Riding my bike past the rich sweet scents of spring blossoms, passing by all the wet wrinkled newborn leaves, and the bright yellows, purples and fuchsias of sudden flowerings, I think about the possibility of rebirth: All this new life, unfurling into a myriad of flavours and attitudes, introducing itself, sprouting from the dormancy, from trunks or shrubs that appeared dead: browned, dried, and shriveled. Breathing all this in as I coast down the hills and glide around the corners, I wonder about what is within me waiting to blossom?
It is Spring. It is the time of Passover and Easter: Jewish and Christian Spring Ritual Festivals profoundly linked to each other and to the season we are in. Most likely Passover began as two separate Spring celebrations in Jewish tribes: One from the nomadic shepherds who would sacrifice the new lambs, the other from the settled agricultural tribes and their first barley harvests. These festivals are all about new birth, and at some point the tribes got together, and the story of the Exodus from Egypt got woven into the celebrations.
Passover became the celebration of the people’s liberation from slavery, or ‘constraint’(mitzrayim), as told in the Torah, or the first books of the Bible. Moses was sent by “I am becoming what I am becoming”, or ‘G-d’, to the Egyptian Pharaoh to demand freedom for the Jewish people, who had been enslaved in Egypt for about 400 years. The Pharaoh refused, as he had grown accustomed to the fruits of the free labour of the Jews, and ‘G-d’ brought plagues onto Egypt until the Pharaoh was so angered and freaked out that he decreed all first born Jews were to be slaughtered come the next morning of the Spring Full Moon. This decree was taken from Pharaoh’s mouth to be the next plague on Egypt. The Jews were cautioned to smear the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorposts so that G-d and this plague would pass over their houses sparing their first born. The next day the Pharaoh, his first born dead, relented and let the Jewish people depart with whatever they could carry. However, even as they left, this stubborn tyrant changed his mind and hunted them down to the edges of the sea. It is here that Moses parted the waters. The Jews fled through and the waters closed on the Egyptians, thus leaving the Jews free to wander in the desert, until they came to Mount Sinai where Moses received the 10 Commandments. But that is another holiday altogether.
This story of the liberation and birth of this group of oppressed peoples has resonated for many over the centuries, most notably Africans enslaved in the United States, who were likewise enslaved for about 400 years. The spiritual “Go Down, Moses (Let My People Go)” was written by black slaves in the 19th century and is often sung at modern Passover celebrations.
A more mystical perspective might look at the story this way: The Pharaoh represents the tyrant within, that voice that is always demanding and punishing, while Moses is the voice of the conscious ‘I’ who will ultimately demand freedom. Moses hesitates at first; he argues with G-d, claiming he is not worthy of the task of going to the tyrant and demanding such a thing as freedom. After all, who is he but a stuttering desert rebel who’d already killed an Egyptian overseer? And who do we think we are to go against the voices of the authorities that play on the tapes in our heads? But the voice of G-d, that voice of true spirit that waits for us in the silent places, is the voice that will give us the courage to face that tyrant. This voice will be there beside us, inside of us, at all times, through all the unknown to come.
Let us turn to the plagues to consider what happens when something inside of us demands life. If we remain in patterns that don’t allow this new life, we often have things begin to happen to us: We get sick, we suffer catastrophes, we eventually kill off the new life waiting to come into the world. But once we choose to make the journey toward life, things open up for us. The parting of the Red, or Reed, Sea, and the passing through it to the other side is like being birthed. One goes from following the orders, the ways and rules of others, to unfamiliar but liberating territory, where we listen to and follow what is within our own hearts. No wonder many of the Jews wanted to go back to their masters: at least in Egypt they knew the deal. Out in the desert between what is known and what is to be, it can get very scary, and sometimes even lousy food is food, even if it does come with a whipping.
This year Passover and Easter are scheduled for the same weekend, and I love it when that happens, because in fact, that is the way it happened, according to ‘the book’. Jesus was a Jew, a Rabbi, and The Last Supper was a Seder he was conducting. Jesus was in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast. The bread he broke was matzah. This is the unleavened bread which the Jews ate the night they left Egypt; they were in haste and had time only to bake the dough, not to let it rise first. The wine was the wine drunk by the Jews as they ate the lamb they’d sacrificed and roasted. They also ate bitter herbs, (like many spring herbs) to recall the bitterness of slavery as well as the green of Spring, with all of its possibilities. Jesus was the ultimate sacrificial lamb: A first born, a Jew, and a sacrifice. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus represent the same themes as the enslavement and liberation of the Jews. Sacrifice of the mundane, the enslavement to whatever holds us back, must be made if we are to be reborn to our higher selves, our spiritual and true nature, if we are to become who we are, if we are to blossom like the lilies (and daffodils) (AND English daisies) in the field.
So I ask: What is your true spirit? What is waiting to burst forth out of you? Where are you being confined, made to toil miserably in the name of others – their demands, their ideas, their expectations, their laws and their rules? What idols do you worship? What outside of you has power over your autonomous self? As you see nature around you strive to become itself, as you encounter all the flowers and fruits exploding out of the constraints of the cold ground, out of the tightness of the buds, out of seemingly dead tree trunks and branches, consider how you too can blossom.
Going from one state of being to another is painful, frightening and difficult, but we have stories of how others have done it before us, and they show us how much there is to be gained and shared with the world when we become our true selves.
published in the Cooper Point Journal april 2006