Back in the day when the events of our lives could not be otherwise explained, humanity was given to attributing power and veneration to so, so many gods and goddesses, almost too numerous to count. The weather, the seasons, the passing of nighttime into day and back again, agriculture, war, and peace – all of it with its own particular deity responsible for what was going on around us and presumably pliable with praise and humble petition. The Germanic Goddess of the Radiant Dawn and Uprising Light, Eostre, was celebrated in the spring of the year when new life was burgeoning all about, symbolic of the cyclical rebirth and the lengthening of days that led to a hoped-for fecundity and the sustenance it provided. And so we lift her up today as the root of our current Easter holiday; a coopting in the sixth century CE by Pope Gregory of the Christian church. It is told that he sent a small band of monks to England with the goal of converting the pagans there. The thought was to allow the outward manifestations of their festivals and beliefs to remain, but to impose Christian ceremonies and philosophy wherever possible. After a couple of years of wandering with cold feet and pleas to let this idea go, they finally arrived to begin their task! Our Easter today is replete with eggs and rabbits, a theme that we can attribute to the tale of Eostre herself. Our bunnies were originally hare, and some say they carried the light for their associated goddess as she lit the spring dawn. Other myths surrounding this story say that the hare were originally birds that Eostre turned into four-legged creatures. In gratitude for this they continue their egg laying function at the time of her festivals – hence the eggs brought round by rabbits today! In some cultures, according to playwright, Patricia Montley, eggs were dyed red in order to represent the sky at dawn as it gave birth to the sun which makes life itself possible. Such customs and beliefs made their way to the US with our German and Northern European ancestors and continue to evolve in our midst. Jesus is considered a relative latecomer to this seemingly endless history of explanations for life, death, and rebirth as countless tales date back to well before our common era with a similar bent. The idea wasn’t new, and Christianity joined the ranks of other traditions whose springtime festivals marked the beginning of the growth season, the planting of crops, and fertility rights – the Zoroastrian feast of No Ruz, Mexican pilgrimages to the ancient pyramids, Jewish commemorations of Purim and Passover, among others. A bringer of light and life, his celebration falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, in a pattern succeeding Eostre’s. There is meaning for us in the honoring of the new dawn. We live on this land originally inhabited by the “people of the first light,” they themselves known by an awareness of their proximity to the rising of the sun each morning. Of course, we appreciate the longer days ahead, the sun’s warming of the earth, the crocuses and daffodils popping up, the rain nourishing the soil, the greening of the trees. There is a joyful spirit in it all and a gratitude for the consistency of nature’s cycles, ever turning and returning. I am given to focus on the metaphor of the dawn this year, to a consideration of what is coming up on the horizon, to what might ‘dawn on us’ as we think ahead.
Dawn comes every morning, thankfully, but it can also refer to any time of beginning, the start of a new era or development, a turning point. Dawn ‘breaks’ as the light pierces the darkness; less a moment in time and instead a slow shifting that originates when the former overcomes the latter in length and brilliance. For some of you the dawn creeping up over the horizon is part of your view and I think, what a magnificent experience that is to encounter; how it might fill you with wonder and hopefulness each day. Where I am, a bit more inland, dawn comes and then, sometime later, the sun peaks through the treetops, but still there is a sudden quickening in the spirit as the first rays of warmth begin to caress my face, bringing life to the day; I step outside to fully soak it in and am energized. Lots to work with here and I encourage you to take some time in a practice that waits for, embraces, and moves with the dawn – the literal one and a more metaphysical one perhaps. A personal time of reflection may spark in you a sense of what is dawning in other areas of our existence – choices about our futures, thoughts of legacy, safe and healthy solutions. We may widen the circle and incorporate our local ecosystem, the people of this community; or broader still, our earth home and the global connections of humanity. What is on the horizon can at first appear bleak if we attend only and always to conventional media streams without setting apart a space and a place to foster the uprising light that also awaits us, balancing the two, perhaps a new vision dawns upon us. Our Soul Matters theme this month is “Becoming,” and we have spent a fair amount of time together this year thinking about who we are and what we are becoming here in Chatham. We have used this space wisely, studying, sharing ideas, preparing for what comes next in our life on the hill. And the truth is we are always becoming, constantly evolving, we shed old skin and grow new. Today is tomorrow’s yesterday and we are changed moment by moment. Our opening words ask us to nurture the light; this dawn rising up from just beyond the line between water and sky. It asks us to be people of the dawn who turn the hardships we encounter into life affirming ways of being – in community; peaceful; joyous. It suggests that as an innovative liberal religious institution we can spark creativity in our midst. It says that we each carry the light of the dawn and have the power to make a difference in our world. And in some sense, it paints a picture of our Meeting House, rising up on the hill, as a light of becoming – our history behind us – our imaginations unfolding before us. And you may think I’ve gone too far with my metaphors this week, but I will have to respectfully disagree! They are part of a process of becoming for me, needing to see it – believe it – and make it so. Becoming requires a certain amount of risk; a willingness to step out into the unknown. It is the murky pre-dawn time that cautions us not move too quickly lest we trip and fall, to be wary of what may lie in the shadows. As the dawn sheds its streams of light, we see our fears melted away and a bright future ahead. This is a place of resilience possessed of a willingness to thrive. It has been two years of making and remaking anew on this hill and the work continues, unabated. It is my great delight to journey with you for yet another year! Our becoming has us exploring ways to commit to our environment; to commit to greater inclusivity for our members and friends and in our wider community; to commit to who we are and why we are here as a cornerstone for all of our activities; to commit to safety as we think about coming together in person again. Our becoming stands on the firm ground of our story, celebrating this year’s anniversary milestone, and thinking about what will dawn next for us. Each of us, a flame of inspiration and inventiveness that turns in the direction of life. As we part company today to celebrate our traditional Easter’s in whatever modified ways we have created, may we look to the horizon and honor the spring light dawning, with all of its beauty and grace, washing us in light and the new life that comes with the season. May we turn our countenance toward it, open our heart’s doors wide to receive its warmth, and hold fast to the power of its becoming. Happy Eostre, everyone! Blessed be and Amen.