I did not grow up in a particularly religious family. We did go to church because, given some 1970s politics, my parents decided that hypocrisy was not conducive to faith. So, I have vague memories of occasionally going to a Sunday School where there was a flannel board, with lambs made of flannel and Moses made of flannel and Jesus … you get the picture.
I remember going on "excursions" with my parents, as they were involved in some young adult group in one United Church. I remember bread and grape juice outside of a bus somewhere in the Laurentiens; I remember a retreat where the excitement was that my little sister ate rat poison and had to have her stomach pumped.
Then, in Calgary, my school was just kitty-corner across the back alley from our home and beside it was a huuuuge Alliance church. And some of the older women of that congregation would hold "Bible studies" in the school. I went because they had cookies and, more importantly, I still have the bible they gave me.
Anyway, it's Easter … and I have two particular memories. Growing up in the West Island of Montreal in the 1970s was pretty awesome. All my family lived nearby which meant that I got to see all my mom's brothers and sisters (she was the eldest, so they were in their teens to early 20s) and my cousins on my dad's side. And usually, when I close my eyes and think back, it's Christmas that most often pops into my head. Or maybe Thanksgiving, or Halloween, watching Disney's The Legend of Sleepy Holllow in the basement rec room, complete with orange shag carpet.
But I have some vivid memories of Easter. Every Easter, the Fairvew Mall put up a petting zoo and so, every year, my dad and my uncles would take the cousins and my mom's youngest sisters and brothers to see the animals. I was always entranced by the ducks and goats, the calves and foals. I loved feeding them and the smell of them (and the manure!). But the West Island wasn't completely suburban at that time and there were still farms nearby as well as MacDonald College (the McGill agricultural school), where we'd visit at least once a year for a picnic. So, seeing farm animals wasn't all that special.
The other memory I have is of when we lived in Calgary. I would have been, oh, 10 or 11. And one Good Friday, my parents packed us up and took us to the Calgary Zoo. That scene in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, when the Dursleys take Harry to the zoo, is always thrilling to me. While I'm not a wizard (alas, a muggle am I), I see myself a bit in that scene, which is even more vivid if you've read the book. The wonder, the excitement. The Calgary Zoo also had dinosaur exhibits—insert Homer Simpson drooling—and you have a 10-year-old boy's dream day.
I remember the weather that day as threatening and—when we got home at about 3 o'clock—stormy. It was then that my mom turned on the T.V. and The Robe was on. The juxtaposition of my feelings of being at the zoo, of having some notion of what Good Friday was about (we were learning about it in [public] SCHOOL [by my Jewish teacher]), of having spent a day with my mom and dad (who was normally at work on Friday!) and my 7-year-old sister, reinforced a vague feeling of the "specialness" of that day and time.
Upon reflection, these two memories have made me think over the years of the importance of Easter in our world, or at least my world. Unlike today, where it seems that anything can become a commercial endeavor, the Easters of my childhood were very different from Christmas. Christmas, though about Christ, was about presents. Easter was about symbols (though a fine argument can be made about how Christmas presents are symbolical as well … but that's another blog/sermon/etc.)
I knew in my heart that we were seeing (Paschal) lambs and bunnies and hens at the mall during that time of the year for a reason; just as my 10-year-old self knew that watching THE ROBE after having a wonderful day at the Calgary zoo with my family implied something that I wasn't able to grasp then, but upon which, almost 50 years later I have a firmer grasp. My parents did a commendable job offering to me the faith of my "fathers and mothers," more commendable than they could have ever known. Faith wasn't so much forced upon me as inculcated in me. I know that both my mom and dad had deep faith, which they passed on to me and my sister. It was a faith in the deep things of God and resurrection and incarnation and trinity. And by deep, I do not mean something that is obscure or captured in the mind, but rather things that are known in the bones, things that one just has to nod at, rather than articulate.
And it is what we are all searching for: That right in plain sight, in our very ordinary lives, is God.