Rites of Spring / Deseret News, March 7, 2009


It's a time when the earth awakens from its winter's sleep. Flowers bloom. And the sun is more willing to show its face.

Coincidence or not, it's also a time of celebration and remembrance for the world's largest religions.

Christianity's springtime observations include Lent, the days of Holy Week and Easter.

Judaism has Passover.

Japanese Buddhists celebrate Ohigan and also reflect on the birthday of Buddha.

Pagans and other earth-based denominations celebrate the spring equinox.

While some faiths say their celebrations are clearly rooted in events outside the Earth's cycle of seasons, there are still parallels to the renewal of life that happens during the spring.

The Rev. Canon Mary June Nestler of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah said she believes people who actively participate in observations such as Lent, Holy Week and Easter often do feel a "newness of life" and spiritual renewal.
In her church and others such as Roman Catholic and Lutheran, services are done in such a way as to help a person feel as if they, too, have undergone death and resurrection, according to the Rev. Nestler. People can spiritually follow Christ into the "good news of Easter," she said.

"For us, Easter coming every year is meant to give the Christian what sometimes the secular world finds in, say, the passing of the old year and coming of the new year," said the Rev. Nestler. "They have a sense of a new beginning."

From her perspective, the greatest mark of a Christian is being able to find joy in the salvation of Christ. And each year, rituals and services are repeated so as to help people repent and renew, she said.

"Our entire year is based around a pattern and that recurring pattern is meant to deepen us, both in the life of Christ and the life of the world," said the Rev. Nestler.

Other faiths, including those who follow earth-based religions, find spirituality in the pattern of seasons. For Tara Sudweeks Willgues, a priestess and minister with the Church of the Sacred Circle, the spring equinox is a time to celebrate balance and the regeneration of life.

The equinox this year falls on Friday, March 20, and is a time when the day and night are equal in length. The equinox is also considered the first day of spring.

While there are a variety of ways pagans and other earth-based adherants celebrate the equinox, Willgues, who is also called the Rev. Heron, said she will dye eggs with her kids and do an egg hunt on the morning of the equinox.

Pagans and other earth-based faiths find great symbolism in objects such as Easter eggs and in animals such as rabbits. In ancient times, rabbits and eggs were signs of fertility and also represent God and the Goddess, according to the Rev. Heron.

Even the word, "Easter," is thought to have origins in old pagan customs celebrating the newness of life in the spring.

"The regeneration of the earth was really an important thing that was celebrated and continues to be celebrated by folks even in modern-day traditions," the Rev. Heron said. "We are a product of our environment, the earth."

For the Rev. Jerry Hirano with the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple, spring just seems a natural time to celebrate and reflect.

Within his school of Buddhism, followers celebrate Ohigan during the spring and fall equinoxes. Because the days and nights are equal on these days and the temperatures moderate, it's considered an ideal time to praise Buddha, he said.

"It is a time of balance and peaceful tranquility, as though nature itself is encouraging you to look within and express gratitude for the causes and conditions in your life," the Rev. Hirano wrote in an e-mail interview.

From his perspective, there appears to be an easy connection between the Earth's renewal that happens during springtime and also the rites and rituals of different religions.

"Spring naturally makes us see the renewal of life," the Rev. Hirano said. "It makes us appreciate the circle of life, so to speak. We see that even in the harshest of winter, there is rebirth, renewal. One naturally follows the other."

He continued: "I'm not sure, but I believe this is why Easter is held close to the equinox. Most religions will use every opportunity available to teach this lesson. When you have the chance of having nature back you up, why not?"

by Nicole Warburton, Deseret News


Main illustration and caption -Photo illustration by Aaron Thorup, Deseret News - Earth-based religions find spirituality in the seasons.

Desert flower - Spring desert flowers bloom in Canyonlands National Park. For many, spring is a time of celebration and remembrance. (Deseret News Archives)

Bluebird photo and caption -
A mountain bluebird in Hurricane. Earth-based religions find spirituality in the seasons. (Rick Fridell)