Tess Ward is now self employed though was a hospice chaplain until 2015. She is a writer of prayers and liturgies. She is a celebrant and facilitates traditional Christian services but more commonly, personal, more broadly spiritual ceremonies. Her books include The Celtic Wheel of the Year and Alternative Pastoral Prayers. She also leads retreats and accompanies people on the spiritual journey.
Having not been away over Easter, I had never journeyed through the days and nights before with a gathering of people. And what a joy it was to travel the dark evening of Maundy Thursday through the dark day, blackest night, black without crack day to bright night and exceptionally beautiful sunrise of an Easter morning and then to rest in that for another 24 hours at Othona in Burton Bradstock Dorset. We were blessed with Othona hospitality that you can just sink into and dry sunny weather, blowy winds and so fierce waves and constant birdsong in the woods and Othona trees. My Dawn chorus track for Easter morning was superfluous! I loved re-imagining Easter with the washing of each other’s feet, making hot cross buns and a Celtic cross with branches, greenery and clooties, the Tenebrae, huge Easter bonfire, watching the sunrise over Abbotsbury and Easter communion outside. We followed the story but wove it through with Mary Oliver, Rumi, Rilke, Jan Richardson, GM Hopkins, my own paltry liturgical grounding and blessing bits, and music courtesy of John Tavener, Arvo Part, Davy Spillane, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone and more.
The highlight for me was nothing to do with my re-imagining but courtesy of the Divine imagination. On Easter morning just after dawn a small group of us went up the hill overlooking Abbotsbury, Portland, and Chesil beach one side, River Bride and her Valley of gentle rolling hills on the other. Dew on the ground and the gentlest halo of mist on the land, swallows accompanied and soared and dipped around us. The sun was behind clouds but a streaky line allowed for a white bleeding into orange light. Personally I thought that was enough – isn’t that how it is? – Just a glimpse but a glimpse enough to keep our hearts open and our eyes awake to other perceptions of the light burning in every living thing. We serenaded the sun with several chants and then as we saluted the sun she rose above the clouds to greet us in all her glory – which of course we couldn’t look at! Someone had mentioned the unmarked chapel in the wood down below. I had never visited but we all wanted to so passing a hare, many Easter bunnies, cows lazily munching and looking up to watch us, and not one but 3 leaping deer, we walked down through a wood in silence, over little wooden bridges and came upon the chapel.
It was my perfect church – a tall stone arch one end, an altar facing east the other. The altar had several offerings from other earth worshippers – stones, and flowers and candles. And the cross was old and wooden – maybe 1930s? of Christ dressed in robes with a crown – and beautifully simple. Most perfect was that it was a church with no walls. Just trees and the earth, at this time with bluebells, the daffodils gone over, the sun shining through the trees and the birds in full song. As we stood or sat in silence (there was a fallen tree), it all felt so given. The abundance of grace was overflowing. My heart felt it would burst with joy and confidence in the Beloved. Then I called the directions and as we walked back I felt entirely happy at being given such a gift. In a world with Trump and Kim Jong-un playing with their missiles, it was enough to allow my fears to unfold towards the sky and to let them be bathed in hope.
Easter Day Blessing
Bless to us Beloved,
This day, this sunrise,
This opening out into spaciousness
as joyful as the dawn of Springtide
sprung from the cold wintry earth.
As we rise to the rising of life itself
may we know your luminous presence
with us and within us
so we may let go into the present moment
of all the moments that we will be given
in this brand new day.