God and peeps: Finding meaning in the season
JANESVILLE Jesus would be so proud.
This year, the average consumer is expected to spend $131.04 on Easter-related items, according to the National Retail Foundation’s 2011 Easter Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey.
That’s up from last year’s $118.60, but still short of pre-recession levels.
Even so, that’s a national total of $14.6 billion for Easter bonnets, Easter flowers, Easter cards, and, of course, marshmallow Peeps.
Is Easter slowly becoming the new Christmas, a religious holiday that’s slowly giving way to the secular?
Children’s Easter baskets might be getting bigger, but that doesn’t mean it’s impacting their spiritual lives.
God and Peeps
For members of mainstream denominations, Lent provides a buffer against the cultural excesses of the Christmas season.
For 40 days, parochial school kids are involved in prayers, fasting and almsgiving—the three duties of the season.
They’re encouraged to sacrifice by giving up something—video games, soda, smacking their sisters—or by doing something extra to help others.
The reward for goodness isn’t presents, it’s Easter.
Mary Muller, certified religious educator and youth minister at St. John Vianney Catholic Church, said her students are encouraged to look beyond the basics of giving up/taking on.
“I always ask them, ‘What are you replacing it with?’” Muller said.
When they miss something they’ve given up, she asks them to use that moment to think about whom they need to pray for or how they can be Christ’s representatives on earth.
Those serve as repeated reminders of the season’s meaning.
The idea isn’t to renounce the secular world with its chocolate bunnies and jellybeans but to embrace the opportunities to practice their faith.
“They’re able to live out everyday life out there,” Muller said.
The Lenten journey helps them become “more aware” of their beliefs.
Here’s another advantage Easter has: The signs associated with the season—eggs, lilies, lambs— all are Christian symbols, Muller noted.
Fake grass and true grace
The Rev. Wendee Nitz said she doesn’t see the secular and religious holidays as being “in competition.”
Instead of sharply defining cultural practices, places or habits as secular or religious, good or bad, the challenge is to find God wherever you are—even if you’re in the Easter goods aisle of your favorite big box store.
That’s not a license to thoughtlessly spend or ignore the needs of others.
“I’m a mom, and I’ve been in those toy aisles,” Nitz said, with a laugh in her voice. “I have to look at what are priorities and needs, and what are wants and wishes.”
The key is to be in the moment, to “truly be present.” That allows believers to experience a “moment of grace, a moment of divine” anytime or anywhere, Nitz said.
That’s not new age hocus-pocus. Most of us—believers and nonbelievers alike—are so caught up in the rush of life that we make decisions without thinking much about them.
We’re human, we overdo it and find ourselves bringing home bags of useless fake grass and enough candy to sicken a grade school class.
But that’s probably not what we value.
“Being in the moment” helps believers acknowledge what they value and, perhaps, make different choices.
“We have to remind ourselves of who we are and whose we are,” Nitz said. “It takes a calmer heart, it takes a community.”
It also takes the ability to forgive ourselves and others when we—or they—don’t live up to expectations.
Nitz said she loves the season bookended by Christmas and Easter.
Christmas tells people that God is apart of their lives, Nitz said.
At Easter, God says “I will never leave you.”