Religion or Ritual

Let’s just open this right up by letting y’all know that I self-identify as a Christian. I’ll also let you know that I truly have no idea what that means, other than I’m a Canadian white girl (like as white bread as they come: German, English, Irish and Scottish) who grew up in a neighbourhood with five churches within a ten block radius and from 9-14yrs old I went to the United Church, and loved it, therefore, I think that makes me a Christian-yes?

Almost 30 years later, although married to a self-identifying atheist, I decided to go back again, taking up a seat in the back at our neighbourhood’s Little Red Church. On my way home from my first visit, I cried and cried and cried big wet tears as I rode my bike down the trail to my driveway.  No words. No understanding. No story, just gratitude for a place to rest.

Was that religion? 

Little Red Church

My parents didn’t go to church, my brothers didn’t pray, and most of my friends were the children of first or second generation immigrant families.  Every now and then we could catch a glimpse into each other’s family’s wildly different and colourful customs and practices.  We were a gaggle of Italian, Filipino and Chinese Roman Catholic, East Indian Hindu with some Sikh, East African Muslim and all of that peppered with a few tried-and-true good-ole-white-bread-Christians. We were like a religious omelette of Vancouver leftovers.

Yet here’s the thing:  None of us were confused. None of us were outraged. None of us needed to change each other. In fact, most of us were wildly curious about the customs of our friends. We saw Mendhi for the first time, touched a rosary, received a red envelope, breathed in incense, smelled curry and drank real chai… these are the gifts of a multi-cultural childhood and teenage life. None of us assumed we were ‘right’ about our beliefs (let’s be honest, we didn’t even know what we believed in or why yet). None of us challenged each other’s life-practices. None of us understood faith, we simply lived, and we enjoyed the wonder of it all.

Mendhi

Mendhi

I think I was 9 years old when I decided to go to church with my new bestie who lived across the street. We were the same age, born on the same day, and we both LOVED to sing. Cheryl’s family went to church every Sunday, so one day, I decided to join them, and I loved it. My favourite part was singing in the choir (of course) and having hot tea with milk and sugar after service (sugar cubes are so fancy).  I became part of a community who smiled more often than they frowned and I loved that.

I can still hear the comforting sound of my one precious little 25 cent piece drop and hit the felt bottomed collection plate as it was passed around.

And then there was Easter Sunday. The truth is, I had no idea what on earth we were doing, what the story was about, and why on this particular day women wore hats and men wore suits. What I did know is that once upon a time a long long long long long time ago, there was this guy who had been nailed to a cross to die because he said crazy things that scared people. Then he was laid to rest, only to miraculously go MIA after his massive stone  was rolled away.  Some lookieloos wanted to check in on him you know.

Who rolled the stone? Was that the Easter Bunny? Is that how the rabbit thing ties in?

But wait then this guy named Jesus shows up again neither as a ghost nor man yet he can speak with his friends. How does that work? But Wow… I mean… wow… That’s a super awesome story. I remember thinking: ‘Do my Italian, Filipino, East Indian, Chinese and African friends know about this?’.  But you know how it is, it just never came up in conversation.

So what of this Easter Bunny? 

Easter 2016

Seems kinda nuts doesn’t it?  And I’m not slagging it, or religion either.

But what of it?

and why for it?

I mean a dead guy lives?

a bunny poops eggs?

What?  Yup.  That’s right. A guy in a robe died so we shall live, and a bunny brings us chocolate eggs. And Yes, we believe in them both.

Why?

Because it’s not about religion, it’s about ritual.

It’s not about believing, it’s about loving.

It’s not about Jesus, Buddha, Shiva, Krishna, Muhammad, Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim, Allah, Shakti, Zeus, Eostra, the Universe, Source… or anyone else, it’s about belonging.

It’s not about the Easter Bunny, it’s celebration.

What if we didn’t have to choose?  What if it wasn’t about some but rather all?  Here’s what I think: 

We don’t have to choose between God or the Easter Bunny, fact or fiction, belief or ignorance, we can choose the power of ritual, of connection, of meaning instead.

Even typing those words makes me want to groan.  Connection…  blechhhh it sounds so new-agey and trite doesn’t it? I know, let’s all chomp off some chocolate bunny ears, feet and heads and then hold hands ’cause we’re all ‘c o n n e c t e d’  -k?

As if.

Yet, there I was this past weekend with my family, doing what we do, and fifteen years into a familydom, Easter like most holidays now runs like clockwork:  Bunny shows up around 5:30am, hides the eggs before the house wakes, leaves funny limerick riddles leading the boys to their appropriately sugar stacked chocolate baskets, followed by mama cleaning up with a quick wipe of the bathrooms, then a fast sweep/vacuum/dust, switch gears to placing the mighty lemon themed desserts into the oven, pull out the china, set the table, pour my first glass of wine and…wait until the family arrives.

Religion or Rituals

And then we catch up. We talk about the state of the world (and with the upcoming election in the USA – there’s been a lot to talk about), we cook and then we eat.

Every Easter in our house we start dinner with the great egg smash and if you ask any of the kids at the table what their favourite part of Easter is, I gonna bet they’d say The Smash even before they’d say chocolate. Why? Because it’s fun, it’s silly and it’s a ritual. Everyone counts on it happening every year.

My dad who is not my father nor my daddy but is my dad, is American (long story which I won’t explain today) and he often works during these kinds of holidays but when he’s not he brings his American-ism to the table offering a very traditional grace, blessing our food, each other and thanking God for the bounty before us.  It’s a lovely practice for each of us as we all bow our head out of respect following our intrinsic Canadian politeness of doing the right thing, and saying grace out of love for me because I’m the one who usually asks.

This year papa was working so there was no ‘grace’ (I suck at that kinda stuff because it’s not authentic for me yet not false either – confusion leads me no where) so as a result, while the ritual of the egg smash did take place, the deeper meaning of the day never really took hold, well, for me anyway.

Not that religion = depth and smashing eggs = superficial (I suppose you could argue that), but rather our chosen go-to-family-activity didn’t invite us to ‘be’ together: to see and be seen by one another. Too much touchy feely stuff I guess.

I tried.

I always think about Todd’s mom on Easter. I’m not sure why.  She passed away in the month of February so that’s not it, but man oh man that lady LOVED FOOD and any CELEBRATION around it, and on this particular Easter I missed her.  I raised my glass and toasted the moms in our life, the grandmas, the mommy’s, the mamas and hands that hold us. It was an invitation to start a deeper sense of story before we all chowed down, but it just didn’t take. Sometimes it’s just what the day wants.

I missed it. It felt like I ate cake for dinner instead of meal.

I said to Todd as we were debriefing the day later that night:

I don’t think I know what Easter is all about for me.  I mean I get Christmas. Even the biblical story of the baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Wise Men and the Star of Bethlehem touches on the same themes that Hallmark and marketing does: joy, togetherness, celebration, light, and possibility. Thanksgiving is similarly tied (albeit not a religious holiday), our ritual of feasting and gratitude is rooted in the story of the pilgrims and Indians gathering together. The Indian people taught the pilgrims how to grow corn and to fish, and so the pilgrims honoured them with a feast to show their gratitude. But what of Easter? What is the modern day, accessible story of Easter that has roots that we can all understand?

Surely it’s not chocolate, egg smashing and hunting.

Surely there’s more.

I go back to my roots of religion to find my own answer. I turn to the power of story, to meaning, to symbols, to make sense of it all. I said to Todd as we were laying there and I was clearly wrestling with my own disappointment that this Easter we as a family just didn’t ‘get there’, nor was it particularly desired this time. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t seem to invite a deeper meaning to the table, because frankly, I didn’t know what exactly it was that was important to me.  I said to him:

This resurrection story thingy is not about a dead guy dying for our sins and it’s not about a bunny pooping eggs either. While both of those interpretations are ‘true’, those stories both honour birth and rebirth. Maybe it’s the story of Spring, of overcoming the deadness of winter and inviting the newness to live again. Are we celebrating life as we acknowledge and honour the reality of death?

Hmmm… that feels honest. That feels inclusive.

So if Christmas = Joy

and Thanksgiving = Gratitude

then Easter can = Growth

Right?

TinaO's Easter Table

Here’s how the Easter table could’ve gone this year had I figured this out before Sunday:

Tina (Mama of the table): Happy Easter everyone. Today is a day of honouring our growth, acknowledging what we’ve overcome and celebrating what we’re stepping in to.  If anyone has anything they’d like to acknowledge, I invite you to do that here. I’ll start:

Me:  This is has been a very complex year as Todd and I find each other again, as I heal my body post cancer treatment, as the big boys get step into teenager life, and I decide that I am indeed a writer.  I’d like to acknowledge my own courage and patience this year because I’m not someone who walks slowly and methodically and mindfully forward, yet today I am.

Cedar (6 yrs old):  Ummmm…. I’d just like to say, I like the sunshine. I like the chocolate. And I fought with Angus about the playstation, but we like each other now.

Connolly (14 yrs old):  Yeah, well, ahhh… Just wanna say I scored a hat trick last night and I’ve been working hard at ahhh showing up more on the ice. I doing better with Math too, and ahhh yes, I want to win the Egg Smash.  Thanks.

Angus: (12 yrs old): I’m good. I’m good mom. I don’t have anything to say. Yeah. I’m good.

Todd (my husband, and daddy to the boys): I just want to say how proud I am of our family and all we’ve done together this past year. To my wife who is stronger today than yesterday and to all of you, we’re so glad you’re all here. Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet, so let’s raise a glass to tomorrow because we can.

Annnnnd on to the EGG SMASH!  May the best egg win! 


I strive to have my table be a place where everyone is welcome. I really do search for language that includes, rituals that invite and practices that welcome widely. I still go to my Little Red Church when I can. Mostly in the summer as the long hockey season really trips that up, and funny, just like the house I grew up in, I live in a home where I’m likely the only believer. And that’s okay because we’re all speaking the same language, just not the living the same stories and rituals.

Sir William friends

Some of my elementary school friends

When I think back to my circle of childhood and teenage friends, many of whom are still an active part of my 45 year old life, I remember that to us, we weren’t ‘multi-cultural’, we were a gaggle of sneaker wearing, ripped jean sporting and song singing kids. That’s it, that’s all.  We created our own community not because we knew the rules or the symbols, we just did it because it felt good.

The rules and absolutes that can be found in religion often divide us, but the rituals we inhabit from their stories are what unite us.

There’s room for both.

Happy Easter – be that the story of resurrection, wabbit ears or something entirely different.

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xxT

 

 


TinaO is a writer, speaker and the founder of TinaOLife – a hub for all things worth living for, the workshop Live Your Best Story, and her coaching practice:  Tall Poppy Living. She’s also a professional network marketer with a decade in the industry and in her Tall Poppy Living for Network Marketers Coaching Program, she teaches: selling isn’t slimey and marketing isn’t make-believe. You can be yourself and be successful in Direct Sales.