by Becky Brooks, shared with the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore on Easter, 2014.
For the last several years I’ve been very interested in this question: can you choose what you believe?
This is a question I usually have occasion to ask of folks in my Adult RE classes. Some say yes and others say no, but the question always provokes a thoughtful response, and I love hearing differing perspectives.
Personally, I don’t think I can choose. If I could consciously choose what to believe, I would very much like to put my faith in the Easter story. I would like to believe, as my grandmother did, that Jesus was a man and a god at the same time, and that when confronted with human evil, he met it head on, and so conquered it that he rose up from the dead because God’s love is more powerful than any force on earth, including the evil that men do.
But I don’t believe that. And—before anyone brings up the words “evidence” or “science” or anything like that, I want to be clear: it doesn’t matter whether or not I think it’s true. I have deeply held beliefs, and maybe so do you, that defy evidence.
I believe all people have good inside them, even though I have seen plenty of evidence to the contrary.
I wish I believed that I’d see that grandmother again in heaven after I die, but I don’t believe in heaven. I kind of hope I’m wrong.
We all create meaning from our lives within the context we find ourselves in. And maybe it’s cliche for a Unitarian Universalist to find meaning in the Easter season in a tree, but cliches are there for a reason, and so this is my Easter message.
We have a saucer magnolia tree in our front yard. It’s a funny kind of backward tree. When it loses its leaves in the fall it looks extra naked because it’s branches are so wide and low you really notice: hey, that tree doesn’t have any leaves, for a long, long time throughout the winter. And instead of seeing little green knobs at the ends of the branches, it has these brown pods that match the tree. So even when the rest of the trees around it are starting to look like spring might be coming, this magnolia tree looks silent. And then the most amazing thing happens. Practically overnight, all those little brown pods open to reveal the deepest, darkest pink there is. Just a wee little bit. And then, just a few days later, the entire tree is alight with pink and white flowers. Like a neon sign put out by Mother Earth that says: SPRING!
I’ve loved watching this tree each year we’ve lived in our house, but this year was especially exciting because my kids love pink. And I don’t know if you know this, but when you’re three-years-old, six months of winter is a long enough time that a person can forget that anything in the natural world ever turns pink. So for weeks we’ve been telling them that the tree they love the most—the one they’re learning to climb, the one they can see from their bedroom window—is going to explode in pink flowers any minute.
And then, like magic, it did.
But, remember, this is a backward tree. Luckily we warned them what would happen next. Because the beautiful pink flowers are only with us for a short time. Their petals start to fall after only about a week. This time last week the whole tree was in bloom, and this time next week, all the pink flowers will be gone. The yard and street and driveway are strewn with fallen flower petals. Honestly, it makes for a sad sight, to see all those fragile petals, crushed under foot and tire, turning brown in the sun. But the scent! It smells like heaven walking through the yard right now. You can’t smell them much when the flowers are on the tree, but once they’re down, the most beautiful sweet smell surrounds you.
Then the leaves come. Just when you think you couldn’t be more sad about losing all those beautiful pink flowers, the leaves come. And for several weeks this tree is as cute as a baby with all its hair sticking up. All awkward and silly looking with neon green dots all over it. And as the weather changes, the leaves unfold. And before you know it, it’s hot outside. And by the time the heat arrives, that magical tree has got you covered with the best shade around.
I dearly love that tree. I find that it fills me with hope. All through the winter, through every season, the magnolia tree reminds me that life has a cycle, that nothing is permanent, that there are myriad things in this world that I have no power over, and that faithfulness is justified.
That’s my Easter story. I don’t know if my grandmother would think it has much in common with Jesus’ story, but I think it’s kind of the same thing.
Happy Easter. May you find hope and faith in little things and big things and make meaning in your life wherever you find it.
Who are these who sing Alleluia
and call risen, risen, indeed
dead long ago
whose words are so often amulets
against the necessary struggles
as if any words alone could:
love against all odds
sing with the lunatic
reveal the nakedness of power
deliver the dispossessed to choices again
turn hope’s prism for the blind to marvel
smooth hard places into feather beds for the broken
wrest from nothing and no way
the chance for children to grow whole
stretch easy the backs that bear the work
bless all the world with our lives
lived forgiving, alert for love
What fools, indeed,
who may never even discuss divinity
or agree on how much room there is anywhere
for angels, again, to dance
in their ancient poetry
with its curious syntax and
in their reckless yearning insist
love never dies
survives after the grave even here
and claims us yes, now
and will not ever let us go.
—Barbara Pescan, from Morning Watch
(c) Barbara Pescan. Morning Watch is available at http://www.uua.org/bookstore
Thank you so much to Rev. Naomi for her incredible ministry to all of us using bits and bytes to connect.
Blessings for your journey…