With Easter around the corner, I’ve been looking back on childhood memories of this holiday, most of which revolve around the small Community Baptist church that I grew up attending. I started singing in the children’s choir the same year I started piano lessons, so I was enlisted every year (and most Sundays, in fact) into musical duty – either singing, playing piano, or playing the recorder. While I never did accept (and still haven’t accepted) any of the theology, I loved and savored my involvement in the music – the harmonies, the melodies, the prosody, the connection with the other singers and with the congregation as we shared our talents and efforts.
Some of my most vivid memories of Easter are of the sunrise services I attended growing up. They were held at a congregation member’s farm, and while we all shivered and struggled to read our programs in the pre-dawn light, we would listen and sing a cappella and greet the sun that was meant to signify the resurrection of Jesus.
(When I was a teenager, my insatiable curiosity led me to learn how the date of Easter is chosen every year – and that, for me, threw the entire exercise – and all the rest of it – into question. This is the event upon which I am supposed to pin the redemption of my immortal soul, and y’all can’t agree on when it happened? Oh, wait… you were just trying to run the pagans out of town? Well. That seems… hostile.)
One year, Mrs. Crist, the beloved church organist and wife of Reverend Crist, asked me to play my Native American flute at a sunrise service. I had done this sort of thing at sunrise service before, with my voice in the choir, or on the recorder – but the idea of playing this flute really excited me. I was, at that time in my life, dabbling in Native American spirituality and increasingly noticing my love and affection for Earth based spiritual practices and the environmental movement. Without hesitation I agreed to do this.
And wow, did I suck.
I don’t know if it was the cold, or my confidence, or the lack of light to see what the hell was going on with the flute or my hands, but I just kept squeaking on the thing. I did manage to relax and do an okay job – I do remember folks saying how much they enjoyed it. But I also remember thinking I was letting people down. Here we all are out in the freezing cold, either embodying piety or pretending to be, and here’s this kid who doesn’t even believe in this stuff squeaking out a melody on this flute.
And yeah, a flute from a culture that was persecuted historically by the culture into which it’s now being pressed into service. Talk about original sin…
But I wasn’t thinking that deeply about it at the time. I was just thinking, I sucked and everyone noticed.
My redemption came, not from the sunrise or the kind words from congregants. It came in the form of the relief of finally seeing the red ball of the sun rising through the sky, and then feeling those rays of warmth as we all turned our backs and headed into the house for coffee and hot chocolate and donuts and munchkins from Dunkin Donuts.
That warmth, both physical and communal, was the thing that I looked forward to the most. The quiet early morning chatter. The smiles and nods. The smell of the coffee and cocoa. The tingling return of warmth into my fingers and toes.
And that sunrise, for me, pointed to the most significant of all miracles – that every day is a new day. Every moment is a new moment.
That was all the redemption I needed.
Sure, I still had to go home and have the rest of my breakfast and put on my best dress and go and sing in the 10 a.m. service and smell all those potted lilies and hyacinths.
But first things first – hot chocolate and munchkins.