This year, as in many years, there is a double-exposure taking place: a primal transition in nature is appearing at the same time as human ceremonies marking transitions within the sacred. Think of the old photographic technology when film would sometimes capture two exposed images on one slide, both blurred. Nature and human nature are now doing the same. Near the Spring Equinox:
- Judaism’s Passover (March 27-April 4)
- Christianity’s Easter (April 4; Orthodox, May 2)
- Hinduism’s Holi (March 28-30)
- Islam’s Ramadan (April 12-May 12)
- Buddhism’s Purnima (April 26, May 19, 25, 26)
Within the same few weeks there is so much life, death, and rebirth cycling through phases of the sun, moon, soil, water, and air plus the human psyche moving through transitions too.
Christmas, and with its temporal association to it, Chanukah, have been enveloped and misappropriated by the overwhelming forces of consumerism, so they appear to the casual observer to be the primary religious holidays for those two traditions. Yet Passover and Easter mark the primordial events for each, just as the spring equinox unlocks the door to life and summer for much of the Earth. While some of these religious ceremonies and seasons change year to year, many are affixed to the spring. It is little wonder that human practices evoking the sacred find synergy with Earth’s hinge between winter and summer.
It is important not to romanticize these events though, because all over the planet majority religions are persecuting minority ones, and secular governments are ruthlessly repressing their own citizens who organize communally for spiritual practice. Religion may be diminishing from the onslaught of secularism but it is also being beaten up and marginalized.
In Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, tiny Jewish and Christian communities have targets on their backs. In Myanmar the Buddhist majority violently oppresses a Muslim ethnic minority, the Rohingya. Indian nationalists persecute minority Muslims. China only accepts State-authorized religious leaders it appoints, and drives all other religious observers underground – with an especially merciless methodical oppression of Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims. In fact, according to Pew Research, “52 governments — including some in very populous countries like China, Indonesia and Russia — impose either ‘high’ or ‘very high’ levels of restrictions on religions, up from 40 in 2007.” But also according to Pew, 82% of Americans recognize that Muslims face discrimination here in the U.S., while 64% also perceive discrimination against Jews.
We have snow in the forecast for tomorrow here in the Finger Lakes, but that is hardly a case of winter resisting the advent of spring and summer. It is emblematic of spring’s uneven arrival rather than a concerted effort to block its path. But resistance to the presence of those who believe other than we do, or whose primary lens is theological rather than ideological, or religious rather than scientific, is neither natural nor inevitable. Like our political differences, individuals and governments gin up hostilities in order to divide and conquer. With new life in the air and the arrival of renewal ceremonies, this is a good time to also renew our own commitment to uphold one another’s freedom of belief and the exercise of faith and of no faith.