Spring can mean many different things depending on who you ask. From our farm view it is the start of the New Year. It brings baby animals, buds on the trees, blooms on the flowering crab trees, tulips (that I forgot to plant last fall! Ugh!) There’s spring cleaning of the house, yard, barn, flowerbeds, and gardens. It can get really crazy as things come out of winter hibernation. Spring is also a time to slow down and be thankful. That’s right being thankful isn’t limited to one day in November, you know the day before people go to town and fight over the latest gadget.
Giving thanks really should be done daily. In fact many studies have shown that the more one takes note of what they have to be thankful for the happier and more content they are. This is everything from a simple act of kindness, good health, an unexpected phone call from a friend or the orange soda you had for lunch. Every season brings something more to be thankful for and in the spring it’s the resurrection and what that means for us.
The weeks leading up to Easter are observed with fasting, self-reflecting, and most commonly the giving up something; such as the ever popular “sweets” or coffee. It seems like kind of a cop-out really. Give up the same thing every year because it requires no real soul searching or thought; “My pants are tight from Christmas, I suppose giving up sweets would be a good idea.” I’m not saying going without coffee or chocolate cake is an easy task, especially when you are still coming down from the cookie high of the holidays. But really, does it do you any spiritual good? Probably not. I knew a gal that for lent she said she was going to go to church every day for a year. Ho-ly Bananas! God bless her! She did it. I for one, am quite positive that a Lenten task such as that I would be setting myself up for complete failure. I mean done by day two failure.
For the past years, I have skipped the usual giving something up in the coffee sense of it. Instead I donate a minimum of one laundry basket of stuff a week. Yes, I would say the first few years were an easy route. I had a lot of clothes that I didn’t wear, old decorations I didn’t put up and so on. As the years have gone by this has begun to get tougher. I don’t collect nearly as much stuff as I used to and with our small house I have been getting rid of things year round. So each passing year is causing me to dig deeper into some of the things that I hold on to a little more dearly. The family heirlooms aren’t going anywhere but my ever growing book collection, cookbooks especially, I hate to part with for example. Going through the shelves is a sacrifice for me. But there is still not much in the spiritual department so to speak.
In addition to my usual (not quite) daily readings I have added a few other quiet tasks to my Lenten list. I needed something more, something that would teach. Something not just for me but for the family as a whole. With tiny ones (1 and 2 years old) teaching the concept to Easter is a tough one. The little boy knows the story of Christmas. He can tell you who’s who in the books and nativity scenes, (some of which are out all year in our home, a gentle reminder). He will tell you Joseph had to sleep in the barn and Mary had baby Jesus. There were animals, angels and shepherds and so on. Easter, on the other hand, seems harder to teach this age. He can learn the story but the story is a violent journey ending in joy that is not quite comprehensible for such a little mind.
We do put a small gift or two in the stockings and one gift from Santa but try to emphasize the true meaning of Christmas. It’s easier with Christmas. It’s a happy story for the entire journey. Easter, comes with bunnies, jelly beans and Easter egg hunts and a man being killed on a cross and then rising from the dead. Such violence is hard to explain to someone who has never experienced something more violent than a flick on the mouth for talking back or a time out. The crucifix in our living room is looked at with a puzzled look when he is told “that’s Jesus”. He hasn’t thought about why Jesus is up there or how he got there or the pain and suffering that put him there.
The rebirth, and new beginnings can symbolized in some of what has become another over-commercialized holiday but it can be found. Empty plastic eggs compared to an empty tomb, bunnies and baby chicks to new life or candy as a celebration for fasting. Ok that last one is a stretch but you get the picture.
Our dining room table always has a center piece and for the Lenten season it is an empty patch of dirt, with a cross of nails and a small cave. Jesus is sad for these weeks, there is no green grass or pretty flowers. When we talk back or push our sister it makes Jesus sad and the empty dirt is a reminder to be nice. We water the empty dirt on Friday and tell Jesus we are sorry for the things we shouldn’t have done, what we are thankful for and good deeds we did. These are simple things- talked back, threw a toy not meant for throwing, thankful for a warm house and family, we helped put the books back on the shelf and set the table.
A week and a half or so before Easter the dirt is heavily seeded with grass seed. As we continue to water during reflection time grass begins to sprout. On Easter morning, the grass is full and green and there might be a butterfly or flowers. Jesus is happy and we are too.
It’s the least violent way I could think of to teach about this season to a toddler. The repent for our sins is made into as simple terms as possible. We are learning to take ownership of our actions and acknowledge all that we have been giving.
Don’t get me wrong, come Easter morning their baskets will be “hidden” with a treat, a dyed egg and new toothbrush. The Easter bunny will have come and left a couple dishes of special candies and with any luck there may be an egg hunt later in the day. We can have the “bunny fun” as a side note of Easter and not the center of attention.
(We always got a new toothbrush from Santa and the Easter Bunny. Give one for Halloween and you know everyone is getting a fresh brush a few times a year anyway.)