Spring has come, at last, with warmth and beauty. Inexorably, the wind and water and earth are changing, becoming fresh again and new.
This season, for me, comes in the context of what Rabbi Steven Lewis and I call “Spring Stories of Liberation.” Every spring, the eight days of Passover and Holy Week both celebrate the liberation of human beings from the bondage of slavery, our yearning and passage into freedom, and the victory of life over death. These biblical spring feasts overlapped, this year, as well, with a Hindu spring observance called Holi, a spring celebration of divine love, the victory of good over evil, and deliverance from bondage. Known as a Festival of Colors, or the Festival of Love, it begins with a bonfire. Muslims observe Laylat al Bara’at, also known as the Night of Forgiveness, with its own festivities, special foods and an all-night vigil of prayer. I can’t write with any authority on the Hindu and Muslim holidays, but I am struck with the similarities of theme in all of them, as spring stories of healing, renewal and liberation.
Along with the earth, our bodies in spring seem to yearn to be released. Perhaps we yearn for new life because we are made of earth ourselves, creatures alongside all the creatures around us; the changes of the season move in us as they do in rivers, and trees, in tides, and seeds under the ground. Spring religious rites across the world give human beings powerful ways of observing this push toward freedom, this yearning for refreshment, to become fully awake and alive. For me, if biblical faith is about anything, it is about this deep movement of renewing life, of the movement from constriction to spaciousness, from narrowness of being to fullness of being, from bondage to spiritual freedom and bodily freedom. The trajectory is toward hope, and the path is infused with hope. Our big stories in biblical faith tell of the liberating action of God in our lives and the life of creation, that God is interested and invested in our fullness of life, our full humanity, of restoration of right relationships, expressed in compassion, mercy and justice, in the healing of earth, of weaving back together the edges of all that has been ripped, or frayed, or torn.
That’s a lot of words to speak of one thing, I know, personally: when “I cry from the narrow place, God answers from the expanse.” (Psalm 118:5). Spring moves us toward expansion, from the dark earth to the bright warmth and light, of melting snows, and running waters. Faith stories in this season ask us to look deeply at the places of constriction in our lives, at the places that yearn to be set free. Whether or not you participated in the great religious rites of the year, the spring season itself invites us to ask, who and what yearns for new life? And a second question follows, if we are lovers of mercy and doers of justice, how can I help, how can I serve to free myself and others? How can I help to build a world where every person, every being, even can live into the fullness of life?
This year, Passover and Easter took place in the context in the United States of an important anniversary, that of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s death. Every day of Passover and Holy Week was also observed this year in the context of the trial of the killer of George Floyd. As our prayers and rites and sacred meals took place, witness after witness of that event spoke of their broken hearts, of the pain they saw, of the shame and guilt they carried, of the vast grief they felt and still feel. When I think about the places of constriction in our country, racism is one of the places I see it. It is difficult to find hope sometimes when I look at how much racism hurts us, as individuals, as communities, as a nation. Perhaps this year, spurred on by the pandemic, and our even greater awareness of the wounds and violence of racism, perhaps now, these great spring stories of liberation show us a way out of the prison of hatred and fear. I take heart from these stories, that in the end, my liberation and your liberation are linked together; your suffering is my suffering, your freedom my freedom. And perhaps all of creation yearns to be set free, each of us, reaching and hoping and working together for a beloved community of justice and peace on this beloved earth.
The Rev. Anne Deneen is pastor of the St. Paul Lutheran Church in Gloucester. The Midweek Musings column rotates among Cape Ann clergy.