The Sacredness of Spring

Posted April 3rd, 2009 in Blog, Featured 5 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

Lake Michigan, photo by Margaret Swedish

Lake Michigan, photo by Margaret Swedish

Human communities for as long as we have known them, through thousands of years of cultures come and gone, have set aside spring as a sacred time, a time of rebirth and renewal.  Of course!  That’s what spring is!

As we face yet another prediction of accumulating snow here in Wisconsin, in this winter that is not yet convinced by the calendar or the angle of the sun, not even by the daffodil buds, expectant, holding vigil for a few warm sunny days, in spite of all that, still we celebrate spring.

Next week: Holy Week and Easter in the Christian tradition, Passover in the Jewish tradition.  Celebrations of life emerging from death, of liberation emerging from oppression.  Powerful traditions.  And while I no longer resonate with the notion of sin and judgment putting nails into Jesus Christ, or with a God who would send his son into the world to be tortured and executed for my sins, I still resonate with the mystery of the empty tomb —  not a physical rising of the sloughed off physical body, but life emerging from the womb of Earth — life not triumphant over death, but emerging from death.

Lake Michigan shore, photo by Margaret Swedish

Lake Michigan shore, photo by Margaret Swedish

You see, my problem with this more traditional version of the Easter story is that, having drawn close to the passing of my Father and Mother, I am more aware than ever, and I mean aware, of the cyclical nature of life, death, rebirth, life, death, rebirth, life giving way for death so that life can emerge once again from death.  For that is my experience, and a deeply spiritual one at that.

I fear sometimes that we have lost the meaning of spring by putting such an overlay of sin, guilt, and tortuous, hate-filled death over it, even to honor a story of salvation triumphing over those things.  In this interpretation, the rising becomes some ultimate triumph of life over death itself, which is not how the cosmos works.  This spirituality only works if one still believes in a God who lives outside the universe somewhere that is our final destination.  And embedded within it is our fear of death, our judgment of death as always bad rather than part of the process of ongoing creation, our lack of acceptance of our mortality.  Some pretty ugly things have come out of that fear and lack of acceptance.

I am not saying, of course, that we humans do not have need to come to terms with what really killed Jesus, his message of healing, his presence among the poor and oppressed as prophet of justice, his fierce denunciations of oppressors both political and religious, and his revelation of our intimacy with God, or the Divine, within us, this world-altering witness that threatened the power structures and religious authorities of his day — who then angrily attempted to snuff out that life with fierce dispatch and cruelty.  God didn’t offer him up to that; it’s something we humans do to our prophets who try to tell us that there is something wrong with the way we are living.

Source: Five Islands Orchard blog

Source: Five Islands Orchard blog

But what I fear is that we have lost the visceral, primal experience of Spring — which is a riotous, sensual, celebratory act of Nature.  We start fasting and putting on ashes just when Nature is again bursting out in blossoms and color and wild weather and the morning and evening birdsong, when the ground is ready to be opened for the new seeds for our later harvest, not least experience of which will be all those local farmers’ markets lush with fruits and vegetables all summer long.

Not meaning to offend, but instead of fasting this week, how about a feast?  How about long walks in the woods, in the parks and gardens where you live, or a dance in the spring rains, or even in an early spring snow fall?  Maybe if we can get past that darkness that pulls us in, and instead tap into the life force that draws us out, we can find the source of what we humans will need to get us through this very difficult period in our human evolution — not guilt but a dance, not fear but a song from the heart, not depression but joy, not despair but hope.

In cultures of old, people did not celebrate these things alone; they celebrated them as communities.  They forged in their rituals community bonds, a sense of interrelatedness and identity as human beings within a cosmos or web of existence filled with mystery and evoking awe — wisdom and insight that might go a long way in helping us create the new way of life of the human that this wounded planet so sorely needs.


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5 Responses

  1. Steven Earl Salmony

    The preservation of Earth’s body and environs, and its maintenance as a fit place for human habitation, could be initiated so simply, sensibly and responsibly by following “Ten Commandments” for immediate economic reform.

    Ten principles for a Black Swan-proof world
    By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

    Published: April 7 2009 20:02 | Last updated: April 7 2009 20:02

    1. What is fragile should break early while it is still small. Nothing should ever become too big to fail. Evolution in economic life helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks – and hence the most fragile – become the biggest.

    2. No socialisation of losses and privatisation of gains. Whatever may need to be bailed out should be nationalised; whatever does not need a bail-out should be free, small and risk-bearing. We have managed to combine the worst of capitalism and socialism. In France in the 1980s, the socialists took over the banks. In the US in the 2000s, the banks took over the government. This is surreal.

    3. People who were driving a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus. The economics establishment (universities, regulators, central bankers, government officials, various organisations staffed with economists) lost its legitimacy with the failure of the system. It is irresponsible and foolish to put our trust in the ability of such experts to get us out of this mess. Instead, find the smart people whose hands are clean.

    4. Do not let someone making an “incentive” bonus manage a nuclear plant – or your financial risks. Odds are he would cut every corner on safety to show “profits” while claiming to be “conservative”. Bonuses do not accommodate the hidden risks of blow-ups. It is the asymmetry of the bonus system that got us here. No incentives without disincentives: capitalism is about rewards and punishments, not just rewards.

    5. Counter-balance complexity with simplicity. Complexity from globalisation and highly networked economic life needs to be countered by simplicity in financial products. The complex economy is already a form of leverage: the leverage of efficiency. Such systems survive thanks to slack and redundancy; adding debt produces wild and dangerous gyrations and leaves no room for error. Capitalism cannot avoid fads and bubbles: equity bubbles (as in 2000) have proved to be mild; debt bubbles are vicious.

    6. Do not give children sticks of dynamite, even if they come with a warning . Complex derivatives need to be banned because nobody understands them and few are rational enough to know it. Citizens must be protected from themselves, from bankers selling them “hedging” products, and from gullible regulators who listen to economic theorists.

    7. Only Ponzi schemes should depend on confidence. Governments should never need to “restore confidence”. Cascading rumours are a product of complex systems. Governments cannot stop the rumours. Simply, we need to be in a position to shrug off rumours, be robust in the face of them.

    8. Do not give an addict more drugs if he has withdrawal pains. Using leverage to cure the problems of too much leverage is not homeopathy, it is denial. The debt crisis is not a temporary problem, it is a structural one. We need rehab.

    9. Citizens should not depend on financial assets or fallible “expert” advice for their retirement. Economic life should be definancialised. We should learn not to use markets as storehouses of value: they do not harbour the certainties that normal citizens require. Citizens should experience anxiety about their own businesses (which they control), not their investments (which they do not control).

    10. Make an omelette with the broken eggs. Finally, this crisis cannot be fixed with makeshift repairs, no more than a boat with a rotten hull can be fixed with ad-hoc patches. We need to rebuild the hull with new (stronger) materials; we will have to remake the system before it does so itself. Let us move voluntarily into Capitalism 2.0 by helping what needs to be broken break on its own, converting debt into equity, marginalising the economics and business school establishments, shutting down the “Nobel” in economics, banning leveraged buyouts, putting bankers where they belong, clawing back the bonuses of those who got us here, and teaching people to navigate a world with fewer certainties.

    Then we will see an economic life closer to our biological environment: smaller companies, richer ecology, no leverage. A world in which entrepreneurs, not bankers, take the risks and companies are born and die every day without making the news.

    In other words, a place more resistant to black swans.

    The writer is a veteran trader, a distinguished professor at New York University’s Polytechnic Institute and the author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

  2. Steven Earl Salmony

    Thanks, Margaret, for this wonderful discussion. The ideas generated here regarding “the sacred” and the need to protect it from “the profane” appear vital to me. While I agree with everyone who says no one can predict the future, I also believe we can likely agree that if the human community keep doing precisely what we are doing now, we will keep getting what we are getting now.

    One indication of faulty reasoning and extreme foolishness, I suppose, would be for us to believe that we can keep overconsuming, overproducing and overpopulating as we are doing now and somehow achieve different results from the ones in existence now.

    If, for example, by doing “more of the same business-as-usual activities” that we are doing now, we could be leading our children down a “primrose path” to a recognizably horrendous fate of some unknowable kind, would reason and common sense not suggest a change in behavior?

    We have self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe among us who are recommending to the children that all of us can live large and long; that we can conspicuously consume limited resources, pollute the frangible environment, overpopulate the finite planet and ravage the Earth……just the way they are insisting all of us do now. These arrogant and avaricious leaders are living examples of patently unsustainable lives and, yes, they take pride in their gigantic ecological ‘footprints’ and lifestyles based upon excessive consumption and unbridled hoarding. If our children were to keep doing what my not-so-great generation of elders are adamantly advocating and doing now, what is likely to become of them?

    My growing sense of frustration results from a realization that remarkably clear, intellectually honest and morally courageous reports from so many responsible and duty-bound scientists show us that the Masters of the Universe are determined to deny what could somehow be real and not to speak publicly about what they believe to be true regarding the predicament in which the family of humanity finds itself in these early years of Century XXI. Even worse, their minions with leadership responsibilities and duties in environmental organizations have collusively been enjoined from speaking about whatsoever they believe to be true. As a consequence, a conspiracy of silence has been established among all these leaders and the absurdly enriched talking heads in the mass media who eschew intellectual honesty and moral courage in favor of reporting repetitively about whatsoever is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially agreeable and religiously tolerated.

    The silence of so many leaders is deafening, while the duplicitous, disinformational chatter of the talking heads is morally outrageous. What is much worse, sad to say, is that the determination of these leaders and the talking heads to live large and long in such stupendously unsustainable ways — come what may for the children — is not only grossly irresponsible, it is a profound dereliction of their duty to warn, I believe.

    Perhaps change is in the offing.

    Sincerely yours,


  3. Margaret

    Yes, yes. The change you suggest is urgent, but requires great courage, of which we still seem to have limited amounts in this economic giant of a culture.

    Yet, the courage is there — not at the level of political leaders, but ‘below’ in the thousands of grassroots communities, many of them faith-based, that are ‘getting it’ and earnestly trying to articulate the values that point our way out of the crisis.

    How bad is the crisis? One example from this morning’s newspaper:,0,827182.story

    The scary thing is that the scary changes are not to come, not out there in a distant future; rather, they have arrived. How will we live through this time? How do we want this story to come out?


  4. Steven Earl Salmony

    Dear Margaret,

    You see much farther and more clearly than me. Keep going.

    Much love,


  5. Steven Earl Salmony

    Wealth, power, status and unsightly privileges accrue to the duplicitous, the most ruthless and the greediest among us. Those with spirituality, intellectual honesty, moral courage and a capacity for sacrifice go their way unheralded and have no standing in a culture ruled by an Economic Colossus.

    Perhaps change is in the offing.