If we live anywhere with marked seasons the transitions become meaningful. Our environments change, the light changes. Spring sees a warming of the earth and a lightening of the skies and with it comes growth, bringing associations of abundance and hope.
In Temporum Ratione or The Reckoning of Time by the Northumbrian monk the Venerable Bede (673–735), he mentions that Eostre was previously worshipped in April. We know little else although Ostara or Eostre has become associated with a goddess of dawn and light and later traditions have associated her and the Easter season with hares and fertility.
This year we have a late Easter, but the Spring or Vernal equinox which falls around March 21 is also associated with Ostara and with traditions of new birth and new light. Themes of death and rebirth ocurr across many belief systems (think of the gods Attis, Adonis, Osiris and Dionysus as well as the Christ-figure). Similarly, spring equinox festivals stretch from ancient Persia to Mexico.
The season is also linked with notions of eternity, which takes on different resonances depending on our beliefs.
In Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine Alan Lightman writes:
As I lie in my hammock now on this late afternoon in August, I can feel the seconds ticking away to my end, and I believe it to be a final end. But that finality does not diminish the grandeur of life. As the seconds tick by, I breathe one breath at a time. I inhale, I exhale. These spruces and cedars I cherish and know, the wind, the sweet scent of moist and dark soil — these are my small sense of enlightenment, my past life and present life and future life all in one moment.
In theological parlance there is a realised eschatology at work here. This theory was spearheaded by theologians like Joachim Jeremias and my former New Testament tutor (who famously spoke at the court case against the censorship of Lady Chatterley’s Lover), John Robinson. Realised eschatology is not about waiting for a second coming or end times but favours the building of the kingdom of heaven on Earth, privileging a process of becoming over destruction and an afterlife.
Whatever our faith position, all writers can contribute to this sense of eternity and infinity not as future paradise but as the ability to be in the moment where past, present and future coalesce. All writers can witness to the breaking in of eternity and infinity into the now. And anyone alive can appreciate that moments of enlightenment and epiphany are to be found in diverse places. From acts of generosity to standing in a shaft of light in a forest; from the small daily rituals that dignify and simplify our lives to a sunset over the ocean.
In the words of Jack Kerouac:
Practice kindness all day to everybody and you will realize you’re already in heaven now.
For hope not certainty
Watching the world wake up in spring, we feel an upsurge of hope. The world that seemed dead is alive again and our sense of finitude shifts. The longing for certainty, for eternity, for survival beyond this life, are as old as humanity. There is evidence of burial and caring for the dead as far back as 50,000 years ago.
And this hope is not in vain, whatever our religious stance or lack of it. Like Lightman I believe my end will be a final end to this conjunction of matter in this individual, to this consciousness that I think of as ‘self’. And like Lightman I consider that this ‘finality does not diminish the grandeur of life.’
Concepts like constancy, endurance, connectedness and soul, for me, need no external referent beyond the mysteries of life itself to be of value and truth.
Describing an extraordinary experience of transcendence, Lightman writes in Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine:
No one was out on the water but me. It was a moonless night, and quiet. The only sound I could hear was the soft churning of the engine of my boat. Far from the distracting lights of the mainland, the sky vibrated with stars. Taking a chance, I turned off my running lights, and it got even darker. Then I turned off my engine. I lay down in the boat and looked up. A very dark night sky seen from the ocean is a mystical experience. After a few minutes, my world had dissolved into that star-littered sky. The boat disappeared. My body disappeared. And I found myself falling into infinity. A feeling came over me I’d not experienced before… I felt an overwhelming connection to the stars, as if I were part of them. And the vast expanse of time — extending from the far distant past long before I was born and then into the far distant future long after I will die — seemed compressed to a dot. I felt connected not only to the stars but to all of nature, and to the entire cosmos. I felt a merging with something far larger than myself, a grand and eternal unity, a hint of something absolute. After a time, I sat up and started the engine again. I had no idea how long I’d been lying there looking up.
He understands the pull to commit to certainties, but resists, still ‘committed to the material world’ not because he rejected his profound experience of being at one with the universe but because it needed no proofs:
its validity and power resided in the experience itself.
Nature, the soul, love are things ‘one recognises through the heart’, to quote Dostoevsky. And so, Lightman concludes:
The Absolutes and the Relatives can be considered a large frame in which to view the dialogue between religion and science, or between spirituality and science. But I suggest that the issues go deeper, into the dualism and complexity of human existence. We are idealists and we are realists. We are dreamers and we are builders. We are experiencers and we are experimenters. We long for certainties, yet we ourselves are full of the ambiguities of the Mona Lisa and the I Ching. We ourselves are a part of the yin-yang of the world. Our yearning for absolutes and, at the same time, our commitment to the physical world reflect a necessary tension in how we relate to the cosmos and relate to ourselves.
For some of us the certainties will extend to another life. For others, like Lightman, like me, they reside in the here and now, in the stories we are becoming, in love, generosity, humility, vulnerability and courage. In transcendent moments that dwell in the experience of our connectedness to all life, all matter.
Wherever we locate ourselves in this tension between transcendence and imminence, as writers we need to write of resurrection.
Resurrection is the narrative of finding a way to reclaim our injured and sick planet from the maw of destruction.
Resurrection is the narrative of love refound, grief lived through and transmuted into memory, longing and gratitude.
Resurrection is the narrative of political struggle, movements for justice and peace, whether in poetry, fiction or nonfiction.
Resurrection is the narrative of largeness and persistence in the face of whatever the universe throws at us and those we love and the world we inhabit.
Resurrection is the immortal words of Maya Angelou in ‘Still I Rise’:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
And for many, resurrection is the consideration of how we live now, as I wrote in ‘How to rise again’ first published in Particles of Life:
Find dandelion clocks,
and count to twelve,
of fresh sweet lavender
beside your gate
and by south facing doors.
Grow tulip bulbs
on every window sill
and walk a moonlit beach
At Easter, bury chocolate;
like secret seeds
in every scented room,
and cook a feast and laugh
with those you love
and open windows,
even in the rain.
You will not live forever,
but for now;
not wasting life
on how to rise again.
Becoming a different story
Thank you for reading — sign up to my email list and I’ll send you a free PDF on writing and the writing life as well as a fantastic special offer for my new suite of online mini-retreats, Diving Deeply into Your Story. While you’re there, download my free course, Giving yourself time to become a different story.