Easter Thoughts

Dear friends (and others),

Now that the Winter that Wouldn’t End seems finally to be vanquished (we woke up last Wednesday, April 16, to find a dusting snow — snow! — on the ground), my thoughts turn to green and budding things. And here on this glorious Easter morning, the bracing snap that accompanied the sunrise is already softening into a coaxing Spring morning. Before we toddle off to church with friends, and before we pop the champers, uncork the Vosne Romanee, and unveil the perfectly roasted lamb, I thought I would repost an updated version of what has become my traditional Easter meditation:

Yesterday, Holy Saturday, was glorious, and I am happy to report that Easter dawned bright and sunny here on the East coast of southern Connecticut.  Winter was long and brutal this year,  but Spring is definitely here now: the snow drops are behind us and everywhere the purple-lavender  crowns of crocuses announce the season.  Clumps of forsythia are beginning their yellow triumph by the roadside, and daffodils are set to trumpet the season any day.  Other buds and shoots are crowding in the wings: in just a week or two the  flowering cherries and pears will be bursting with blossoms. We are back in our house after having been evicted for more than six months by Hurricane Sandy. The apple tree outside my study window has bedecked itself with thousands of tightly wrought green promises just waiting to blossom into a glory of white and pink. In short, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in “God’s Grandeur,” one of his most magnificent poems, although “all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil,” although “the soil is bare now,” yet “for all this nature is never spent.”

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

I have loved Hopkins’s poem since I first read it in high school — the incantatory diction, haunting music, emotion compressed, distilled, stripped bare in language that trembles to contain all it seeks to impart (“there lives the dearest freshness deep down things”).

Easter, as I noted in a post marking the holiday last year,  is the traditional time when the Catholic Church receives converts into the fold. I went back to read what I’d written a couple of Easters ago and thought some readers might like to be reminded of what I had to say then:

All souls are equal in the sight of God, but here on earth some converts elicit particular attention. The announcement yesterday that Magdi Allam, the 55-year-old an Egyptian-born Italian journalist, had converted from his native Islam to Catholic Christianity, is a case in point. Apostasy from Islam is, as my fellow PJM blogger Michael Ledeen points out, punishable by death if you happen to be in one of the many atavistic bulwarks of barbarism that make the Religion of Peace an object of obloquy among civilized people.

[UPDATE: Robert Spencer shows that, as usual, I was being too generous to the Religion of Peace. As Spencer explains, "all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree that apostates must be executed. But don't take my word for it. Here's the great Sheikh Al-Qaradawi, who has been praised by John Esposito as a 'reformist':

That is why the Muslim jurists are unanimous that apostates must be punished, yet they differ as to determining the kind of punishment to be inflicted upon them. The majority of them, including the four main schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi`i, and Hanbali) as well as the other four schools of jurisprudence (the four Shiite schools of Az-Zaidiyyah, Al-Ithna-`ashriyyah, Al-Ja`fariyyah, and Az-Zaheriyyah) agree that apostates must be executed...]

This particular baptism is sure to arouse the ire of fanatical Muslims, but, as the blogger at Tigerhawk put it, kudos to the Pope [that would be Pope Benedict] for performing the service in public: “If the Roman church does not draw a line against Islamist intimidation, who will?” [ANOTHER UPDATE: the story of Magdi Allam does not have an edifying ending.]

Good question. While you ponder it, allow me to introduce a more meditative note. Last year at Easter, I posted this thought for the day about the mysterious subject of time; a few people have asked me about it, so I thought I would reproduce it on this chilly (but sunny) Easter morn:

“So long as no one asks me,” St. Augustine says, reflecting on the mystery of time in Confessions, “I know what it is. But as soon as I try to say what time is I am baffled”

Well, St. Augustine has many interesting things to say about time in Book XI of Confessions, and he is perhaps most interesting (if also least helpful) when he wonders whether time is somehow “an extension of the mind itself” – most interesting because it is clear that our experience of time is deeply implicated with the movements of our mind, that it differs radically from one moment, and one phase of life to the next. But St. Augustine’s suggestion is also not particularly helpful when it comes to one of life’s most awful facts: that time passes, sweeping all that it “contains” (right word?) before it.