I’m not usually much moved, or even much impressed by ritual. The effeminate clothing of cardinals hiding their hypocrisy in plain sight, with theatre, incense and mood music to manipulate the emotional waves on which we all sometimes reluctantly ride, is not, as the Russians might say, my ‘glass of tea’.
I don’t much do happy-clappy. Not any more. I don’t do Calvinistic holiness preaching which is tantamount to a sin management program where one emerges as if a flail has been applied to the soul. I don’t do whiter than white, beaming profiteers with Gulfstream jets and a nice line in collective hysteria.
Then there is Pesach – not in a vernacular sense, as in ‘pass over’ but ‘to have compassion’, or, perhaps, ‘the sacrifice of mercy’ having stark, inescapable parallels with the Easter narrative in the Gospels.
This I rather think I do do.
There are as many Haggadot or stories told (the text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of Pesach including a narrative of the Exodus) as leaves on a tree. Yet, despite many creative differences, the overarching principle of deliverance and salvation is gripping, so much so that the story is commanded to be passed down from generation to generation. There is even a section in the Haggadah prayers which enjoins the participants to ‘lift up their souls’ almost a Sursum Corda, and having an almost identical meaning – a cry of encouragement to escape the surly bonds of earth and reach for a mystical space beyond reason or comprehension, flying with the wings of a dove.
No, there is no escape – we who find ourselves reluctantly grafted may not care much for lamb and bitter herbs or for the ruinous effect of fresh blood on our beautiful mahogany doorposts and lintel but the story of our redemption and the feast of unleavened bread is inextricably intertwined in memory and tradition, opening doors to the sacred.
Ten years ago, I wrote this:
“Throughout civilisation, people have explored ways to experience the sacred, the ‘other’. Some have followed Huxley’s exploration of mind-expanding drugs, no matter how dangerous it is, Christians sometimes go to church no matter how tedious it is, Hindus plunge into the Ganges no matter how ghastly, overcrowded and foul it is, Muslims do the Hajj to Mecca no matter how far away and expensive it is.
“So it is that monks kneel and chant, that Jews eat a Pesach meal, Polynesians dance, and Quakers sit still.” writes Joseph Martos in “Doors to the Sacred”. Trivial locations, activities, ‘things’, yet all can be sacramental, symbols of something else, mysterious and hidden, yet waiting to be revealed, out of which flows a sense of the sacred.”
Electing to find a way to the quiet, amidst every howling wind that throws us around as if in a frail boat about to capsize requires both courage and humility. Courage because stepping into the unknown is perilous and humility because in so doing, we lay aside our own small ambitions and again see through the eyes of a child, one who asks “why is this night not like other nights?’
Chag Pesach sameach and a happy Easter to any who stumble across this, believer, pagan or agnostic. It makes no difference either to me, or to God, wherever you may find him since, paraphrasing Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, it is ‘the jagged edges not the smoothly sanded shiny bits of our humanity is what connects us to God and to one another.’