Friday, April 8, 2011


When we lived in Akron, OH, we lived along a small lake. I love our present location and yard, but our yard in Akron was so peaceful, and during the nine years we lived there, the changing seasons were so pleasant! Canada geese, which were year-round residents, flew over the trees and land upon the lake with a soft, gliding splash. Blue herons, gulls, and ducks were common on the lake, too, and once I spotted a bald eagle in a tree above the water. We saw deer occasionally, and our daughter, looking at the window, saw a coyote stroll through the yard near the lake. I had a feeling the coyote would rather not live in the suburbs.
In the warm seasons frogs began to croak along the lake. We also noticed killdeer, those pretty birds that make their nests in inappropriate, vulnerable places. At a country church I once served, a killdeer laid its eggs in the gravel parking lot—then, of course, each time a car pulled into the lot, it fussed and ran and pretended to be injured. A thoughtful church member made a sign and put it beside the next so people would take care not to drive into the nest. Killdeers always remind me of that.

Between our back yard and the lake, an area of brush and wild flowers grew. My daughter once identified some of those flowers for a school project: yellow wood sorrel, spotted touch-me-not, elecampane, sweet goldenrod, and others. We left that vegetation undisturbed, except for a path that I kept mowed so that we could walk to the lake. Beside the path, I planted a small U.S. 66 sign. An oak, cottonwood, and willow tree stood at the edge of the yard. In the autumn a few good windy days carried the leaves into the brush so I didn’t have to spend much time raking.

The wild flowers and bushes disappeared in winter; I saw neighbor kids tramping through there in the snow or crossing on their skis. But in springtime the flowers and rushes returned, and by early summer that section of our property became impenetrable except for my little mowed path. The vegetation grew so thick that it was difficult to cast a fishing line properly; my daughter, her friend, and I tried but couldn’t avoid tangling our lines. During our many backyard play times, Emily and I also lost many a golf ball in the brush. We also kicked beach balls around the yard and put up the badminton net several times.

All of us look back on our lives and think how fast time goes. We tend to picture time as linear, one day or month or year after another, in sequence until we come to end of our personal time, whenever it may be. So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart (Ps. 90:12). Of course, the Bible contains many images of warning–the prophesied Day of the Lord, the commands of Jesus that we be watchful and ready, the apocalyptic passages of the New Testament. These teach of time as a line along which we move.

The Bible also presents a cyclical idea of time, though not as strong as the linear view. Think of the well known passage Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (which I first learned via the Pete Seeger song): there is a time for everything, a season for planting and harvesting—but the word “season” implies that certain times go away and then return. We experience seasons, both the four seasons and the metaphoric seasons of life. We experience cycles and in small things and large: we return to a place we left, we rediscover music (or other interests) that we once loved, we realize that certain difficult experiences made us stronger for later challenges; we’re given second chances we never expected. We’ve also all have had the never-pleasant experience of old wounds reopened.

The Bible also speaks of the circles of repentance: the ways we stray, backslide, return, stray, return, and through it all, God is always faithful. With its recurrences of sin, punishment, redemption, and return, the book of Judges is as much a spiral as a line of history. I freely admit that my Bible study over the years has been closely connected to my own spiritual ups and downs, and sometimes the “downs” were occasions when I sought its promises more conscientiously.

We speak informally of things like luck, fate, jinxes, and karma. We don’t always stop to think that, if God is our Lord, we are not subject to such things! God cares for us and guides us across our short years; God calls us not to lose heart at life’s hazards but, instead, to focus on our relationship with him. God’s plans and purposes may not always be clear, and sometimes we may feel quite lost. But even the “lost” times may simply be seasons across which God provides...

....But I don’t want to continue to write so wistfully. Today is a pretty spring day, and purely for enjoyment, I’m leafing through my old Bible in search of spring-y texts.

The Garden of Eden is an obvious text, not of spring per se but of newness and of nature’s purity. If I gardened, I’d probably think I was, in a very small way, recreating a sample of lost, natural paradise.

Of course, the Passover stories of Exodus are spring stories: at this time of year, observant Jews clean their homes for all traces of hametz, leavened bread, in preparation for the Pesach remembrance of God’s salvation of the Israelites from Egypt.

Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because the Lord brought you out from there by strength of hand; no leavened bread shall be eaten. Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. When the Lord brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this observance in this month. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival to the Lord. Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen in your possession, and no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory. You shall tell your child on that day, “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.” It shall serve for you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the teaching of the Lord may be on your lips; for with a strong hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. You shall keep this ordinance at its proper time from year to year (Ex. 13:3-10).

Here is another springtime verse from “sexy” Song of Songs.

The flowers appear on the earth;
   the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
   is heard in our land
(Song of Songs 2:12).

Here are Jesus' words, which make me think of spring because we like to see birds like robins, sparrows, cardinals, doves, finches, and titmice.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of our head are all numbered. Fear not; you are you are of more value than many sparrows (Luke 12:6-7).

The saying would lose something if it mentioned starlings or blue jays, species that many people find annoying. Sparrows, in their smallness, seem more illustrative of God’s tender care. Blue jays seem like practical atheists, able to fussily take care of themselves.

The ability to go outside barefoot is a wonderful gift of spring.  I love the arrival of warm weather so I can start being barefooted in the yard, on the neighborhood sidewalk for a walk, and beginning to feel the earth's surfaces and textures.  As I look through my Bible, I find this prophetic warning:

Keep your feet from going unshod
   and your throat from thirst
(Jer. 2:25a)

In context the verse means, sarcastically, don’t wear out your shoes and parch your throat in your effort to pursue false idols. But (I lightheartedly think) aren’t Bible people usually depicted as barefoot? It must be okay as long as we’re not pursuing idols!

It’s been a rainy spring. Rain makes me think of this passage, which is tragic and concerned but also with a comic edge.
Then all the people of Judah and Benjamin assembled at Jerusalem within the three days; it was the ninth month, on the twentieth day of the month. All the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of the heavy rain. Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have trespassed and married foreign women, and so increased the guilt of Israel. Now make confession to the Lord the God of your ancestors, and do his will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.’ Then all the assembly answered with a loud voice, ‘It is so; we must do as you have said. But the people are many, and it is a time of heavy rain; we cannot stand in the open. Nor is this a task for one day or for two, for many of us have transgressed in this matter. Let our officials represent the whole assembly, and let all in our towns who have taken foreign wives come at appointed times, and with them the elders and judges of every town, until the fierce wrath of our God on this account is averted from us.’ Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levites supported them (Ezra 10:9-15).

“Please, Ezra, can we go inside and dry off first before we divorce our foreign women and avert God‘s wrath?”

The death and resurrection stories are beautiful springtime stories: the new life of the season and the spiritual new life offered by Jesus.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened (Luke 24:1-12).

I can never read those stories without also feeling some of the happiness of the warmth and renewal of nature, and of springtime during little-kid days, both my own and my daughter’s. In my imagination, daffodils and Easter eggs "illuminate" the Resurrection texts. Stories of Jesus, rendered in bright colors in children’s Sunday school materials, coincided uncritically with chocolate Easter treats and the egg hunts. Our congregation in Kentucky had a good children's program; I vaguely remember that Emily took a basket to church one time for the big egg hunt around the church grounds. I also remember the excellent egg hunts that pint-sized-me enjoyed, up the street from our house, at the shady and pleasant Rogier Park. Meanwhile, back at my childhood home (amid the scattered bricks in the backyard left over from the house’s construction, and near the television antenna) daffodils appeared reliably just before Easter.

Daffodils—and flowering plants generally—invite speculation in springtime. Will they survive the cold snaps that inevitably follow pretty days in March? Locally, people have been regretting that the March days in the 70s and lower 80s encouraged flowers to bloom, but then we had freezing days and a five-inch snow! How can flowers survive such capricious weather? Daffodils seem a parable for Jesus. When he died, people speculated pessimistically about him, too; how would his teachings and legacy survive his death? wondered his followers. Jesus in springtime still had some surprises.

No comments:

Post a Comment