Imagine Easter unplugged

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

A resounding hallelujah ended the Easter singing marathon I’d promised myself. As I staggered out exhausted into the night, I was musing over what had arisen in me.

No question, there was great joy through being immersed in music. Quickly followed by deadening despair because the restorative Easter story remains locked in the isolation of church buildings, usually devoid of imaginative, contemporary or feminine touches. Lacking rigorous community engagement, literal interpretations run rife, stripping the mythology of its transformative power. No wonder people think it’s irrelevant, should they even give it a second glance.

The customers at the bar down the road where my mate and I landed certainly seemed oblivious to any relevance in the annual rising and dying narrative, apart from their drinking habits being curtailed by our peculiar Easter trading laws. Truth told, they probably had their sights set on the upcoming ANZAC services that have overtaken the sacrificial lamb story and harnessed it to patriotism. A potentially dangerous combination.

‘Why don’t you just walk away?’ asked my mate, swirling a rather good Otago pinot noir, Devil’s Staircase to be precise. Thousands have walked away and got on with perfectly fulfilling lives with no reference to church or religion and how that intersects with, and influences community life. So, if walking away is difficult, it could be argued that I’m still, in some way or another, captured by the institution. That’s reasonable and I tangle with the idea most days, particularly when I’m singing in a church, side on to the altar. It’s uncomfortable. 

But what matters most for me, and maybe for others, is not the adherence to any particular spiritual viewpoint but the exploration and expression of my religious and spiritual sensibilities. Diving into God-consciousness if you like; the instinctual drive towards the More, Source, All That Is or however you might describe it.

None of this happens without creativity, allowing what rises within each person to become apparent in its own time and with its own unique qualities. Neither does it happen without the creation and maintenance of safe spaces where mature exploration and spiritual development can occur. Spaces that are entered through supportive doorways held open by people of spiritual wisdom, steeped in traditions but not bound by them.

We need those centuries of exploration to help inform what comes next but what often gets in the way in Christianity is embedded and systemic patriarchal control, the focus on single stories, lack of imagination and creativity, rejection of the feminine and unintegrated sexuality, along with dogmatic approaches to meaning making.

‘I repeat the question,’ said my mate, relentless in his pursuit of this particular truth.
‘It’s something to do with faith,’ I stuttered, ‘in our ability in Aotearoa to make something distinctive in the spiritual space.’ He smiled encouragingly but remained silent.
‘But it will only happen by breaking down walls that divide so we can draw from our varied sets of stories to create something very different that feeds us all.’
‘You really believe that, don’t you?’
‘Yeah, yeah, I do but I don’t know how to make it happen.’
‘But sitting in the discomfort helps?’
‘In a perverse way. Letting the irritation of unknowing create its own kind of resurrection.’
‘Then this is entirely the right drop to be drinking,’ he said as he poured another.

Aotearoa has been broken open and shocked beyond belief through the devastation of the Christchurch earthquakes and the massacre at Al Noor Mosque. Walls that previously divided have crumbled and unexplored prejudices that blinded us to the religious and spiritual riches of others have been challenged. That’s unique space and time, not to be rushed past, instead an opportunity to be valued, sat with and pondered, holding it in tension with the drive to fix and mend and forget the pain.

As the spiritual festivals keep coming; Ramadan with its focus on spiritual renewal, Matariki heralding the need to hunker down for winter hibernation and the Easter story continues to unfold towards the emergence of the Spirit at Pentecost, I keep dreaming about what our emerging Aotearoa soulfulness could look and how, together, we can bring it to life.

So, whilst I loved John Lennon’s Imagine, I part company with his intended outcome because I see the need for more religion, not less. But religion that delights in supporting a broad continuum of understandings, beliefs and practices in every community. Who encourage all of us, not just the members of the group, to experience a sense of awe and wonder, compassion for self and others, promoting an ability to listen deeply to what matters, facilitating imagination, creativity, music and art that evokes mystery and diverse perspectives on what it is to be human in our time and place.

My friend looked at me long and hard. ‘You’re a dreamer,’ he finally intoned.
‘Yeah, but I’m not the only one,’ I replied, wanting desperately for there to be others who share this strangely discomforting but hope filled passion.

5 Replies to “Imagine Easter unplugged”

  1. Well the contemplative pathway does nurture these deeper places of wonder and hidden darkness, frequently using the more sacred rituals of religious paths to assist in moving the person deeper into the sense of oneness

    1. Thanks Lucy,
      The tricky bit, as I see it, is to enable more access to religious practises that engender this without people needing to sign up or ‘believe’ or even belong to a particular group. It would be great if religious traditions could become more accessible in this way, which can lead to us all being changed by these encounters. Hoping so.

  2. As usual Sande, your evocative provocative piece cried out for careful thoughtful discussion – which I hope against hope that it receives. I liked your expression: ” ANZAC services that have overtaken the sacrificial lamb story and harnessed it to patriotism. A potentially dangerous combination” though you rather decline from pursuing it further though not quite. I’ll return to this and other points but not at 11.30pm. CU.

    1. Thanks George
      Appreciated as always. In this piece I thought ANZAC needed to be referenced, given that it was hard on the heels of Easter weekend but no room to expand this time.
      Look forward to more input from you.

      1. Remarkable how ANZAC has crept into the entrails of our society and seems destined to remain there. By Entrails I mean heart as well as gut and there’s something of a pure heart fervently in there as well as the other still frozen battlefield stuff. I want to be positive about ANZAC’s celebrations since they seems to be the natural human New Zealand population’s “Good Friday”. As usual, Aotearoa New Zealand has its own VERY distinctive take on War and Peace – there’s more than one take of course but they are all reaching out beyond the particular Normal of our culture in some way. Our problem is to find our Easter as well as our Good Friday in the form of our New Zealand culture. New Zealand Islam itself gave us this taste of Easter in their quite remarkable living out of a spirit and practice of “forgiveness”: they gave the rest of us the Versicle and we the New Zealand population as a whole joined in the Response. It was amazing public liturgy of an extraordinarily pure kind. I burble on I hope intelligibly. Jocelyn is flat out on “interFaith” networking at every conceivable level of New Zealand national and local levels and contexts. There’s a weaving going on – a joining and mending of fractured threads and Christchurch accelerated this whole process or has the potential to do so. Last night we were at a quite elaborate Istar Breaking of the Fast convened by “The Pearl of the Islands” Muslim Group conjointly with the local MPs. A Maori initiated group of Epsom Girls Grammar School pupils electrified us all with waiata and haka and sheer spiritual cultural vitality. Local body and national politicians of every stripe were there along with a hefty police representative come in from his beat. The Christchurch Departed were the Force that were with us – almost tangibly so. Enough for now and with Cohen melody and poetry surrounding me.

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