Sunday, April 24, 2011
I don't quite know how to respond to Easter. I was raised a Catholic so I celebrated Easter every year until I married a Jew, had two sons and since then celebrated Passover. It seems ironic that I went from the New Testament to the Old Testament in a few short years. The fact is that I was raised a Catholic (my father's side), but my mother was Jewish but not raised Jewish. She used to say when finally revealing her parentage that my grandmother was Jewish, but she didn't really recognize that she was Jewish because she knew nothing about the religion. My mother told me when I was 19 years old that Grandma Rose was Jewish. When I asked her why she decided to tell me that very important fact about her life when I was 19, she told me that since I was dating a Jewish boy, I should know.
If you get that logic, you're a lot smarter than I am.
Except to say that I was well aware that San Francisco and environs carried heavy anti-semetic prejudice. My mother told me that job applications during most of the early 20th century asked what religion the applicant claimed. If you put Jewish, then you most certainly wouldn't get the job. My mother put down that she was Protestant. My mother had no idea what that meant. It just sounded neutral.
Religion is complicated. I went to a Seder on Monday night and had the most fabulous time I have ever had celebrating Passover. Who knew it could be so much fun! We all read from the Haggadah the story of the Jews flight out of Egypt and there was clapping and cheering and the ritual passing of bitter herbs and hard-boiled eggs and kosher sherry, and we even took some intermissions for dancing before we settled down around 10:30 to eat the most delicious food I have ever tasted, which was laid out beautifully on the dining room table. Middle Eastern Jews - the Persians and the Iraqis sure know how to bond as families and feel the intimate joy of oneness.
My Easters were dull affairs without celebration or bonding. My Irish relatives had no sense of cuisine. Outside of the celebration of the Mass on Easter Sunday, very little ritual lingered after 10 o'clock in the morning. The drive from San Rafael to San Francisco in the mid-afternoon was tedious. No one spoke except to wonder if the ham would be salty. I hated ham so I knew I would't eat. Brussel sprouts were overcooked as was everything else that was supposed to be green on the table. The Irish weren't big on fresh green salad; the closest they came to salad was potato salad swimmings in mayonnaise with too many pieces of, what else, green pickles. My cousins and my brother and I played with each other with little interest, and most of the time I sat in the living room waiting to go home, slowly sipping a coca cola that was forbidden to me at home.
In terms of religion, each holiday represents different philosophic concepts. One of the uncles at the Seder took me aside and told me that what really mattered about Passover was the central theme of freedom. The Jews finally got out of Egypt and were able to be free as they went on their journey to the promised land. Easter represents redemption. It was reported that Jesus, crucified two days earlier (Good Friday) and buried in a cave, rose from the dead and was proclaimed the true Messiah by a group of his followers. Some of his disciples said that he made a few visits before he ascended into heaven. Mankind was redeemed; our sins were forgiven. We are not concerned with freedom - freedom of thought, in particular.
But then there was some European pagan ritual that got mixed up with the redemption of Christ and we got Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunny rabbits and an annual NYC Easter Parade . Now if you can find the logic in introducing a pagan ritual into a spiritual context - and mix that with ham - and it simply baffles me and often vexes my sense of spiritual decorum.
I have a tendency to think that religion is based on mythology - like the Greek and Roman mythological stories we may be familiar with. The books in the new testament written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were all written 50 years to 150 years after Jesus lived on the earth. Facts can be altered to suit someone else's truth. It's a little unclear who actually wrote the old testament - probably lots of contributors and lots of good stories ranging from forbidden fruit to an array of punishments that even frightens adults. Did I mention sex, the subservient role of women in marriage and worshipping idols? Neither old or new testament give much credence to individual thinking or philosophic exploration.
It probably doesn't matter much because when it comes to a spiritual belief system developed out of organized religion there is little apparent logic. Belief in a higher power or religious institutions is emotional. I suspect that the need to believe in something other than ourselves is based on our fear of dying and the need to be spiritually and morally supported by "the other" throughout life. It's challenging to live without some powerful ally. God, Jesus, Allah are on my side. Some think that belief in a higher power is based on the concept of surrender and acceptance. Others think that a belief in a higher power is a crutch; i.e, our human belief system developed from our own sense of virtue is not strong enough to get through life and pass on into death. No matter the reason for belief in a universal power or organized religion every person has to get through life and death in his/her own way.
Powerful forces can also exist within our own psyches or souls. Stepping back a bit from ourselves, detaching with that 10% reserve to observe our actions (kindness and forgiveness is good) is also a fine way to access our moral compass. Finding the power in the energy of our universal is another way of surrendering to and accepting our lives and our eventual death. For after all, we are only passing through this life on the way to death. We can choose to make it joyous or fraught with struggle. We can choose to live by virtue and a strong moral spine or we can simply collect a bunch of bad karma.
The longer I live the more I realize that there is an Easter parade going on all the time in our hearts and minds. It always comes down to having an attitude of gratitude. This is my religion.