As If Death Were Nowhere in the Background

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

~Li-Young Lee from “From Blossoms”

These are impossible mornings of color and cool breezes.
A hope of immortality extends across the sky as far as the eye can see.
Impossible — because we know it won’t last;
these ordinary days, this precious time is ephemeral.
Still I revel in it,
moving from joy to joy to joy,
from tulip to tulip to tulip,
rising up so vividly alive from mere dirt,
eventually to sink back down to dust so gently,
~oh so gently~
to rest in the promise, that vibrant living promise
that spring someday will last forever.

An Army of Tulips

Guarded within the old red wall’s embrace,
   Marshaled like soldiers in gay company,
   The tulips stand arrayed. Here infantry
Wheels out into the sunlight. What bold grace
Sets off their tunics, white with crimson lace!
   Here are platoons of gold-frocked cavalry
   With scarlet sabres tossing in the eye
Of purple batteries, every gun in place.
   Forward they come, with flaunting colors spread,
With torches burning, stepping out in time
   To some quick, unheard march. Our ears are dead,
We cannot catch the tune. In pantomime
   Parades that army. With our utmost powers
   We hear the wind stream through a bed of flowers.
~Amy Lowell – 1914
“A Tulip Garden”


April ignites an explosion:
Dazzling retinal hues
Singed, crying
Grateful tears for such as this
Array of floral arms-
A rainbow on Earth

Transient, incandescent
Brilliance hoped for.
Remembered in dreams,
Promises realized,
Housed in crystal before shattering.



Flowers Preach

Flowers preach to us if we will hear:
The rose saith in the dewy morn:
I am most fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the corn:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of His love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.
~Christina Rossetti from Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems

Some sermons are written bold with color, illustrated with powerful gospel stories of righteousness and redemption in the face of our sin.

Some sermon passages are fragrant with the scent of grace and forgiveness, lingering long after the words are spoken.

Some sermon stories remain subtle and hidden, cryptic messages like the blooms that grow close to the ground, barely visible.

We need to hear them all preached, but most of all we need those every day plain-to-the-bone sermons which are trampled and tread upon, springing back up to guide our feet to the best pathway home. No color, no fragrance, no hiding: just celebrating the ubiquitous lichens, mosses and grasses and weeds which exist solely to help cushion our inevitable fall and help us rise up again.

Like an Idiot, Babbling and Strewing Flowers

To what purpose, April, do you return again? 
Beauty is not enough. 
You can no longer quiet me with the redness 
Of little leaves opening stickily. 
I know what I know. 
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe 
The spikes of the crocus. 
The smell of the earth is good. 
It is apparent that there is no death. 
But what does that signify? 
Not only under ground are the brains of men 
Eaten by maggots. 
Life in itself 
Is nothing, 
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs. 
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, 
April 
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. 
~Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Spring”

I know that we cannot depend on the return of Spring to heal us~
it is balm not cure.

I know that none of its beauty can bloom without it dying before~
it is a shroud thrown over to cover our decay.

I know I cannot be transformed by the warmth of the sun~
it is not enough for my skin to sweat when my heart lies still and cold.

I know I must dig deeper in holy ground for the truth~
it does not lie in perfumed blossoms and sweet blue skies.

I know what I know~
life in itself is nothing unless
death is overcome yet again
and our hearts, once broken,
begin to pulse red once more.

No Time

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I know from experience that when I allow busy little doings to fill the precious time of early morning, when contemplation might flourish, I open the doors to the demon of acedia. Noon becomes a blur – no time, no time – the wolfing down of a sandwich as I listen to the morning’s phone messages and plan the afternoon’s errands.

When evening comes, I am so exhausted that vespers has become impossible. It is as if I have taken the world’s weight on my shoulders and am too greedy, and too foolish, to surrender it to God.
~Kathleen Norris from The Quotidian Mysteries

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These are days with no breathing room,
no time to stop and appreciate each moment
as a bud about to burst into bloom.

And it is my fault
that I’m not breathing deeply enough~
simply skimming the surface
in my race to the end of the day
as time’s petals, so open, so brilliant, so eternal
close up unseen and unknown.

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Green and Glorious

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I wished to wade in the trillium
and be warmed near the white flames.
I imagined the arch of my foot
massaged by the mosses.
This field immersed in gravity
defying growth.  Green and glorious.
It let me know that out of the
soil came I, and green I shall be.
Whether an unnamed weed or a
wild strawberry I will join in
the hymn.
~Luci Shaw from “Spring Song, Very Early Morning”

 

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Spring is finally in full swing here on the farm.  Grass grows so fast that mowing could be a twice a week activity,  dandelions are dotting the fields in a yellow carpet, the flowering plums and cherries are peaking, the daffodils are spent and the tulips are bursting forth.

 

The koi and goldfish in our pond have decided to surface from underneath all the winter debris and have grown to another 6 inches over the winter and now are busy feasting on mosquito larvae as the insects have awakened as well.   At times I feel so overwhelmed by the accelerated pace of growth and activity that I sheepishly long for the dark quiet gray days of winter, if just for the respite of a nap.

Instead of a nap, I hunt for trillium.  They are the traditional harbinger of spring and without them, it all seems like just so much pretending.  These are somber plants that will only grow in certain conditions of woods and shade, with leafy mulched soil.  Once established, they reliably spring up from their bulbs every spring with their rich green trio of leaves on each stem that are at once soft and slightly shimmery, and at the top the purest of three white petals, one per leaf cluster.  The blossoms last a week or two, then turn purplish and fade away, followed weeks later by the fading of the foliage, not to arise again from the soil until the following year. 

 

Picking a trillium blossom necessitates picking the leaf foliage beneath it, and that in turn destroys the bulb’s ability to nourish and regenerate, and the plant never forms again.  I think I have known this from my earliest childhood days as I was a compulsive wildflower gatherer as a little kid, having devastated more than my share of trillium bulbs until I learned the awful truth of the damage I had done.  I have since treated them as sacrosanct and untouchable.

There are trillium blossoms to be found on our farm, a few steadfast survivors, yet completely vulnerable to someone’s impulse to bring the beauty indoors for a few days in a vase.  What a tenuous grip on life when people are desiring to pluck them, with their resulting oblivion. How unknowingly destructive we are in our blind selfish pursuit of beauty for our own pleasure and purposes.  These pure triad blossoms and leaves, representing all that is preciously drawn from the earth and enriched and nourished by sunlight, can be obliterated, never to return, never to bloom, never to rise again from the dust to be green and glorious.

How much more precious is that which rises again to bloom and flourish forever despite our senseless destructiveness?  And He is here, among us, waiting for us, forgiving us for our thoughtless actions.

I look at the trillium longingly, wanting to touch them, wanting to own them and hold them, and knowing I never will.  They are meant to stay where they are, as I hope to remain, rooted and thriving, yet still fragile in the everlasting soil of life.

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Blooming Recklessly

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Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke

Perhaps there are places where spring blooms are reckless and shrieking in the night but the tulip fields in Skagit County, just south of where we live, is not one of them.

This is the home of carefully blended choral floral voices, harmonious and joyful, singing together to create a symphony of unforgettable visual grandeur

In the heart of the night, there is only the contented hum of rows and rows of purring color stirring in the valley breezes, waiting for the dawn.

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