Easter Inspiration – Ecological Spirituality beyond Commercialism and Christianity

Lubok_of_Resurrection

Easter is a ceremonial celebration of life. The Resurrection of Jesus signals the soul’s victory over death; we rise to the heavens once we depart this world, the myth tells us, so long as we align our earthly lives with that divine realm while we are here. This is a religious model built on an ancient pattern; in nature, we see life burst forth from death all the time. Spring in the northern hemisphere is a concrete signal of this. Out of the depths of winter, finally the new sun hits the world, warming up the frosty ground, shaking buds to life on what looked last week like withered branches, even calling cute lambs from the wombs of woolly ewes in the fields. The seasonal cycles continue, from birth to growth to death and back again, drawing new life out of the great mystery, the darkness is the womb or matrix of the universe, the life behind life out of which all is born and to which all returns.

You can see why reincarnation is such a popular idea; it is just another version of the same universal paradigm, applied to the human soul. And when we pay attention to who we are within, we do find we are part of a wider nature without, the physical world of all beings, to whom we are related and to whom we owe our loyalty. Deepening our attention to this cycle and to our place in it can help us to get more in touch with our own innate sense of an ecological spirituality; a sense of the sacred in nature and in ourselves.

Easter_Bunny

The idea of Jesus and/or the Easter Bunny is a way of trying to link these mortal lives of ours to that Sacred Mystery, in one way or the other. For Christians, the religious model works to bring the divine into life, using the myth of Jesus to help us see the glory of God, in our hearts and in the world. In the secular world, the Easter Bunny brings magical gifts of abundance from an invisible realm, beyond the rational world. And this brings us to the problem of the sacred in the consumer capitalist world of commercialism. Commercialism consolidates the commitment to materialism that is part of a capitalist society, so that our intuitions of a better world, with higher values and more widespread compassion, are too easily consigned to the shelf of dusty ideas, past their use-by date or too ‘unrealistic’ to take seriously.

DCF 1.0

Ecological spirituality is not against materialism; in fact it is a new kind of materialism; but one that takes our bodies and the physical aspect of life on earth far too seriously to side with the slide into lazy consumption, which is promoted as the good life by the propaganda machine of global corporate marketeers. Ecological spirituality requires taking seriously what goes into our bodies, what ‘resources’ – aka other forms of life – are used to fuel our lifestyles; in other words, how we work with the earth rather than assume a false order of mastery over it and its other peoples and creatures. Without this dimension of care, spirituality is merely another version of escapism. We need to underscore this at times of seasonal celebrations such as Easter because as White Fellas – or those who were not born out of the ancestry of their land, such as in Australia or North America – we have a duty to try and better understand our ‘country’ and its original peoples. In any case, now that ecological crisis is finally becoming apparent to all but the most hardened ideologues, loyalty to the earth must be paramount in our relationship with what we hold sacred. And to hold the earth itself sacred is not only a real aspect of most religious perspectives, it is a vital and living part of the Australian Aboriginal way of life. And this is something we can learn, both from wisdom traditions and from attention to our own inner knowing.

One of the ways to deal with our current set of dilemmas is to be even more inventive with technology; in fact, we already know how to scale fossil fuels out of the equation with renewable energy sources, we just lack the political will and vision. But another way is to recalibrate our relationship with the rest of nature; to reconsider the way we think about the earth, so that it is not merely a resource but a place we hold sacred. One of the keys to making this shift real is to recall our own deep affinity with nature – and one of the best ways to see that this can be a real source of deep satisfaction; of a materialism beyond consumption; of an ecological spirituality – is to consider the Aboriginal inhabitants of this ‘country.’

Indigenous_Australian_Arnhem_Land_cosmogony

Aboriginal Australians consider their ‘country’ to be not only the place with which they identify; it is an enlivened spiritual cosmos, filled with other parts of nature that have just as much right to live and flourish as humanity does. The way to live right with this kind of natural environment is to build relations with it. To consider the river as a really alive, flowing source of replenishment, for people and for life itself; to consider the eagle as brother, the kangaroo as kin, the sky as part of the web of life. And to be responsible for part of this, via a totemic system, so that I may need to protect the Bilby Dreaming of our particular ‘country’ while you may be responsible for the Native Grass Dreaming. The system works by organising everything and everyone into a nested series of cares, where we all share empathy and compassion for all of life, together as parts of the pattern.

So; what can we rediscover about the hope held out by an Easter festival in contemporary terms, when we stand outside of conventional Christianity, on an ancient land, with secular freedoms? We can consider Easter’s iconic imagery of the Resurrection, which is in turn a version of a much more ancient idea; that we can transform who we are in real terms, in the body, with a kind of rebirth out of ritual. When we think of the mythic story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we can’t help but recall the Mystery Schools of the Greeks, who likewise spent time in dim caverns, spending their symbolic dark days and nights of the soul being inspired by personal experience that went beyond the limits of the personal, so that they could be transformed in their everyday lives in alignment with a greater vision of what is possible.

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Eleusis, a site of the Greek Mysteries, dedicated to the goddess Demeter; the grains on the left of the carving represent new life out of the earth, a physical and spiritual symbol at the same time.

If ever there was a time we needed to tap back into this deep stream of European and Levantine wisdom, this was it. We can re-find inner riches in ecological spirituality, which also link us to the rest of nature, to the other creatures and even to the landscape itself, all of which now requires protection from the worst ravages of the human race. White Fella Dreaming subscribes to all of this, as a counter-culture to the dominant paradigm and its damages, in the hopes of transforming modern society to a more sustainable set of practices; and we need to do this within ourselves, at the same time as we activate it in everyday life and in the wider community of the planet. And we have inner resources, our own links to early practices like this, and existing wisdom traditions of this land to learn from.

Thanks for reading. And have a regenerating and transformative Easter.

*This is a short version of my Easter Sunday service given at the Unitarian Church in East Melbourne, Australia, April 5th.

Images: 1. “Lubok of Resurrection” by Anonymous – Музей народной графики. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lubok_of_Resurrection.jpg#/media/File:Lubok_of_Resurrection.jpg. 2. “Easter Bunny” by Littlerockphoto – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Easter_Bunny.JPG#/media/File:Easter_Bunny.JPG. 3. “Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details” by User:Franconia – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details.jpg#/media/File:Osterbrunnen-Bieberbach-Details.jpg. 4. By Arapaima [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. Sketch trying to illustrate the Arnhem Land North Coast Indigenous Australians cosmogony, as described by David Gulpilil in the australian movie “Ten canoes” made by Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr (sketch derived from a painting by Johnny Bulunbulun, a Ganallingu artist working in Maningrida). 5. By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany (Eleusis) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

The New Year in Symbolic Context

Omigawa-fireworks

 

In ancient Mesopotamia, the new year was celebrated in style. It took a few days to complete the rites and a main feature was the Sacred Marriage, wherein the gods and goddesses were joined together in a way that ensured the ongoing fertility of the earth. Naturally, the earth meant the land most important to the people, who lived in city-states with now-exotic and evocative names such as Ur. Now while the tutelary deity (or city god) of Ur was Nanna, the moon-god, bull of the sky, provider of plenty, guard against perfidy, naturally the local king would stand in his place and be married to the goddess, most likely Innana. Typical men, huh? Never losing an opportunity to aggrandize the self. Anyway, the point was that the party was taken seriously, there was something sacred occurring, and even if it was used as a way to cement patriarchal and military authority, it was also a way of ensuring that people’s lives stayed linked to the stories that explained to them the deepest meanings of life, the human place in the universe, and our ties to the mysteries out of which we arise and to which we return upon death.

 

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Navajo ritual often ends with the phrase “Beauty is returned.” This is a lovely comment upon the successful ritual, which should leave us feeling refreshed in vision, mind and body. It’s the same result we want out of the telling of myth, which can re-place us in the heart of the world, a unique and lucky incarnation as a conscious, self-aware being in an incredible cosmos, capable of learning and teaching our fellow creatures, finding solace in our souls so that we can be at one, or at least comfortable in our skins, enough to be spiritually generous, or at least emotionally stable enough to not be a drain on others. This is what successful myth and ritual offers us, every day, but especially at signal moments in the annual calendar.

 

Dark_night

 

Having recently passed the solstice/Christmas season, we now stand at the horizon of another opportunity for a new start. Once we have settled in to sense the promise of the return of the light, through the dark night of the soul, which we pass through collectively each year and which we experience individually every now and then as passing phases of melancholy, or in catastrophic bursts of mental unease or collapse, or in evenings of emotional turmoil followed by sleepless nights, or in horror at the callous turn of events that sees innocent children suffering horribly or men dying pointlessly, or women harrowed by another gut wrenching chain of events over which they have no influence … the dark soul of the night, whatever version we know, that ends finally, either in a fresh dawning of hope in our hearts or in the birth of a new generation, has been and gone and now we can reset the clock. This chronological metaphor is not unwitting – we set the year by some kind of calculation, even if we don’t see the universe as a clockwork mechanism anymore – and this avails us of the opportunity to consider the end of one cycle and beginning of a new one.

 

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This isn’t always a very comfortable reflection. I’ve been revisiting my hyper-sensitive early teenage years of late, as I recognize a new era in my personal standing ticking over through another cycle of social anxiety and emerging self-assuredness. But we have to just sit with this kind of material and keep on working on ourselves, day-by-day, allowing ourselves into the pit to the extent that we need to be dipped in it if we are to emerge truly refreshed, yet not letting ourselves be fully lost to the night, which will swallow us up and leave us crushed if we are not careful to maintain our sense of self as we go. It’s a matter of balance. Being real to the transformative potential of evernew, reliable myth and ritual, while maintaining a stable sense of self without which we cannot function helpfully on behalf of ourselves of others. I’m going to stay true to my life metaphor, my totemic animal power, my symbolic analogy from within, the Butterfly, this new year, and make sure I am true enough to my time in the cocoon of darkness to emerge completely refreshed, with new and colourful wings, on the other side. Happy New Year from White Fella Dreaming.

 

Monarch_Butterfly_Danaus_plexippus_on_Milkweed_Cropped_2800px

 

Image: 1. By アリオト (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. 2. By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “Opal_Art_Seekers_4” [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. American painter Joseph Henry Sharp documented Indian tribal life and ritual. This is an idealized portrait of a seventeen-year-old Indian boy who later became Chief of the Taos Pueblo. The boy is shown drying a bird’s brain to create a talisman that will guarantee his future success. 3. Image title: Dark nightImage from Public domain images website, http://www.public-domain-image.com/full-image/nature-landscapes-public-domain-images-pictures/dusk-dawn-public-domain-images-pictures/dark-night.jpg.html 4. “Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus on Milkweed Cropped 2800px” by Derek Ramsey – Derek Ramsey. Via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monarch_Butterfly_Danaus_plexippus_on_Milkweed_Cropped_2800px.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Monarch_Butterfly_Danaus_plexippus_on_Milkweed_Cropped_2800px.jpg