I have wondered why our church elders prescribed a full 50 days to celebrate Easter. For most of my life, Easter lasted one day. We repeated “Christ is risen! Alleluia!” with all the joy we could muster, and then went home to eat a nice meal with family and friends. What did we need another 49 days for?
I was admittedly distracted as I made my way to the monastery for morning prayers. It was the fifth Sunday morning of Easter, and I was scheduled to lead prayers in the oratory. I kept my head down, intent upon arriving a few minutes early to settle my heart. My feet on the path kept pace with my racing thoughts. As I made the bend around Lost Lake however, I found myself reflexively slowing down: what was that sound?
It seemed to come from all around, insistent. Lulled off the path, I stood and listened in surprise. The sound of birdsong welled up through the trees along the lake. Layer upon layer of chirrups, twittering and sing-song trills—blackbirds, cardinals, robins, bluebirds, blue jays—a complex chorus of notes spilled from every direction. For a few glorious moments, I was transported. It was as though someone had boosted the volume on an exquisite symphony that I had never heard before. The whole place was alight with exuberant singing. I paused and considered this wild hymn of ‘alleluias’, the natural world’s response to dawning day. How had I missed the birds singing in the midst of Easter?
When I finally continued up the path, it was with a fresh sense of well-being and joy. The experience lifted me out of my own confused thoughts, carried me lightly into prayer and has stayed with me powerfully since. Surely the birds sing every morning: why did it take so long for me to hear it?
While it is axiomatic to say that grief has stages, I suspect its corollary is just as true: joy has stages, too. It takes time to incorporate any meaningful experience into daily life. Easter is no momentary blip of happiness that can be integrated with a mumbled “alleluia” once a year. The resurrection of Christ is the fulcrum of our faith, the source of our lasting joy—but it’s not a quick fix.
I will never forget the lesson Sister Mary David Walgenbach, prioress, once taught me: “Birds sing the same songs over and over, repeating themselves endlessly. Like God who calls us again and again—never tiring in desire for relationship.” Quoting someone she had heard before, Sister Mary David continued, “All of Scripture can be summarized in three sentences: ‘I am with you. I love you. Do not be afraid.’ Over and over again, God repeats these calls. Until, one day at a time, we learn to respond.” Though I had walked the same path for eight months, I had never heard the birds sing the way they did that fifth Sunday of Easter. It wasn’t because the birds weren’t singing or I wasn’t listening; it was because I wasn’t ready to hear the ‘alleluia’ yet. I needed time for the journey of Easter to move from my head to my heart.
The wonderful wisdom of our 50 day Easter celebration is that it allows for the mystery of time to do its good work. In a world where speed and efficiency take first place, this intentional slowing down of the church can seem counterintuitive. At the monastery, however, I’m catching a glimpse of why joy isn’t prescribed in single dose servings. Each morning the birds vigorously remind me of an ecstatic message within these 50 days of Easter: God is patient, the story of faith is long, and it takes time to tell.
Follow this link to read Rosy’s earlier posts: Living in Community – A Benedictine Sojourner’s Journey