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Feeling Easter

kids dressed up easter

Saint Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy

John Cuddeback - published on 04/23/14

We need the Easter festivity we are missing.

If Christ’s rising from the dead is the single most important event for my life, then it seems that Easter week ought to feel different from any other week.

Yet feelings have gotten a bad name. Especially in the conservative religious community.

And perhaps with good reason. Making feelings the guiding force in religion is not just dangerous; it is simply wrong. Religion, as all of the most important things in human life, is ultimately a matter of truth—a truth most properly grasped (even while not fully) and possessed by reason. So reason, as Plato expressed so well in his Republic, must have the ruling position in human life.

Yet feelings too have a role, even an essential one. Here I mean especially the emotions that are intimately tied to the body. Humans are not angels. Our life is lived in the border lands of the spiritual and the material. It goes without saying that the realm of bodily feelings and experience factors very largely in life.

St. Thomas Aquinas said that important human convictions not only often are, but should be expressed bodily. Our convictions should be literally in-carnated. The more foundational the conviction, the more significant the incarnation. One major way of expressing convictions in the bodily realm is through festivity.

In his great work In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, Josef Pieper asserts that to celebrate a festival is to ‘live out for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner’ the convictions that are at the center of our existence.

A feast gives the opportunity to express in a uniquely powerful way our worldview, who we are. It serves to remind us, and those around us, where we come from and where we are going. Easter, of all feasts, calls for a celebration, a festival.

But it seems that Easter festivity is noticeably absent. The event, and the life-giving realities accomplished by the event, seems to pass us by largely unmarked by the kind of festivity it really calls for.

In an Easter festival done reasonably well we should feel that Christ is risen, conquering death by death, offering us new life. Yes, feel it. And isn’t that fitting?

I ask myself: what am I and my family and community doing this week so that it looks, sounds, smells, and tastes different—like Easter. This week certainly can, and should, have a very different feel to it.

In some cultures (a few in the present, more in the past) such festivities come easily, because they are a matter of tradition. Such festivities by and large do not require herculean efforts of individuals—scheduling, planning, executing—for they somewhat happen of themselves, the way a Fourth of July picnic seems to materialize almost effortlessly.

But this is not the situation we find ourselves in today. If Easter festivity is going to happen it’s not going to be without a concerted, intentional effort. It is hard to say what exactly it will look like. But it needs to look—and hopefully smell, sound, and taste—like something.

Liturgy is the natural soil from which festivity springs. Indeed Pieper suggests that liturgy is festivity at its height. Yet true festivity needs to extend beyond the liturgical, even while being fed by it, and leading back to it.

Many things militate against such festivity. The current cultural context tends to be antithetical to any deeper festivity, let alone celebrating the central mysteries of the Christian faith. Further, we might find ourselves wondering whether the bodily aspects of festivity are really that important. And ironically, we may not feel like having a festival.

But maybe this is precisely where reason needs to guide us—reminding us that it is better that we celebrate, and celebrate festively. In the flesh.

Perhaps acting festively in the exterior forum, even when the interior disposition or feelings don’t make it easy, is more important than we have realized. We tend to think in terms of how exterior actions should follow from good interior dispositions. And this is indeed true. But perhaps we should remember that this is a two way street. As signs of interior dispositions, exterior observances themselves can also bring about what they signify. In other words, right celebration cultivates right interior dispositions.

If to make a festival is to live out deep convictions in an uncommon manner, then this is the week of all weeks to perform uncommon actions—in honor of an historical reality, a present faith and a hope of future glory—that are themselves anything but common.

Dr. John Cuddeback,professor of philosophy at Christendom College, is a member of the Aleteia board of experts and author of Bacon from Acorns, a blog devoted to the oft-neglected "philosophy of household." He is also the author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness.

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