For almost a month, between wind & rain storms, I’ve been working outside whenever possible, preparing flower beds and repairing my little bit of lawn. Spring inspires in me a savoring of the natural world as plants come back to life from their winter ‘sleep.’ Stepping carefully through flowerbeds, pulling weeds and transplanting the less fortunate drifters, I’m struck with the sense that everything around me is reviving from a mysterious dormancy. While we can understand it in scientific terms, the revival of the plant world each Spring still inspires awe and wonder. Scientific understanding does not do away with mystery; it deepens our appreciation of the mystery of all that is. Walking in natural places – along field-side paths and through the woods – fills my meditation with images of soil, buds and new leaves, early flowers – crocuses, daffodils and tulips – and the scents of Spring – Black Cherry and now Forsythia. Each Spring, I become enraptured with New Life!
If Enclosure is the spiritual theme for Winter and the theme for the early weeks of Spring is “Emergence,” I find the twin themes of Resurrection and Rootedness to be especially evocative as Spring unfolds and life comes back into its flourishment. When kneeling in the garden, breaking up the winter-hardened soil and spading around flowers & bushes, I’m struck by the fact that these plants have lain dormant through the winter. Last year’s stems and leaves may still be in evidence; browned and now decaying – even as the new sprouts come pushing up through the dirt from the root stock an inch or two or three below the surface. The delicate stems that are reaching up into the sunlight will come to maturity over the summer, and then die in their turn. This annual cycle of birth, growth to maturity and death followed by rebirth is well worth meditating on. At this time of the year, I revel in Resurrection and reflect on Rootedness.
It’s in the High Spring we most fully experience resurrection in the plant world – a ‘world’ in which we animals find ourselves immersed, though we often become forgetful of this fact! We should remind ourselves that we animals need plants to survive—whether as the source of food or of materials for shelter or as providers of shade and – most primeval of all – for the very oxygen we breathe, every minute of our lives. The breath you just took and the one you are about to take you can thank the plants for_ Without plants, the earth would still be sheathed in a toxic atmosphere. It was early single celled creatures that could photosynthesize sunlight and turn it into energy that generated much of the oxygen in the atmosphere of our planet that we and other animals now depend on for our very survival. Plants ‘use the carbon dioxide in the air and ‘exhale’ oxygen. We use the oxygen in the air we breath and exhale carbon dioxide. Forests are major recyclers of the carbon dioxide that we breathe out, thus helping keep our planet cool, by keeping CO2 levels in the atmosphere low. _Which is why deforestation is such a problem.
When we think of evolution and its implications for spirituality, we should note our inter-dependence with the plant world. All of life constitutes a web in which every living thing exists and finds sustenance and its particular ‘fulfillment.’ We animals live once and then we die. Birth—Life—Death is our more or less linear path through Nature. Most plants, by contrast, are ‘planted’ and then grow, mature, and – in temperate latitudes, at least – ‘perish’ and ‘sleep’ through the winter months. Then, much to the surprise of conscious animals like ourselves, they spring up again, and live – going through the cycle all over again. It is this ‘mystery’ in the plant world that inspired the idea of ‘resurrection’ that is expressed in many human spiritualities.
Easter, for instance, happens at this time of the year because it is tied to the Vernal turning. Easter takes its name from the old European earth goddess ‘Eostre’ and its calculated according to the rule, “the Sunday after the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox.” In this way, it is linked back to the Jewish Passover, which is also tied to the Vernal Equinox and is likewise calculated by reference to the Full Moon. On the secular side, the ‘Easter Bunny’ and colored eggs and so forth are all linked back to old European myths and rituals associated with the coming of Spring. The original of the ‘Easter Bunny’ was the Pookah; a man sized rabbit that came around from village to village, leaving eggs and other symbols of fertility and renewed life on people’s doorsteps. The egg is ‘potent’ with life and is connected symbolically with rebirth and with resurrection. The Pookah’s sacred night was the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox; a night for festivities and either symbolic or actual planting of seeds. These traditions offer us a storehouse of symbols that speak to the annual experience of resurrection in the natural world.
Even though we are animals with a Birth—Life—Death path through existence, we can think of the subjective patterns of our lives metaphorically in terms of the Birth—Life—Death—Rebirth cycle of the plant world. Like plants, we all go through fallow and fecund periods in life. Just as forests & fields spring to life after the Vernal Equinox, and then grow to maturity over the summer, so may we at times ‘spring to life’ after a good rest or after a ‘fallow’ period in which we are not doing much, and embark on a new project, start a new job, or simply start a new day. We have times when we are more productive, creative and inspired, as well as times that are more characterized by ‘rest’ from endeavor. Productivity and creativity need to be followed by rest and sleep. This is true whether it occurs daily or on a weekly or perhaps longer scale. Sleep can be likened to the dormant period of the plant cycle, and waking from sleep likened to a daily rebirth after dormancy We must have periods rest as well as devoted times of work and play; times for being productive and creative. To allow this is to establish healthy cycles in our own lives.
Resurrection is one way of describing what we experience after a period of rest or after a fallow season in our creativity or productivity. Resurrection is akin to awakening; in its more potent or dramatic instances it can be like ‘rising from the dead.’ Each year as I emerge from my Winter Hut and begin going out and about, I remind myself of the resurrection that will soon be happening all around me in Nature. Indeed, as I take my early walks, wandering hither and thither in natural places, I look for the signs of Resurrection and take note of them. I reflect on the first flowers that I see – especially the Coltsfeet; which is a very archaic flower with scales instead of leaves. It looks like a Dandelion, but if you look close, you will see the difference. As I witness to the resurrection of the plant world, I turn to my own life and seek for touchstones of personal resurrection; a revival from dormancy or a release from the deadening of the senses that is a constant spiritual problem for our species. We ‘fall asleep’ to easily, and walk about as the living dead_ not really living or experiencing, but merely surviving. As the Spring unfolds, I hear the call of the plants all around me, saying “Awaken, sleeper!”
To reflect on Resurrection in the natural world is to be led – by tendrils and vines of thematic connection – to Rootedness. For what enables a plant to survive the winter and then ‘rise again’ in the Spring to live our another season in the Earth? Its roots; simply put. Many plants have a root ball just under the ground from which their stems are put up, and other plants actually have bulbs that store nutrients during the long winter months. This central ‘ball’ or ‘bulb’ is the hub of a root system that allows the plant to draw in nutrients from a distance. A healthy plant above ground usually implies a healthy root system below ground. As we reflect on resurrection in the plant world each Spring, we should consider the rootedness which makes this resurrection possible. If we are going to experience resurrection in our own lives and wake up from torpid slumbers, we also need a ‘root system’ – a pattern of connections, across time and space, that tie us into the things that make life worth living; the things that nourish us, spiritually. To rise up we must be connected deeply to what matters to us and what has made us the person we are at our best.
The idea of Rootedness is found in many spiritual traditions; including Celtic mysticism and monasticism—in which I was immersed for many years. It may be expressed as a love of place or as a tendency to return to places that have meant something in one’s life. When Celtic mystics – whether Pagan or Christian – found themselves going astray, they oft returned to places where they had found their vocation in life. These places might have been symbolic or places where they had actually lived, at one time or another. The Celts – like mystics in many other traditions – saw the importance of being where you are and loving what you have gained through a positive spiritual praxis. The idea was that a person, to know what they are about, must have an 'anchor' somewhere in the wide-maned world—they must have a ‘place’ where they know who they are and from which they may draw spiritual succor. To have a place like this is to be ‘rooted.’
Rootedness was the Celtic way of expressing the more general monastic ideal of "stability;" which was considered one of the four major monastic ‘virtues.’ Yet rootedness implies much more than just committing yourself to a particular monastic house and staying there, "God willing," the rest of your natural life. Rootedness involves finding the place where you are most likely to flourish and mature into the person you are best prepared to become. Thus, becoming better rooted may entail a journey or even a peregrinatio (see my recent Blog, “Wandering with Intent”) during which you search for the best place to put down fresh roots! Celtic saints often said that they were out looking "for the place of their resurrection." This old idea implies that sometimes the roots we have may not be the best for us, and we must put down new roots! Once rooted, the resurrection sought becomes metaphorical of one’s own awakening and – in due time; after devout living –even deep self-realization. In naturalistic terms, to be ‘resurrected’ is to realize your true self and to be on the way to attaining that self-hood that best exemplifies being your true self. The better rooted you are, the more genuine will be our experience(s) of resurrection.
Being rooted does not ultimately mean that you are limited to an actual, physical place. It’s possible that your ‘place of resurrection’ may be carried around metaphorically within you; in your ‘Heart;’ i.e., the spiritual term for the ‘center’ of your existential being (not the seat of ‘emotions’ – as in pop culture). Your place of rooting might be an imagined place that you have constructed over time, or even an abstract idea. Yet having such a portable place usually flows from many years of either living rooted in a specific place in the external world, or else searching for such a place. We must draw upon memory and experience in order to become aware of our roots as to put down new roots; to discover where our soul’s nourishment really comes from—and then we must connect with those memories and experiences in order to strengthen our ‘root ball’ and the network of connections that define us and through which we have become the best person we can possibly be.
I find meditation on Resurrection & Rootedness to be helpful in my engagement with the world, where everything seems to be so in flux and where our lives are so often cast out upon a sea of change or else en-mired in a panoply of more or less superficial ‘options’ and meaningless ‘possibilities’ in the mundane 'here and now.' To search for the ‘place’ where you can genuinely be rooted is to seek the place of your own self-realization – i.e., your “resurrection” in a more ‘ultimate’ sense. We grow and change; we mature—for better or for worse, depending on the decisions we make and the paths we take. Where we chose to put our roots down; the roots we decide to acknowledge and those we let go of—each of these choices will either make or break us. So we must choose as wisely as we are able. To be rooted involves becoming aware of our roots as much as finding a place where we can now ‘plant’ ourselves and flourish. Being rooted makes the experiences of resurrection we have along the way both more potent and more meaningful. To be well-rooted is to have a wisening place – i.e., a 'perspective' – from which to evaluate, make choices and seek to become the best you can be in this one short life that we have. Seek for those roots that feed into the best version of yourself at this point and then seek the ‘place’ where what you are at your best can be nurtured and deepened. This is the way to the ultimate resurrection; to self-realization in the midst of life.