Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Norooz, Passover, and Easter - New Life and Fire

Flames and Embers by Maja Trochimczyk
Fire and Fire

Whoever invented Easter Bunny that lays Chocolate Eggs on the lawn was not thinking through the rather dismal consequences of this wild leap of imagination... No matter, children are happily looking for chocolate confection scattered on the lawns of American suburbia... Would the popular-culture Easter be more memorable and dramatic, instead of just plain silly, if it included jumping over the bonfires, like the Persian purification rituals held at night on the Spring Equinox? 
Night Flames Burning by Maja Trochimczyk
On March 20, 2013, Persians around the world, as well as inhabitants of many countries in South-East Asia celebrated the holiday of Persian New Year dating back to the time of Zoroaster, three thousand years ago. This time of new beginnings, new hope and plans for new future, is marked by a 13-day holiday, with intense celebrations held on the 
night of the Equinox, when the day and night are equal and day starts to become longer than night. Families gather around bonfires and those brave enough to do it, jump over the fire with a prayer, to leave the old worries and troubles behind and leave them to burn in the fire, and to take into the new year the vitality and brightness of flames. In 2010, the UNESCO recognized the holiday of "Novruz" ("New Day"), added to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Night Flames by Maja TrochimczykThe purification by flame is also a vital part of the Passover Celebrations, commemorating an ancient event of Exodus, the liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery. Before the solemnities can begin, each household is thoroughly cleansed and purified of all leaven bread and bread crumbs. On the last night before Passover, a search is conducted by candlelight, and the leaven bread remnants are burned before the celebrations can begin.  The fermentation of the leaven breads is a symbol of the festering of old memories, obsessive thoughts, regrets and guilt that need to disappear. A new beginning and true freedom of heart are not possible without leaving behind the burden of the past. What better way than burning the remnants of old, or jumping over the fire?

Christian Easter also focuses on fire at night. The Easter Vigil begins from starting a huge bonfire outside of the church and from blessing of the fire and of the Paschal Candle, marked with symbols of Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, and with the symbols of the year that it will serve the faithful, its flame a symbol of the burning presence of Christ. The congregants gather in darkness, broken only with the single flame of the Paschal Candle. This light spreads as more candles are lit, from one person to the next, until the entire congregation is a sea of flickering candle-lights. This is one of the most effective symbolic rituals of the Church - the drawing of spiritual light from ancient Fire, the sharing of Light from one person to the next, in unbroken chain of the faithful, each protecting his or her little flame and sharing it with his/her neighbor. 

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

T. S. Eliot - Little Gidding, from Four Quartets

Listen to Eliot's own reading of Little Gidding (16 minutes)

My meditations on the Divine Fire led my thoughts along a less elevated path, starting from a parking lot at my son's school:

Incandescent (Via Positiva)

How gently and lovingly
You wake in my heart,
Where in secret you dwell alone ~
         ~ St. John of the Cross 
            The Living Flame of Love

The car was pulling out of the parking lot
When friends texted my son —
A sixteen-year-old, six-foot baby
"Is that your sister, or your mom?
She’s hot!" He looked at me
And waved at them, laughing.

Consumed by divine flames
I was not careful. I did not close
All doors, all windows.
Fire got in.

The Divine Pyromaniac
Set the world aflame
Filled me with fire

I’m a conflagration of grace.
The presence shines brightly,
Dissolves, liquefies, forges
A new being — one
With the One

Translucent blaze
Engulfs me, suffuses all
With one feeling
One thought —

Fire flows through my veins —
Brightness — Fire

(c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk
Reprinted from Meditations on Divine Names (Moonrise Press, 2012)

The Eggs of Easter

In Polish homes, the week before Easter is the week of Spring cleaning - washing windows, curtains, throwing out unnecessary things, sorting through the clutter. The cooking begins in earnest on Good Friday, that is the day of most solemn and dramatic celebrations in the Church and the most austere Lenten meals at home - pickled herring and potatoes... 

Easter Basket 2011 by Maja Trochimczyk

For the Slavic peoples, Easter food is all about eggs: colored beautiful dark red by cooking them in onion-skins, and scraping patterns with needles.  Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, Slovaks, Czechs, Slovenians, and Serbians all have their traditional patterns of decorating Easter eggs. Thus, the new beginnings of the spring have another, equally ancient symbol: the egg. The Romans started things "from the egg" - ab ovo...  

On Easter Saturday, before the solemnities of the Easter Vigil, Poles bring beautifully decorated baskets of food and eggs to be blessed and later shared at Easter brunch. My basket is decorated simply with fragrant orange blossoms from my garden. 

Orange Blossom Bee - by Maja Trochimczyk

Since I have not written yet any poems about Novruz (or Norooz), Passover, Easter, Easter eggs, or even Easter Bunnies, let me wish everyone a wonderful celebration of new hope, new beginnings and a personal renewal in serenity and joy this spring. I'll sweeten my wishes with a little confection of a poem about one of my most favorite desserts, zupa nic. My mother used to make this ice-cream substitute when there were no ice-cream stands anywhere and a line would form for the rare supply of real vanilla ice-cream at the grocery stores. We had to make do without, thus learning the virtue of ingenuity.

The Taste of the Sky

My mother's zupa nic - soup nothing
had puffy clouds of egg whites
floating in a yellow sea
of delight. I chased them
with my spoon that perfect summer.

I'm floating now
in thinning blue
of Technicolor sky
a meadow for
ten thousand cloud sheep
I cannot count while they
cast shadows
on tidy little gardens
of tidy little houses
of tidy little people

They go about their daily chores
folding sheets, baking bread,
I'm cooking up a storm
of dreams that will soon vanish
like clouds in my soup nothing

The Taste of the Sky- after Magritte, by Maja Trochimczyk
The Taste of the Sky - After Magritte, Digital collage by Maja Trochimczyk

What else? If you want to read more about Polish holiday food in poetry, my "mazurka" and "mushroom" poems are posted on the Village Poets Blog, in a report from the March 2012 "Bite Me" Art Exhibition at the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga. The Village Poets Poetry Reading held on March 16, 2013 also included poetry about food read by Dorothy Skiles, Marlene Hitt, Joe DeCenzo, Bryan Story, Alice Pero, and Rick Wilson (who read verse by Kathabela Wilson).




Photos of fire, Easter basket, orange blossoms, and yellow sky (C) by Maja Trochimczyk

1 comment:

  1. It is beautiful, Maja that you took the time to compose this and review memories and feelings for this celebration of renewal. Your thoughts on Nowruz were especially moving to me, as our dear friends in Iran celebrate this. I will write to them especially. Last year and several years before we went to a wonderful celebration of Nowruz at Caltech, sponsored by the Iranian Students organization. It was the first event of the WilsonFest last year. We attended the delicious meal for the Persian New Year in Dabney Gardens and there was a music and Dance show after it. The organizer of Rick's conference was there, and our friend YiWei from China! We did that especially because our Iranian mathematician friends could not get visas to come to the US to honor Rick. We were sad about that so we made it a small part of the conference. this year, your post made me realize, there was NO event! I will look into why that happened. I miss it. The group especially love us too, because we have visited Iran those 3 times, with such good memories. In Yazd, by the way, appropriately... we visited the Eternal Fire. I love that you wove the different traditions here, and the references, quotes from T. S. Eliot. I look forward to continuing celebrations of Spring together! beautiful Poet and Friend.