[NPR, Morning Edition, May 3, 2002]
Every couple of years this happens. It’s like living in the Twilight Zone. For weeks, everywhere I went, there were fluffy chicks and bunny-baskets, and the grocery store was stacked with bags of pastel M & Ms. It was all about Easter—and now it’s done. But not for me.
My church is Eastern Orthodox, and we still observe Easter on the old calendar, the one devised by Julius Caesar. The new calendar, devised by Pope Gregory in the 16th century, still looks like a crazy new innovation to us. Some years, the cycles overlap and we have Easter on the same day, like last year. But this year we’re way, way behind. We won’t have Easter—actually, we call it "Pascha"—until May the fifth.
Five long weeks later. No big deal, maybe, except that we have a pretty rigorous Lent. During all these weeks, the challenge is to fast from meat, fish, cheese, and milk. Essentially, we follow a vegan diet. We have many, many extra church services, and both public and private prayers are flavored with sober repentance. It’s great, of course—spiritually, it’s just what the doctor ordered. But it’s strange to do it when the rest of the world has already said, "Hooray! It’s Easter! Have some ham!"
We’re out of step in time, kind of like when you forget to set your watch forward, and show up for an appointment an hour late. But this goes on for weeks. There are advantages to having Easter late, of course—you can get candy half-price. But perhaps another advantage is the feeling of being out of synch with the world. Everybody else treats the holiest day of my religious year, the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, as if it were all about cartoon bunnies and chocolate. Maybe that’s an appointment I don’t need to keep.
I slip into the darkened church and see candles flickering on the faces of icons, smell the incense that weaves around me, join in chanting ancient prayers that have been said by Christians for millennia. We step into a place that transcends time—a place we’re all bound for one day.
I’m living in a different time, all right. Sometimes that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
I had the idea for this piece when my daughter Megan said something just before Western Easter: "It’s so strange that everyone is wishing me Happy Easter, when it doesn’t apply to us. It makes me understand better what life must be like for non-Christians all the time."
So when I wrote this piece I was heading toward this paragraph, which came right after the "Have some ham!" line:
<<There are a lot of ways to feel marginalized in this culture, and many of them have to do with religion. A lot of folks would be insulted by the invitation, "Have some ham!" no matter what the time of year. But the situation of us Eastern Orthodox Christians is particularly strange, because we’re dislocated in *time.* The closest you’ve come to this, probably, is when you forgot to set your watch forward, and showed up for a lunch appointment an hour late. >>
For me, that was the point of the piece, the turnaround graf where the topic got restated in a new and hopefully fresh way. When I got the edit back from the editor, that graf was GONE. I didn’t even argue. (I tried that last time—they’re just too busy, and it wasn’t like this was a point of conscience, just taste.) I have to trust that she knows what works and what doesn’t for her audience, and I don’t. Still, it surprised me, because I thought of that as the graf that made the piece interesting, that took it to the next level. To her it must have been deadweight. Go figure!
Christ is Risen! Indeed he is risen! Thanks for all the good mail about my commentary on NPR this past Friday, about celebrating Pascha. Many of us were already in church by that time, so my friend Terry Mattingly kindly found the link to the recording:
Also, a few people asked "what’s a ‘graf’?" Sorry, didn’t mean to be cryptic. It’s short for "paragraph." The punchy paragraph that sums up a whole essay is called the "nut graf." Nice, eh?
Have a very blessed Pascha!