It’s Easter this week. Religious holidays have presented a bit of a conundrum for me since my faith collapsed.
Actually, Easter has always puzzled me. What do a giant Easter bunny and Peeps have to do with the resurrection of a savior of mankind?
As it turns out, very little.
Easter, like most Christian holidays, has its origins in paganism. It marked the end of the cold winter season and the beginning of new life, as evidenced by leafy buds on trees and tulips poking their heads up out of the ground. How the bunny got involved depends on what source you consult. Suffice it to say, the Christian celebration of Easter is an amalgamation of legends and stories culminating in hunting for colored eggs and eating lots of jelly beans. Or something to that effect. Oh, and then also going to church and thinking about Jesus. In new clothes.(I'm wearing the new clothes. Not Jesus. Though, come to think of it, his attire probably was new. Or refurbished. Okay, now I'm wandering into blasphemous territory. Sorry.)
In my household growing up, my parents separated the secular from the religious by giving us Easter baskets on Saturday morning, leaving Sunday free for worship. My mother never told us that our baskets full of candy and trinkets came from a giant bunny; she didn’t want us to be confused when it came to Jesus and his sacrifice. As it turns out, her lack of context left me befuddled anyway. I never could figure out how it was all related. I just knew that we colored boiled eggs on Friday, got a basket of goodies on Saturday and had an Easter Egg hunt in the backyard, then went to church on Sunday morning wearing a new dress. I was expected to sit still in that new dress, hyped up on fake chocolate Easter eggs, and think about how Jesus died on a cross. For me. So I could go live with Heavenly Father again.
As you can clearly see, religious worship never really took with me.
Mormons sort of bastardized the entire Easter celebration and the Lenten season. Lent, from my limited understanding, is a time of personal sacrifice. As a Mormon, I was not taught in the ways of Lent, and I never knew anyone who practiced it religiously, pun intended, but I knew many people who trivialized the concept by giving up such things as Diet Coke or sugar.
I decided this year that I wanted to understand Lent from a religious perspective, so I accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a Lenten service at a nearby church.
I felt like a voyeur.
As I listened to the pastors recite scriptures, and the congregation respond out loud by repeating particular phrases, I searched my heart for any feeling that could be interpreted as the spirit. And I felt none. Nothing. I was void of anything remotely resembling a spiritual experience.
There was nothing familiar about the setting or the proceedings. Even the hymns were different from those I’d heard as a Mormon. The people were dressed casually, and the room looked like any other community gathering spot. It was completely unlike any church service I had experienced growing up.
I wasn’t exposed to different religious traditions by my parents. They believed Mormonism was True, with a capital T, and saw no need to branch out. I do not blame them for this. They had all they needed, and they believed they were leading their family back to God via the LDS church; what would have been the point of attending other religions?
So, as I sat through the unfamiliar service, I was mystified. I looked around me at the congregation gathered to worship their savior. I wondered at the devotion that had led them to seek salvation at the hands of a jealous god, and I searched their faces carefully for some clue to their dedication.
I listened to their hymns, and wondered why my heart remained still. Am I missing the devotion gene? How did reverence for sacred things so completely pass me by? Why is my heart not fertile ground for the seed of faith?
What is the difference between me, an agnostic borderline atheist who cannot decide if a supreme being exists and cares about humanity, and an adherent of Christianity? What is it that leads worshipers to seek a savior, and to mark their faces with ashes as a sign of their devotion and penitence? Or to don sacred, holy underwear? To tithe their ten percent? To sacrifice half their weekend in pursuit of connection with divinity?
Honestly, I have no answers. All I know is that the service left me cold and wanting. I felt nothing more than admiration for those who are willing and able to set aside worldly things with softened hearts and allow the spirit of god to take root. I often wish I could be one of them.
But the feeling passes quickly as I contemplate the Mexican food my friend promised me in exchange for my presence beside her as she worshiped.
I guess that makes me an adherent of gastrolatry. I worship food. I can work with this. Granted, it costs more than ten percent of my income, but the rewards are immediate, and filling. Pass the salsa.