They Were First

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Though a tremor of the winter
Did shivering through them run;
Yet they lifted up their foreheads
To greet the vernal sun.

And the sunbeams gave them welcome.
As did the morning air
And scattered o’er their simple robes
Rich tints of beauty rare.

Soon a host of lovely flowers
From vales and woodland burst;
But in all that fair procession
The crocuses were first.
~Frances Ellen Watkins Harper from “The Crocuses”

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To be sure, it feels wintry enough still:
but often in the very early spring it feels like that.
Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale.
A man really ought to say, “The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago”
in the same spirit in which he says, “I saw a crocus yesterday.”
Because we know what is coming behind the crocus.
The spring comes slowly down this way;
but the great thing is that the corner has been turned.
There is, of course, this difference that in the natural spring
the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not.
We can…
It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.
~C.S. Lewis from “The Grand Miracle”

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As if pulled by invisible threads from heaven, the crocus shoots have come through frozen ground to herald spring.  There is nothing apparent that would lure them up into the light — it is still cold, the days still dark, it is still deep winter on the calendar.

Yet they emerge, blind to all that depressing reality, to show their cheerful faces, as if all is grace and more joy is to come. The corner is turned as we trudge slowly down the slope of winter into spring.

These were first, but won’t be last.  We know what comes behind the crocus.

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A Harbinger of Something Harder

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How hard it is to take September
straight—not as a harbinger
of something harder.

Merely like suds in the air, cool scent
scrubbed clean of meaning—or innocent
of the cold thing coldly meant.

How hard the heart tugs at the end
of summer, and longs to haul it in
when it flies out of hand

at the prompting of the first mild breeze.
It leaves us by degrees
only, but for one who sees

summer as an absolute,
Pure State of Light and Heat, the height
to which one cannot raise a doubt,

as soon as one leaf’s off the tree
no day following can fall free
of the drift of melancholy.
~Mary Jo Salter “Absolute September”

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I admit I’ve been clinging to summer, though the calendar says it is fall, the darker mornings say it is fall, and the coolness of the air necessitates turning on the furnace first thing to take the chill off. These last days of September bring on a drift of melancholy for time wasted during summer’s  pure state of light and heat and here we are again, reminded of our mortality and the shortness of our days.

And so the harder times are coming, there can be no doubt.  Wistful about whether I can weather it,  I am tugged, heart first, into October, ready or not.

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Advent Sings: Leaping with Life

The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli
The Visitation by Mariotto Albertinelli

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Luke 1: 41-45  (Song of Elizabeth)

This scene in Luke is remarkable for its portrayal of the interconnected relationship of four individuals, not just two.  Here are two cousins who become mothers despite utter impossibility — one too elderly and one virginal — and their unborn sons — one who is harbinger and one who is God.

These unborn babies are not just passively “hidden within” here.  They have changed their mothers in profound ways, as all pregnancies do, but especially these pregnancies.  As any mother who first experiences the “quickening” of her unborn child can relate, there is an awesome and frightening awareness of a completely dependent but active “other” living inside.  She is aware she is no longer alone in her shell and what happens to her, happens to this other life as well.

The moment Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, she and her baby are overwhelmed, filled with the Spirit from Mary’s unborn.  They leap, figuratively and literally.  Her voice leaps up, louder in her exclamation of welcome; John leaps in the womb in acknowledgement of being in the presence of God Himself.

How can our hearts not leap as well at His Word, at His hope and plan for each of us, at His gift of life from the moment of our conception.

After all, He once was unborn too, completely dependent on His mother, completely alive because of His Father.