Thoughts on Easter 2017

Dear friends (and others),

Here is this year's variation on what has come to be my annual Easter reflection.

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.  After an angry, ice- and snow-filled Nor'easter in March,  Spring has been making its usual inroads this year. A spate of unseasonably balmy days early on shook the trees and shrubs and daffodils awake a few weeks earlier than usual before they had to huddle back under wraps after that insulting March blizzard.  Snow drops have come and gone, ditto crocuses and squill. Buds and shoots are everywhere – flowering cherries and pears are bursting with blossoms, the forsythia form brilliant suns along the roadside, and tulips are pushing their sharp, inquisitive heads towards heaven. I think only the magnolias, poor things, lost the battle: the sudden return of winter after that warm welcome blighted their blossoms, which mostly turned black and hung in sad marcescent squalor for a week or two.  The apple tree outside my study window has populated itself with thousands of tightly wrought green promises just waiting to blossom into a glory of white and pink. In short, all things considered, 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, 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 for performing the service in public: “If the Roman church does not draw a line against Islamist intimidation, who will?”

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 warm and 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 is “contains” (right word?) before it.

In a used book shop in Tunbridge Wells several years ago I picked up a book enticingly called Why Life Speeds Up as You Get Older. Published by Cambridge University Press, it’s by a Dutch psychologist called Douwe Draaisma, and it is full of interesting facts and speculations about (as the book’s subtitle puts it”) “how memory shapes our past.” (How indeed: “Memory,” Draasima quotes the Dutch aphorist Cees Nooteboom as saying, “is like a dog that lies down where it pleases.”)

Easter, whatever else it is, is a festival about time’s passing — taking that phrase in all the rich multiplicity implied in “passing.” (When time has passed, what is left?) Draasisma’s book presents lots of fascinating psychological case studies.

Much briefer, yet unaccountably more poignant, is this little poem I discovered in one of John Julius Norwich’s Christmas Crackers. It is, he tells us, inscribed on the pendulum of a clock in a church in Kent.

When as a child I laughed and wept

Time crept.

When as a youth I dreamed and talked

Time walked.

When I became a full-grown man

Time ran.

And later as I older grew

Time flew.

Soon shall I find when traveling on

Time gone.

Will Christ have saved my soul by then?

Amen.

An apposite question for this Easter morning!