My Ostrich Egg Pysanky*

by Zoyla Grace

It was 9 a.m. and time for our volunteers to arrive. The first to ring the bell was Sue bearing a box of treasures—five pysanky patterns.

Miriam Stulberg, my sister in Madonna House, got straight to work on one of them. I couldn’t start right away but eventually I found a suitable design and started to work on an ostrich egg.

Never having done an ostrich egg before, I was soon aware of how much longer everything took than it did on a chicken egg, from which pysanky are usually made.

I spent many evenings plotting the design, and then more evenings slowly and carefully applying the wax to what would be the white part of the design. Often it was Miriam and I working together and breathing slowly in the peaceful atmosphere of creating.

During Lent we have a “come and learn” class on pysanky-making from 12 to 4 on Friday afternoons. This particular Friday there were eight of us gathered around the table in the handicraft room.

I had put aside my ostrich egg as I was the teacher for those who hadn’t yet learned or who found encouragement supportive.

I had just instructed one of the learners, Mary, on how to put her egg into the first dye, when suddenly I heard a cracking noise, a crash. Something inside of me stopped. I listened. No one moved, which is what usually happens when an egg accidentally drops out of your hand. Did I really hear an egg break? I’d never worked on an ostrich egg before, so of course I had never heard one fall or experienced the consequences.

Mary and I left the dyes to investigate the noise. Sure enough, there it was on the floor. My ostrich egg! In pieces! Broken!

How did it happen? It was on a side counter, not even around people. Well, I bent down to pick it up, not yet ready to believe what had happened.

Okay, I said to myself, let’s get back to the class, the duty of the moment. I picked up the pieces, put them on a tray, and returned to the dyeing with Mary.

Everyone looked at me and said how calmly I took this. Well, after 35 years in Madonna House, 35 years of letting go, I guess I realized that it was just an egg—and not a soul.

However, it happened to be 3 p.m. on Friday and the middle of Lent. Was the Evil One interfering with our holy work?

The belief in Ukraine, where pysanky originated, is that making pysanky is a spiritual work which pushes back the darkness in the world. The decorated shell symbolizes the tomb, still and awaiting the bursting forth of New Life.

Yet here was my egg broken into pieces. A cracked egg is very hard to dye, but I was not ready to give up on this one yet.

That evening when all was quiet, I looked at the egg and tried to figure out how to repair the damage. I took out some fabric tape, glue and a stick to apply it and tried. It worked!

So, I continued to work the design, color by color. As Lent worked on me, I worked on fixing my eyes on the goal—bringing beauty to our Easter celebration.

All my brokenness, cracked hopes, and broken promises I laid before the Lord so that, despite my flaws, the work of the Resurrection might also work in me. I centered my thoughts on his work of salvation rather than on my own efforts.

The journey of the egg did not end there. It had another fall. So once again, I picked it up and gently put it back together.

Though the egg was flawed, cracked, and battered, each Easter it is lovingly placed among our decorations so as to express the truth: Christ is risen and has conquered the darkness! Alleluia!

*Pysanky are Ukrainian Easter eggs, which we at Madonna House make and teach each Lent in our houses. It is said that if people stop making pysanky, darkness will overcome the world.

This year, with the war in Ukraine, the making of pysanky has even deeper meaning. It is a way of uniting ourselves with the people of Ukraine and of praying for them and for the war to end. It is also, in a tiny way, a way of helping keep their culture alive.