The day the Lord created hope was the same day he created Spring, writes Bern Williams. The woe of winter becomes the prayer of spring. After months of cold and damp, melancholy skies and short grey days, buds burst into flower. The snowdrop raises its gentle head and shy pink blossoms decorate trees on nature strips. The sun begins to warm our backs and birds break into a chorused chortling, the somber notes of winter being replaced by chirrups and canticles. A gentle greening of the earth takes place, a soft and verdant shimmer.
It is a glad awakening.
Somehow spring has taken hold, imperceptibly, immutably, establishing the order of the new. It is the season of rebirth and resurrection; the season of the bubbling, surging tide of sap, as D H Lawrence observed. It is the season of hatching and sprouting and emerging, a faithful fecundity, that has not yet been despoiled by human intervention. Still, we need to be vigilant if we want this most hopeful of seasons to retain its primordial constancy in the unfolding human story. The ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tze remarked that Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. We, latecomers in history, must relearn to live with the patterns of the seasons and what they offer.
The colours of spring delight. They are the greens of mint and moss, of pine and fern and clover, the gentle hues of God’s giant garden. They are soft pastels, the chartreuse lick on leaves. Nature awakens, its fertility the miracle of Mother Earth. Pope Francis reminds us of the importance of caring for our common home, this tiny blue marble that swirls in the indigo ink of the expanding universe. He calls us again to ecological conversion; that call to look after this third rock from the sun for the generations who come after us.
I am writing this in early August in Lockdown 6.0 when I would normally be sitting in my usual spot in the third row from the back and taking some time to talk to God and think about the week ahead and what I must do in it. I am at my crowded kitchen table, with papers strewn about, some corrections to be completed, thinking about what I can conjure up for dinner. Nature does not know we are in lockdown as the birds warble and my husband feeds them, a habit he has developed over the last eighteen months. It is his way of keeping in touch with the natural world beyond the confines of our flat and the compliance that keeps us away from each other in our usual social settings. The birds begin to gather in the evening, one sitting on the fence, another on an antenna, a few in the neighbour’s trees. Some dare and dive to peck at the breadcrumbs, others wait for leftovers. The big black crow stands his ground and I am waiting for the rainbow lorikeets of this time last year to come back. It is not a huge thing, but it bookends his days and he derives some satisfaction from it. Sometimes it is the small and meaningful that can keep us going when our lives are caught up in things beyond our control.
The clouds do not know we are in lockdown as they shape-shift above. One minute they are fantastical animals and the next paradise islands. Five minutes later there is a completely new moving picture-show to distract me – little puff pillows and scarves of fleece and castles in the air. I don’t mind having my head in the clouds occasionally – it is a temporary time out, sometimes a portal to prayer and a slowing down that soothes the soul and rests the body.
I do not know what September will bring in the way of living day-to-day in my corner of the world. In the meantime, I have completed the census form and ticked the Catholic box. I am with Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney who speaks of faith as a broad church and that we can all belong in our different ways because faith is behind many of the good things we do. He understands the push and pulls of life that may register in non-attendance at church and notes how faith is lived out in many other practical ways for the benefit of the wider community. I do know that on Father’s Day I will pray for my own father and his love for his seven children. I will say a prayer for the good and faithful priests we call Father in parishes all over Melbourne and to God the Father who watches over us all. I will think of fatherhood in all its guises and be glad that it is being redefined by the younger generation to be more hands-on, a blessing for the families of the future.
Images L-R: Sistine Madonna by Raphael and Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Murillo
Later in the month, I will be reminded of the feast day of the archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and that list I always love to hear recited; angels and archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominions, thrones, cherubim and seraphim. I will think of my favourite depictions of angels; Raphael’s cherubim peeking out of the bottom of the picture in his famed Sistine Madonna, Murillo’s pudgy putti in the Annunciation of the Lord, the angelic helpers in Bouguereau’s work, stylised Pre-Raphaelite figures and the stained-glass depictions in Tiffany windows. I will think of angels all around us, guides and comforters, and that line from Hebrews 13:2: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
We know we will have some sort of AFL grand-final on that one day in September, although crowds may be smaller and socially distanced. Many will dream again of that full-throated roar at the MCG and the ruddy homecoming hymns of supporters on trains and trams that remind us that we are both tribal and communal here in our hometown.
More than ever, I will read words that raise me up; words like that of Joan Chittister OSB who writes presciently: Hope is not a matter of waiting for things outside to get better. It is about getting better inside about what is going on outside. So, Spring may well be a time for that change of heart, a spring clean and an attitude adjustment, something we all need to do in this uncertain and challenging season of pandemic. Isaiah 40:31 will accompany me as I walk on through the days ahead: but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.
Spring in my step and a spring in my step – I have many reasons to count my blessings as I chart my course through the month ahead.
By Ann Rennie