Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. ~Marilynne Robinson from Gilead
It is ordinary time, in the church calendar and in my life…
As I am covered with Sabbath rest quiet and deep as if planted in soil finally warming from a too long winter~
I realize there is nothing ordinary about what is happening in the church, in the world, or in me.
We are called by the Light to push away from darkness, to reach to the sky, to grasp and bloom and fruit.
We begin as mere and ordinary seed.
Therefore, nothing is more extraordinary than an ordinary Sunday.
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The thrushes sing as the sun is going, And the finches whistle in ones and pairs, And as it gets dark loud nightingales In bushes Pipe, as they can when April wears, As if all Time were theirs.
These are brand-new birds of twelve months’ growing, Which a year ago, or less than twain, No finches were, nor nightingales, Nor thrushes, But only particles of grain, And earth, and air, and rain. ~Thomas Hardy “Proud Songsters”
Each year I watch the new hatchlings fledge and fly and feed, and marvel at how they know so young how to sing and survive. Last year they were mere elements and now they bring the world beauty and Grace.
They live as if all Time were theirs.
Now in my seventh decade, do I know how to sing and survive? Did I become more than the elements from which I arose?
Only thanks to the Maker of heaven and earth was I born to recognize Beauty and Grace when I see and hear it. And so I bring it here, now to share with all of you.
I live as if all Time is so precious, so fleeting.
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Gardens are also good places to sulk. You pass beds of spiky voodoo lilies and trip over the roots of a sweet gum tree, in search of medieval plants whose leaves, when they drop off turn into birds if they fall on land, and colored carp if they plop into water.
Suddenly the archetypal human desire for peace with every other species wells up in you. The lion and the lamb cuddling up. The snake and the snail, kissing. Even the prick of the thistle, queen of the weeds, revives your secret belief in perpetual spring, your faith that for every hurt there is a leaf to cure it. ~Amy Gerstler “Perpetual Spring” from Bitter Angel
We all want to fix what ails us: that was the point of my many years of medical training and over 40 years “practicing” that art. We want to know there is a cure for every hurt, an answer for every question, a resolution to every mystery, or peace for every conflict.
And there is. It just isn’t always on our timeline, nor is it always the answer we expect, nor the conflict magically dissolved. The mystery shall remain mystery until every tear is dried, as we stand before the Face of our Holy God who both loves and judges our hearts.
Sometimes this life hurts – a lot – but I believe in the perpetual Spring and Resurrection that guarantees our complete healing.
Just before the green begins there is the hint of green a blush of color, and the red buds thicken the ends of the maple’s branches and everything is poised before the start of a new world, which is really the same world just moving forward from bud to flower to blossom to fruit to harvest to sweet sleep, and the roots await the next signal, every signal every call a miracle and the switchboard is lighting up and the operators are standing by in the pledge drive we’ve all been listening to: Go make the call. ~Stuart Kestenbaum “April Prayer”
The buds have been poised for weeks and then, as if responding to the conductor’s downstroke, let go of all their pent up potential~ exploding with energy enough to carry them to autumn when again they let go and are gone.
I. Allegro non molto– Frozen and trembling in the icy snow, In the severe blast of the horrible wind, As we run, we constantly stamp our feet, And our teeth chatter in the cold. II. Largo– To spend happy and quiet days near the fire, While, outside, the rain soaks hundreds. III. Allegro– We walk on the ice with slow steps, And tread carefully, for fear of falling. Symphony, If we go quickly, we slip and fall to the ground. Again we run on the ice, Until it cracks and opens. We hear, from closed doors, Sirocco, Boreas, and all the winds in battle. This is winter, but it brings joy. ~Vivaldi (Winter poem)
La Primavera (Spring) Opus 8, No. 1, in E Major
I. Allegro– Festive Spring has arrived, The birds salute it with their happy song. And the brooks, caressed by little Zephyrs, Flow with a sweet murmur. The sky is covered with a black mantle, And thunder, and lightning, announce a storm. When they are silent, the birds Return to sing their lovely song. II. Largo e pianissimo sempre– And in the meadow, rich with flowers, To the sweet murmur of leaves and plants, The goatherd sleeps, with his faithful dog at his side. III. Danza pastorale. Allegro– To the festive sound of pastoral bagpipes, Dance nymphs and shepherds, At Spring’s brilliant appearance. ~Vivaldi (Spring poem)
L’Estate (Summer) Opus 8, No. 2, in G minor
I. Allegro non molto– Under the heat of the burning summer sun, Languish man and flock; the pine is parched. The cuckoo finds its voice, and suddenly, The turtledove and goldfinch sing. A gentle breeze blows, But suddenly, the north wind appears. The shepherd weeps because, overhead, Lies the fierce storm, and his destiny. II. Adagio; Presto– His tired limbs are deprived of rest By his fear of lightning and fierce thunder, And by furious swarms of flies and hornets. III. Presto– Alas, how just are his fears, Thunder and lightening fill the Heavens, and the hail Slices the tops of the corn and other grain. ~Vivaldi (Summer poem)
L’Autunno (Autumn) Opus 8, No. 3, in F Major
I. Allegro– The peasants celebrate with dance and song, The joy of a rich harvest. And, full of Bacchus’s liquor, They finish their celebration with sleep. II. Adagio molto– Each peasant ceases his dance and song. The mild air gives pleasure, And the season invites many To enjoy a sweet slumber. III. Allegro– The hunters, at the break of dawn, go to the hunt. With horns, guns, and dogs they are off, The beast flees, and they follow its trail. Already fearful and exhausted by the great noise, Of guns and dogs, and wounded, The exhausted beast tries to flee, but dies. ~Vivaldi (Autumn poem)
I walk this path to stand at the same spot countless times through the year, to witness the palette changing around me.
The Artist chooses His color and technique lovingly, with a gentle touch for each season.
My life too is painted with richness and variety: from the bare lines of winter, to a green emergence of spring, a summer sweet fruitfulness and a mosaic crescendo of autumn.
This ever-new pathway extends beyond the reach of the canvas.
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring – When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush; Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing; The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy? A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy, Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning, Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy, Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Spring”
Once, we were innocent, now, no longer. Cloyed and clouded by sin. Given a choice, we chose sour over the sweetness we were born to, giving up walks together in the cool of the day to feed our appetite that could never be sated.
God made a choice to win us back with His own blood as if we are worthy of Him. He says we are. He dies to prove it. Every day I try to believe our earth can be sweet and beautiful again.
The air was soft, the ground still cold. In the dull pasture where I strolled Was something I could not believe. Dead grass appeared to slide and heave, Though still too frozen-flat to stir, And rocks to twitch and all to blur. What was this rippling of the land? Was matter getting out of hand And making free with natural law, I stopped and blinked, and then I saw A fact as eerie as a dream. There was a subtle flood of steam Moving upon the face of things. It came from standing pools and springs And what of snow was still around; It came of winter’s giving ground So that the freeze was coming out, As when a set mind, blessed by doubt, Relaxes into mother-wit. Flowers, I said, will come of it. ~Richard Wilbur “April 5, 1974”
As the ground softens with the warming sun, so do I. Winter freeze was comforting as nothing appeared to change, day after day.
Neither did I, staying stolid and fixed and frozen.
But now the fixed is flexing its muscles, steaming in its labor, greening and growing transformed.
The mares go down for their evening feed into the meadow grass. Two pine trees sway the invisible wind some sway, some don’t sway. The heart of the world lies open, leached and ticking with sunlight For just a minute or so. The mares have their heads on the ground, the trees have their heads on the blue sky. Two ravens circle and twist. On the borders of heaven, the river flows clear a bit longer. ~Charles Wright “Miles Away”
It isn’t yet time to turn the Haflingers out on pasture. The fields still squish from our heavy winter rains when I check the grass growth and test how firm the ground feels.
But spring is in the air, with pollens flying from the trees and the faint scent of plum and cherry blossoms wafting across the barn yard. The Haflingers know there are green blades rising out there.
There is a waning pile of hay bales in the barn being carefully measured against the calendar. We need to make it last until the fields are sufficiently recovered, dried out and growing well before the horses can be set free from their confinement back on the green.
Haflingers don’t care much about the calendar. They know what they smell and they know what they see and they know what they want.
One early spring some years ago, as I opened the gate to a paddock of Haflinger mares to take them one by one back to the barn, their usual good manners abandoned them. Two escaped before I could shut the gate, the siren call of the green carrying them away like the wind, their tails high and their manes flying. There is nothing quite as helpless as watching escaped horses running away as fast as their legs can carry them.
They found the nearest patch of green and stopped abruptly, trying to eat whatever the meager ground would offer up. I approached, quietly talking to them, trying to reassure them that, indeed, spring is at hand and soon they will be able to eat their fill of grass. Understandably suspicious of my motives, they leaped back into escape mode, running this time for the pasture across the road.
We live on a road that is traveled by too many fast moving cars and trucks and our farm on a hill is hampered by visibility issues –my greatest fear is one of our horses on the road would cause an accident simply because there would be no time for a driver to react after cresting a hill at 50 mph and finding a horse a mere twenty yards away.
I yelled and magically the mares turned, veering back from the road. As I marveled at my ability to verbally redirect them from dashing into potential disaster, they were heading back to the barn on their own, where their next most attractive feature on the farm dwelled: our stallion. He was calling them, knowing things were amiss, and they responded, turning away from the green to respond to the call of the heart.
So that was where I was able to nab them in their distracted posing for the guy in their lives. Guys can do that to a gal. You can end up completely abandoning thoughts of running away with the wind when the right guy calls your name.
Lured from the green grassy borders of heaven, we respond to the call of the heart from the world.
When I take the chilly tools from the shed’s darkness, I come out to a world made new by heat and light.
Like a mad red brain the involute rhubarb leaf thinks its way up through loam. ~Jane Kenyon from “April Chores”
Over the last two weeks, the garden is slowly reviving, and rhubarb “brains” have been among the first to appear from the garden soil, wrinkled and folded, opening full of potential, “thinking” their way into the April sunlight.
Here I am, wishing my own brain could similarly rise brand new and tender every spring from the dust rather than leathery and weather-toughened, harboring the same old thoughts and patterns.
Indeed, more wrinkles seem to be accumulating on the outside of my skull rather than the inside.
Still, I’m encouraged by my rhubarb cousin’s return every April. Like me, it may be a little sour that necessitates sweetening, but its blood courses bright red and it is very very much alive.