Like hues and harmonies of evening, Like clouds in starlight widely spread, Like memory of music fled, Like aught that for its grace may be Dear, and yet dearer for its mystery. The day becomes more solemn and serene When noon is past; there is a harmony In autumn, and a lustre in its sky, Which through the summer is not heard or seen, As if it could not be, as if it had not been! ~Percy Bysshe Shelleyfrom “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”
Noon has passed here; our spring long spent and now we come upon a time of subtle beauty, of hue and harmony~ a solemn serenity no longer overwhelmed by the clamor of summer.
The evening of autumn thus descends, its lustrous limn-light a curtain of grace cloaking and comforting, readying us for winter.
He brought light out of darkness, not out of a lesser light, and he can bring thee summer out of winter, though thou hast no spring. Though in the ways of fortune, understanding, or conscience thou hast been benighted till now, wintered and frozen, clouded and eclipsed, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupefied, now God comes to thee, not as the dawning of the day, not as the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon. ~John Donne from John Donne: The Major Works
I get caught by autumn advancing too fast to winter, damped and benumbed, smothered and stupified stuck in place, frozen to the spot. Only God can come, like a winter sun dim at noon, almost invisible, but there, reminding us of His promises, dressing us in His beauty, drying our wings, wringing the darkness to free the reluctant light.
I Here something stubborn comes, Dislodging the earth crumbs And making crusty rubble. It comes up bending double And looks like a green staple. It could be seedling maple, Or artichoke, or bean; That remains to be seen.
II Forced to make choice of ends, The stalk in time unbends, Shakes off the seedcase, heaves Aloft, and spreads two leaves Which still display no sure And special signature. Toothless and fat, they keep The oval form of sleep.
III This plant would like to grow And yet be embryo; Increase, and yet escape The doom of taking shape; Be vaguely vast, and climb To the tip end of time With all of space to fill, Like boundless Yggdrasill That has the stars for fruit. But something at the root More urgent than that urge Bids two true leaves emerge, And now the plant, resigned To being self-defined Before it can commerce With the great universe, Takes aim at all the sky And starts to ramify. ~Richard Wilbur “Seed Leaves”
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain, Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain; Love lives again, that with the dead has been: Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain, By Your touch You call us back to life again; Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green. ~John Crum from The Oxford Book of Carols
Over the last several weeks, roots have become shoots and their green blades have risen chaotically, uneven and awkward like a bad haircut. And like a bad haircut, a few days of further growth will make all the difference — renewal will cover all the bare earth, breaking through crusty rubble to reach up, heaving and healing, aiming for the sky.
There is nothing more hopeful than the barren made fruitful, the ugly made beautiful, the devastated restored, the dead made alive.
The fields of our broken hearts recover; love is come 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 spring, so do I. Somehow the solid winter freeze was comforting as nothing appeared to change and stayed static, so did I, remaining stolid and fixed, resisting doubt and uncertainty.
But now, with light and warmth, the fixed is flexing, steaming in its labor, and so must I find blessing in giving ground and giving birth to what will follow. Flowers will come of it.
This World is not Conclusion. A Species stands beyond – Invisible, as Music – But positive, as Sound – It beckons, and it baffles – Philosophy, don’t know – And through a Riddle, at the last – Sagacity, must go – To guess it, puzzles scholars – To gain it, Men have borne Contempt of Generations And Crucifixion, shown – Faith slips – and laughs, and rallies – Blushes, if any see – Plucks at a twig of Evidence – And asks a Vane, the way – Much Gesture, from the Pulpit – Strong Hallelujahs roll – Narcotics cannot still the Tooth That nibbles at the soul – ~Emily Dickinson
Doubt can feel like the bare branches of winter – plenty of bleak bark, and nothing that feels alive or real or even meaningful.
Yet spring ushers in such profound intervention that doubt is ushered out with little ceremony. What was mere potential is now bud and bloom. What was mere twig is now glorious.
These last few days of winter are a reawakening of nature’s rebirthing rhythms, with increased activity of all the wild creatures and birds around us, and most importantly, God’s renewal of our weary wintery hearts.
Some late winter and early spring mornings still are pitch black with blustering winds and rain, looking and feeling like the bleakest of December mornings about to plunge into the death spiral of winter all over again.
No self-respecting God would birth Himself into a dawn as dark as night.
But this God would.
He labors in our bleakest of hearts for good reason. We are unformed and unready to meet Him in the light, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts. Though we soon celebrate the rebirth of springtime, it is just so much talk until we accept the change of being transformed ourselves.
Though soon the birds will be singing their hearts out and the frogs chorusing in the warming ponds, we, His people, are silenced as He prepares us and prepares Himself for birth within us. The labor pains are His, not ours; we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again.
The world and its creatures, including us, is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, especially inside our healing wintery hearts.