Friends, I don’t know how you respond when you find yourselves in a traditional religious service, but I always find it fascinating. Yesterday I heard a (Christian) preacher say from the pulpit “You can’t get to Easter except through the Cross!”
Hm, I thought, how would I as a religious naturalist parse that idea? OK, we religious naturalists like the idea of renewal as much as anyone, maybe more. The annual ritual of rebirth, and its metaphorical potential to help us find psychological revival, are powerful. And maybe if it has been a tough winter for nature and its creatures including us, or if we’ve recently gone through a tough time personally, an annual contemplation offers a palpable opportunity to set ourselves right again along with the rest of nature. So while I might not take the preacher’s statement to heart literally, I can see how very wonderful natural dynamics may have become so stylized.
But as I sat there, another thought emerged. We religious naturalists also celebrate diversity, so the “one size fits all” idea implied by the preacher’s phrase needs LOTS of teasing out. Some individuals (and geographies and maybe even whole cities) may not have had any recent rough patches, so the Spring ritual was just another beautiful day. Others may be in a tough spot right now, and so it was another terrible day. To be sure, the whole world seems to be in a tough spot right now, and whatever joy we find in a Spring ritual has to be balanced against our sober commitment to help get our species and our planet reoriented, even while dealing with our personal joys and struggles.
My personal ritual, this time of year, is to get to the Gulf Coast to see the annual bird migration back to North America from South America. I’ll be in Grand Isle, Louisiana later this week, and you can be sure I’ll be emotionally torn. On the one hand I hope for a “fallout,” when bad weather forces all those beautiful little warblers and other songbirds to seek the first land they see, landing exhausted virtually at your feet (literally – I’ve been in a fallout where dozens of brightly colored warblers were within mere yards of me). On the other hand I’ll be hoping for a “passover” when the weather is so good that the birds are still full of energy and pass overhead without stopping for several miles, spreading them across the landscape so that my glimpses will be few and far between.
Whatever your ritual and whatever personal joys and struggles you might be facing, I wish you a good and meaningful Spring, and if you pass through Baton Rouge during the coming year, do NOT pass through without stopping and sharing some conversation and our local communion celebration – French beignets – and our local coffee, aptly named Community Coffee.
Very cordially yours,
Michael Cavanaugh, Secretary