern Christians were worshiping the Bible itself rather than the One to whom it points.
And this Bible, moderns continue to insist, speaks in propositions: The Word of God as a collection of truthful statements that must be assented to. Christianity as a list. Do you believe the right propositions?
The resurrection stories in the four Gospels differ significantly from one another (as do the Creation stories in Genesis 1-2). What might it mean for us to recover — in our living, in our worship, and in our preaching — the poetic possibilities of these stories? Could we stop straining toward explanations for the inexplicable? Could we trust that Jesus’ friends — to their own incredulity as much as anyone’s — experienced him fully alive after his tortuous death and that this is not so much a scientific fact to be endlessly probed as it is gospel — genuine good news — to be lived?
And can we see the poetic genius of St. John who brings the resurrection story back to Genesis’s cosmic beginnings in a garden?
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
—Gospel of John, 20:15
Jesus is the patient gardener. He is the “tree of life.” He is the new creation. And in him we live.
From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in — black ice and squid ink —
till the hung flesh was empty.
Lonely in that void even for pain,
he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In his corpse’s core, the stone fist
of his heart began to bang
on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled
back into that battered shape. Now
it’s your limbs he comes to fill, as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.
—Mary Karr, “Descending Theology: The Resurrection”
Debra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.
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by Christopher Martin, guest contributor
The farm and now heritage center of Byron Herbert Reece, who lived and wrote in the Choestoe area of Union County, Georgia. (photo: UGArdener/Flickr, CC by-NC 2.0).
It’s about as simple as poems come:
Easter is on the field:
With bloom their tomb unsealed
To April air.
New as the dew shake cold,
Beside their anxious dams:
Easter is on the fold.
Its simplicity shouldn’t be confused with sentimentality, though. Today, little lambs, blossoming flowers, and the like are stock symbols of the season, largely taken for granted, appropriated by salesmen to be consumed by us. We buy stuffed toy lambs, chocolate lambs, Hallmark cards with pictures of lambs. It’s not my point to say whether this is right or wrong, but it is clearly sentimental.
Because Easter is a sentimental and therefore commercialized holiday, it’s all too easy to read Reece’s poem through pastel lenses, to imagine chicks and bunnies at the feet of the lambs, to imagine the lambs frolicking and stopping to sniff the blossoming flowers. But I don’t think it’s a sentimental poem at all.
Byron Herbert Reece wrote “Easter” in a setting far removed from the commercialized holiday we know today — sometime around the middle of the last century in a north Georgia valley bounded by mountains and crossed by the Nottely River, in a farming community called Choestoe. Reece himself was a small-scale farmer who worked a piece of bottomland alongside rhododendron-veiled Wolf Creek. As such, the flowers and lambs in his verses are not abstract ones. They weren’t conceived in the mind of an entrepreneur to be born in a Chinese factory; they are flowers and lambs from nowhere but the dew-wet hills of Georgia. The poet saw the blossoming of peach trees, service trees, and laurel. He watched the shivering newborn lambs owned by a Choestoe neighbor for reasons far beyond sentiment.
If “Easter” is not a sentimental poem, then, what is it? The next temptation, I think, is to read it as a symbolic poem, to see the blossoming flowers and the lambs as signs of new life with the obvious correlation to Christ’s resurrection. But I don’t think that’s quite right, either.
Reece was a practicing Christian, to be sure — even filling in for his preacher from time to time — but he was also too good of a poet to build a poem upon cliché, and the great cliché of Easter is that the vitality of spring represents the vitality of the risen Christ. To see the cycling of nature as nothing more than a religious symbol is to live on another plane. I think Reece understood, with Thoreau, that “heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” And so Reece does something lovely with this poem: He turns the usual metaphor around.
“Flowers declare / With bloom their tomb unsealed / To April air,” he writes. The “tomb unsealed” is an allusion to Christ’s death and resurrection, of course, but it is the tomb, rather than the blossoming flowers, that serves as symbol here. In the same way, it is Easter itself that blesses the sheepfold, and not the other way around.
Flowers and lambs, then — and by extension all created things — have worth independent of doctrine. Doctrine, at its best — and in this case the doctrine of the resurrection — sheds light on the holiness of this world. Reece would’ve known that Mary Magdalene, the first to see the risen Christ, mistook him for a gardener. Resurrection abounds if we would but look.
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by Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
It’s Easter weekend and a lot of people are away for the holiday. When we sent out our e-mail newsletter this week, one listener’s auto-reply featured this quote:
"Spring has returned. The earth is like a child that knows poems."
—Rainer Maria Rilke
Indeed the telltale signs of spring — green shoots, the earliest hints of flower buds — arrived a bit earlier here this year in the upper Midwest. This new-found greenery, combined with the approaching Easter weekend, reminds me of a beloved program we aired this time last year with Vigen Guroian, an Armenian Orthodox theologian and master gardener. Here’s one of his quotes from “Restoring the Senses” that I particularly like:
"…the garden was a place where things came to life, you know? It was in point of fact a reaffirmation of life and, and something to sustain faith, hope and to go on living."
I’m a novice grower of green things but an experiment last summer with cultivating seeds in a window box on my fire escape spurred my thinking about “garden lessons” that have larger life resonance — like how you have to harvest what you sow and cut away the decaying stuff so that new growth can emerge. How true.
All of this has us wondering about the spiritual wisdom others have gleaned from tending to their gardens and growing things from the soil. Show us what you’re cultivating and observing in your garden plot!
We’d love to see your photos of garden spaces and places that serve as sources of contemplation and inspiration for new ways of looking at and thinking about the deeper meaning of things.
Submit your images here, along with a brief reflection, and we’ll be featuring your images and words in a gallery on this blog in the coming weeks.
(All photos of Vigen Guroian’s gardens in Maryland courtesy of the gardener.)Comments
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
I’ve been skeptical about celebrity pet charity projects and rock stars like Bono who have endorsed the RED campaign — encouraging people to shop and buy stuff in order to aid impoverished Africans. It just rings hollow to me and somewhat paradoxical, even though I recognize the good intentions behind it.
And then I read these lines from his op-ed this weekend:
It’s Lent I’ve always had issues with. I gave it up … self-denial is where I come a cropper. My idea of discipline is simple — hard work — but of course that’s another indulgence.
Then comes the dying and the living that is Easter.
—Bono, lead singer of U2
Whatever brash generalizations or dismissive attitude I may have held, that changed after reading the Irishman’s contemplative words. Even though the rest of his essay is much more poetic and eloquent, it’s that second sentence above that captured me. He recognizes the falsehood of working harder. That staying at work is often an escape, a source of leisure rather than fulfilling one’s obligations and roles of responsibility at home — the mundane tasks of being present while one’s children ask for your time or hiding behind a gadget rather than engaging your spouse. Here, the man is revealing something of himself, his ordinary self. He is speaking to something greater than his own ego — and mine.
Nearly two years ago, I enjoyed Bono’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast with President Bush. Like many others, I admired the way he was reaching out; yet, his words felt removed to me — a diplomatic performance to unite disparate parties.
But, his reflection in this essay starts from his personal core. They reveal a man who is a seeker of some greater truths, both personal and universal, that have a grounding in fallibility and transcendence. And that I respect greatly.
I can only hope that Krista could interview him for SOF. Perhaps at Trinity Wall Street? Wouldn’t that be an incredible event to witness? The likelihood is minimal, but it would be a dazzling adventure. Can anybody make it happen?!Comments
Krista Tippett, Host
In our interview for next week’s show, the very thoughtful scientist/author Jon Kabat-Zinn has intriguing and provocative things to say about the pressures and possibilities of aligning our “Stone Age minds” with 21st-century digital realities. But he also says: “This is far too serious to take too seriously.”
The most godly people I know have a sense of humor even about the most important things, and I’m convinced God does too. And that is my far too serious justification for posting two very funny Facebook takes on Passover and Easter, the holiest of holidays being observed simultaneously this week. Be blessed — and enjoy.Comments