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Turning Toward the Morning: On Ostara and Fresh Starts

If I had a thing to give you,
I would tell you one more time
That the world is always turning
Toward the morning…
Gordon Bok

Although we may not really be noticing it in northern California, spring has returned 🙂 For pagan types like me, the holiday of the season is Ostara (the name of a Germanic goddess, also linguistically related to estrus and, y’know, Easter). It’s supposed to be a time to celebrate renewal and fertility (’cause really, what did you think all those eggs and bunnies were about?) and in the blogs I read, there also seems to be a movement toward marking it as an opportunity for spring cleaning (which, admittedly, I’ve certainly done some of during this spring break week). But for me, this time of year, the start of the new astrological calendar, the time when everything in sight seems to be in flower, always seems like as much of a New Year’s celebration as January 1 — a chance to size up and think about new possibilities.

And heck, we in the US and the world have certainly been thrown a few different new possibilities in the last few weeks, haven’t we?

Warning for those so inclined: discussion of potentially contentious religious/political issues starts here…

I’ll admit, when I saw during a procrastinating Facebook scroll two weeks ago that white smoke had been sighted from the Vatican chimneys, I dropped what I was doing and turned on the radio. I was raised Roman Catholic; went through all the sacraments up to confirmation, and attended Catholic high school. I haven’t considered myself a member of the church for at least 10 years, but I watched JPII’s funeral, and I’ve always kept an ear to the ground with Benedict’s doings. After all, as this Patheos blogger puts it, the Pope is the spiritual leader of about 1/7 of the world’s population, give or take — and so whenever there’s a change in that leadership, it has effects on more than just the Catholics in the room. And whatever his failings, Pope Francis does seem to be interested in making some changes. He’s certainly cultivating a more humble image so far than Benedict ever did, and he’s made some efforts toward interfaith collaboration, and whatever his heritage, he’s still the first Southern Pope, which I can’t deny is big. Is it likely that he’s going to reverse his statements on homosexuality and abortion, and bring the Church into the 21st century? …probably not. But with a new face in the office, particularly one clearly interested in shaking some things up, there’s a part of me that can’t help hoping.

The other issue that’s taking up NPR’s airspace right now, of course, is the Supreme Court’s hearing of the cases against Prop 8 and DOMA. Living in California, and particularly in the Bay Area, these are issues that have been on my radar for a long time; the day after President Obama was elected in 2008, several of my friends and I had to remind each other that not all the results from that election were worth celebrating. Like everybody else, I have loved ones affected by these laws directly; like most of the people I know, I’m listening obsessively to all the coverage and trying to gauge which pundit has the best read of whether or not things are going to come out on our side. And sure, I’m nervous, when I read articles like the one from The New York Times about whether this case is being brought “too fast.” But I’m encouraged when I see things like this, polls that the majority of Americans now say that they support same-sex marriage. I’m encouraged by the fact that Republican Congresspeople are coming out in support, and that President Clinton’s gone on record saying that he thinks DOMA should be repealed; I’m proud that I voted (twice) for the first President to publicly endorse same-sex marriage. With the Pope, I’m cautious; with this issue, I’d go so far as to say I’m hopeful.

And, on both issues, I try to remember the quote that’s variously attributed to Martin Luther King and a half-dozen other people: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

</discussion of contentious religion and politics>

The change that comes with spring — the change that Gordon Bok talks about in “Turning Toward the Morning,” the change that’s implicit in that everybody-said-it-quote — is gradual, and I think that’s a pretty good mirror for the way life — and history — changes. But sometimes, change  comes suddenly, too — and that, too, is part of spring. Both of the big Semitic religions with holidays this week are celebrating sudden, epoch-defining change. Fertility is pretty sudden in its arrival, too, come to that; as the saying goes, you can’t be a little bit pregnant. And sometimes historical change can be just as sudden. I just finished listening to a US history course from the Teaching Company’s Great Courses series (awesome resource, by the way, for those nerds who just like Learning Stuff), and the final lecturer, who covered the 20th century, made the point that sometimes the world becomes different very, very fast. His biggest example was the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991: the Cold War had been going on for almost 50 years, and all the historians and government wonks at the time couldn’t see a way out of it without violence. And then, suddenly, almost overnight, it was over.

Sometimes, change happens quickly — and, especially in spring, with change busting out all around us, there’s a part of me that can’t help hoping that good changes are on the horizon in all sorts of ways. But if it’s not this time — not this Pope, not this ruling — I won’t believe that things are as dark as they might seem. Because spring — and change — always comes.

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