This week, the Holy Week of Easter is celebrated in the Christian tradition. I grew up both Catholic and Methodist, one parent of each religion, and both parents not all that interested in “religion” per se. They wanted us to be exposed to religion, and had us attend Methodist Sunday school and Catholic religious education classes during the week. I was always drawn to something, but couldn’t name what it was. At the same time, I was repelled by the dogma and hypocrisy I witnessed repeatedly in my particular experiences. There was always this experience of attraction and repulsion that felt so confusing.
Growing up, we didn’t have specific religious practices or traditions in my family, though we celebrated Christmas and Easter. Both holidays were fairly material in nature, focusing on the Christmas tree and Santa Claus, or Easter Bunnies and baskets. Both traditions were made particularly special by the gathering of family, and the rhythm of looking forward to similar meals and activities each year, but neither really included much in the way of understanding the Christian significance of the celebration.
In my youth and early adulthood, I rebelled against religion in many ways. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t see its value. It seemed to me that everything was about being a sinner, not being worthy, and never measuring up. I was frustrated with what I saw as a bunch of rules that nobody really understood, and a bunch of people preaching them without practicing them. Sure, there were many ideals which I did take in, but for a while, I disconnected from any religion or spiritual practice.
Then, a fire in me grew, and I longed for something to connect to.
I began to explore spirituality and religion. I considered trying other religions, but nothing drew me in. I focused for some time on being “spiritual, but not religious” as so many new age people speak of being. Again, something was still missing, yet I still felt repelled by the idea of organized religion. At some point, being the researcher that I am, I decided to take a look at what religion really is.
I came across a couple of definitions of religion that appealed to me. The first was “respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods, conscientiousness, sense of right, moral obligation.” These ideas I could connect to. I already had a strong sense of respect, reverence and conscientiousness. Another definition was “a bond between humans and gods.” This too was appealing to me, as the idea that God was “out there” didn’t feel right.
For me, through looking at definitions and realizing that there was something missing in my life of being “spiritual, but not religious,” I came to realize that what I needed was religion, but not in terms of organized religion. I needed religion in terms of devotional practice, research, mysticism, ritual, and all the things that appealed to me about those definitions. I longed for union with the Divine, while knowing it was perfectly ok to be human. I decided that if religion was really about these things in the definitions, then all religions were ultimately about the same idea, just approaching it from different practices. Since Christianity is what I knew, I decided to try looking at Christianity in an entirely different way, a much more unified, mystical, cosmic way. I began to see Christ as a cosmic being who merged with a human being on the earth, the ultimate archetype for what we all have the potential to become.
Suddenly, God wasn’t “out there.” All the stories about Christ weren’t just stories about some being that lived two thousand years ago and suffered for us, and that we had to feel guilty about. I came to see Christ as a pure essence, a being of Love, the source of life that we could all connect to, regardless of religion or background. I began to see the Christian stories, and stories from other wisdom traditions for that matter, as archetypes for my own life. Now I see these archetypes as worthy of study for the evolution and development of humanity. The stories can be related to the soul’s journey, the hero’s journey that we all experience throughout our lives. One of these archetypes that I have found to be so valuable is the Passion of the Christ. Many books have been written about this one day in the life of Christ, but today, I wish to focus on how this day and its events can be seen as an archetype for the transformations we go through in our lives.
The word passion literally means “suffering, enduring.” Yet we also associate the word passion with something we are emotionally attached or dedicated to, something for which we are willing to endure. We are passionate about our spouse, our job, our hobby, our child, our home, etc., and as a result, we endure the difficulties associated with nurturing those things.
My coaching clients work with me because they are ready to commit to their own Passion, with a capital “P.” They are ready to undergo transformation in their lives and experience what they know they and their life are capable of becoming.
Consider for a moment that we all have a Passion, with a capital “P” that we are moving toward in life, something that brings us to our most embodied, true self. We will experience this passion in various steps. In the Christian tradition, there are the Stages of the Passion associated with the Easter festival. We can again look at these as archetypes for the stages of our own Passion, and how we eventually reach the transformation we are seeking, or that is seeking us.
Stage 1 – Reevaluation
The archetype in stage one is the Washing of the Feet and the Condemnation. We might find ourselves in positions in which we may feel humiliated, judged or condemned. These situations inevitably ask us to reassess our values, to dig deeper into our soul to see what we really care about, want and desire. This sets us on a path toward our true Passion, knowing that there is something we wish to serve, even if not quite knowing what it is yet.
Stage 2 – Courage
Stage two’s archetype in Christ’s Passion is the Scourging. In this space, we know there is something that must be endured in order to move toward our Passion, but tremendous courage is required to stay the course. We might rebel against this new discovery, tempted to avoid the path we realized in stage one, but something won’t leave us alone. No matter how we might try to ignore the new realization, our conscience is repeatedly triggered, pushing us to walk the path. Perhaps we are criticized left and right by others opposing our new found direction. Perhaps we feel helpless in the face of this new path for which we have little direction or familiarity. Courage, a willingness to act in spite of the fears and anxieties, is the only thing that will allow us to stay the course toward this transformational Passion.
Stage 3 – Humility
The Crowning with Thorns is an archetype which has so much beauty for me as I see it in a new way. In this stage, we see that we now have a new responsibility. We realize there is a purpose, a task, a more authentic way of being, a Passion that we are committed to. This comes with a certain “royalty” and its crown. Yet it is a crown of thorns, as we realize it is often painful to wear. Humility is the capacity to be everything we are (wear the crown) and nothing we are not (feel the pain as we strive to be our true, authentic selves in a world that prefers everyone to be the same). We continue to endure for the sake of the true course we have set ourselves upon, no matter the pain of following that course with dignity, devotion and commitment.
Stage 4 – Patience and Strength
Once we have realized the path, brought forth the courage to walk the path, and committed to the path as a worthy and important task, we then “take up our cross.” One of the things I find most important about this stage is that in the archetype of Christ, this is the one stage He did not do alone. Someone helped him to carry the cross along the way. Patience is cultivated here as we learn to endure for the sake of the path we have chosen. We cultivate strength as we continue to carry the burden for the worthy result we are seeking. Yet we don’t do these things alone. Strength and patience are cultivated as we look around and see who is there with us, supporting us, helping us to endure.
Stage 5 – Death
In this stage, the Crucifixion is our archetype. We come to a point in which we have nothing to do but be “nailed down” and allow the old to fall away. Life will give us the trials we need in order to help us let go for the sake of what is to come. Seeing this as a stage of transformation helps us to value the trials, to love those who put us through them, and to see all experiences as valuable.
Stage 6 – Darkness
Like with the entombment of Christ, we find ourselves completely empty, in a dark night of the soul, struggling to breathe, and wondering if we will ever come out of it. Everything as we’ve known it has fallen away. We face the shadow side of ourselves and learn to embrace it. We are desperate to see what will come. We can find comfort if we consider that this is the very space from which creation births. The Mother’s womb is a dark, empty “tomb” until the seed is planted within it. Out of this void, new life emerges.
Stage 7 – Rebirth
Stage seven is the archetype of Easter Sunday and Resurrection. This is the transformation we’ve been waiting for. A new way of being emerges out of this way of Passion. We have been courageous, discovered our true self, surrendered to the process of embodying that true self, and endured the pain of birthing a new, empowered, strengthened, and transformed self.
These stages happen in layers throughout our lives as we continue to connect, trial after trial, experience after experience, with our most authentic selves, our Christed selves. I hope this Easter week archetype, whether you come from the Christian tradition or not, proves to be helpful as you consider where you are on your journey of transformation. I would love to hear from you and what stage you are in. What are the challenges? How are you meeting them?
In this time of massive change, this kind of transformational process is happening rapidly for many people. As we learn to embrace it, we emerge a stronger, more unified and compassionate humanity. May you embrace the journey. May this Easter and emerging Spring bring new life.