Sunday Morning ~ What Would the World Be Like?
Ufulu ubwezera ufulu. ~ Kindness calls for a return of kindness.
~ Chewa proverb
March 28, 2021
It’s Palm Sunday, and as with most of the holy rituals I celebrated from the time of my birth, I knew little about the actual meaning of the day. I dreaded Palm Sunday as a kid because it meant a very long mass. The reading of the passion was done while we stood and it took forever. I was bored as well as frightened by the solemnity. I hated the smell of the incense and thought it would never end. Getting palms to take home was fun, though I’m not sure why. It’s not like we got to play with them or anything. But I liked laying them on the kitchen counter next to the box of doughnuts, a simple brown box from the local bakery, another Sunday ritual. The honey dipped, jelly, and chocolate covered Sunday breakfast would be surrounded by dry palm on this day and I thought little else about them except that they made the day feel special somehow. There was the anticipation of holy week and fasting, but as Easter approached it meant new dress, new shoes, new hat, and the end to the deprivation of whatever we had to give up for lent.
I’d never given thought to the significance of the palms. I knew they were blessed and we couldn’t just throw them away. They had to be burned. I knew the ashes for the next Ash Wednesday would come from the burnt palm fronds, but hadn’t considered the palms being laid across Jesus’s path as a reason for naming a whole Sunday after them. For much of my life I’d accepted what I’d been taught in this regard and let the unanswered questions contribute to the mystery and intrigue.
Palm trees evoked exotic fantasies for me. They grew in lands where I imagined everyone walked slowly and with grace. But they also grow in places that were harsher in my imagination. Dry, hot, desert lands where dust was part of existence and sandals kept the feet from burning had palm trees framing images of the holy family. Depictions of bible stories made me never want to go there. It looked too foreboding; something bad would surely happen. Angry mobs might kill you for no reason. Funny, images of polar exploration, starvation, and frostbite all seemed preferable to me. At least, I reasoned, if the elements kill you, you’ve only yourself to blame for being unprepared.
This all makes me think of the deep seeded biases and unconscious preferences I have. Where I want to go, live, or travel has been shaped by stories I’ve heard and images I’ve conjured. Palm trees beg romantic scenes of luscious sunsets with soft trade winds caressing the landscape. Silhouetted, they are so unthreatening, so tame. I know little about the different types of palms though I have researched them when I’ve traveled. Date and coconut were all I thought existed, but there are over 2500 types of palm trees. Their fronds make lovely functional baskets. They are woven into mats. And they can even be laid upon the road to soften the way for a special guest, riding on a humble animal, about to face his death for being such a good community organizer and healer.
Palm Sunday comes near Passover, but I never learned about Passover as a kid. In fact, I learned nothing of Judaism until my freshman year of college when I had a Jewish roommate. I was spellbound listening to her stories of Jewish ritual. That was a time in my life when I created a strict new structure, based in religion, to keep me from having any fun. When I look back, it was an interesting time. I went to mass every day; going to a Catholic college, this was not difficult. There were masses all over campus at different times. I chose a twenty-five minute noon mass at a beautiful gothic chapel, grounding me in a familiar ritual when I was feeling alone and lonely. I hadn’t gotten on-campus housing so shared an apartment off campus with three roommates from different colleges. They were older than me and had established friendships and social lives. I did not fit in, though they were kind to me and became like big sisters. I sat at the knee of the one who practiced her religion and listened with rapturous interest about how her family life was protected and enriched by it all. I felt like we had a lot in common, though her stories had more background and intriguing food. I had never even heard of a bagel before my freshman year of college. Once introduced, they were the epitome of deliciousness,. Cream cheese and smoked salmon? I felt I had been given the keys to a new universe. How had this bulky, filling, rich, chewy vessel been hidden from me? We had a few Jewish families in my hometown but I don’t remember a single bagel in the bakeries. It was doughnuts and eclairs. And Good Friday? Everyone got that day off no matter which god you worshipped.
I remember asking my mother what would have happened if they didn’t kill Jesus. I remember her laughing at the question. She was busy doing some kind of house work––ironing or defrosting the refrigerator which took an entire day. Her response was, “No one knows.” and for some reason, I was satisfied with that.
I have spent plenty of fantasy time rewriting stories of painful parts of my life. Not in a denial sort of way, but in a what-if sort of way. Today, I thought about rewriting the story of Easter and Passover. No exile, no crucifixion. What if… the kindness people showed Jesus by laying the palm fronds on the road were mimicked by his persecutors? What if they’d looked around and thought, how nice they treat each other! How kind is this man who cares about the poor and downtrodden! What if we winnowed out the kindnesses and celebrated those? What if the haters were stopped by the kindness. What if those were the stories we told children? Would it leave them unprepared for reality? I imagine Jesus on his donkey crossing the palm fronds, sharing a meal, hashing out differences, splitting up the leftovers, and making a plan to hand ladles of water to thirsty voters. What would the world be like?
Love to all,