You might not have noticed, I almost didn’t, but it was both Palm Sunday and the spring equinox this last Sunday. This means that we’re now, officially, three-fourths of the way out of the dark. It means that even though it’s still cold and dark and rainy, there are also nearly-neon yellow daffodils practically bursting for their neighbors to finally bloom in order for them to break into a floral rendition of Here Comes the Sun.
Spring caught me a little by surprise this year. I’d wanted to create an altar of sorts, a slice of sacred space in the middle of all the messiness, chaos, and monotony that is life. But I didn’t even realize it was the spring equinox until it was standing on my door, demanding to be let in even though I was still in my old-man style striped pajamas. I was so out of touch with the changing seasons that it was the Google image that first tipped me off.
So Sunday morning, while I was still in bed, with a little more help from the Google Gods I researched the start of spring. Normally I would’ve been at at the tiny little Lutheran church, waving palm branches and taking selfies with the gentle donkey who makes a cameo between services. While I didn’t grow up observing the Liturgical Calendar in full, I’ve been celebrating the week between Palm Sunday and Easter since before I was born. As dorky as some of the festivities may seem, they feel like a part of my cultural heritage. But I didn’t have access to a car, so church was out. And I knew I’d still get to celebrate Easter Lutheran-style, so I researched other ways of welcoming spring.
The numerous ways that the Liturgical Calendar (or Christian Year) and the Wheel of the Year (pagan calendar) align so perfectly throughout different seasons — like the way that the winter solstice, a festival of light in the middle of darkness, is so close to Christmas, a holiday remembering when Light came into the world — delights and intrigues me. And this last Sunday, being both Palm Sunday and the spring equinox, is the perfect example of this overlap.
Since church was out there wouldn’t be any palm branches or donkeys this year and it was also the spring equinox, it seemed like a good time to research a few of the spring festivities and traditions that I wasn’t brought up on. One article suggested using candles and special rocks; picking flowers; spending a mindful moment doing something like sipping tea. So I grabbed a small plate from the kitchen (one of the less-cute ones so I didn’t have to worry about getting wax on it), found three little tea lights, and organized some special rocks around the less-cute plate. I’d never been given rocks but the day before my friend Stephanie had given me six little rocks as a belated birthday present.
Six little rocks, each one hand-selected from a stream near her house. Each one hand-painted and personalized especially for me. The watermelon is really a slice of wedding (due to my numerous food foes finding a Kelsey-safe wedding cake was no easy task, so we had a watermelon cake at our wedding). A small yellow bird — yellow, the color that reminds me that all this darkness and cold will come to an end. An encouraging, punny message to “Be a little boulder,” which is perfect as I’ve recently been learning how to metaphorically stand up taller in my own life. A green leaf, which reminds me of the start of spring and Palm Sunday. A heart, but the fact that there was love worked into this present would’ve still been obvious without it. And a cute little rock buddy to help remind me to not take myself so damn seriously and to let that little kid in me out sometimes.
Gifts are my love language, and Stephanie speaks it beautifully. I didn’t know that I wanted rocks for my birthday, but I couldn’t have asked for a better present.
I don’t personally believe rocks have magical powers. But I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong about a lot of things in my life. Many, many things. I was taught as a child that some stones (crystals and geodes, specifically) held dark demonic properties, but now thanks to a couple of geology classes, counseling sessions, and some distance I’m able to see beauty in what previously would have frightened me. Now I see a sort of everyday magic when I see beautiful stones, even if they don’t hold any real magical properties. But these were hand-picked and then hand-painted especially for me. If any rocks are magic, it’s these ones.
I then lit the candles in order to officially, privately, welcome spring. I’ve been reading a little about how to create little slices of sacred space lately, and the main theme is that it should be personal. A counselor I used to see had an office that always felt relaxing, comforting. She had little toys scattered throughout the room along with art supplies and books. I told her once that I’d been looking at my desk, the only space in the apartment that is truly just mine, in an attempt to recreate that feeling. She told me that the key to creating a safe, sacred if you will, space was intention. So I’ve been very intentionally choosing what to have on my desk and on the walls near it — post cards from friends, a picture of my friend Stephanie and her husband, a card from my sister, a movie stub for Tangled, a picture of my husband, and a note that reads “I’m always asking myself, ‘By whose standards?'”
And I tried to welcome spring with intention, too. After lighting my candles I then pulled out Mary Oliver’s Dream Work, and read through a few poems. In Morning Poem she writes:
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
Spring feels like morning as “the world / is created / under the orange / sticks of the sun.” Those last two lines remind me of Palm Sunday: “ashes of the night / turn into leaves again.” The palm branches that are waved so joyfully on Palm Sunday are then, the following year, pulled out for Ash Wednesday (the start of the season of Lent). That’s what the weird ashy crosses that Catholics and Lutherans and Methodists and all the other folks have drawn on their foreheads are made of — the leaves from last year. It’s like a yule log, how the slice of the Christmas tree from the year before returns, and is then turned into ashes. Only, since it is now spring, it feels like the reverse. It is as if the ashes of winter have turned into leaves again.
However you choose to celebrate spring, whatever calendar you observe, may you find the ashes of winter little by little turning into leaves again. According the the Christian tradition, we’re not out of the dark just yet — there’s a nasty, somber thing called a crucifixion that happens before we get to floral dresses and egg-delivering bunnies. Depending on if you observe Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, you might be observing the crucifixion as I write this. But in the middle of death and darkness, Easter is coming. The sun is coming. The flowers will bloom. We’re more than three-fourths of the way out of the dark.
If you liked this, check out Halfway Out of the Dark: Candles, Christmas, And the Winter Solstice.