And when the winter is over
The flowers climb through the snow
The willows weep and the clover grows
And all at once you hear a song
That’s stronger than the noise
– Andrew Peterson, “Rejoice“
Most mornings of the week, my phone plays “Rejoice” to a darkened room.
I meant to change it at some point, I think, and more than once I smiled sleepily at the unseasonable theme as it woke me the week of Thanksgiving — and then Christmas — and New Year’s Day — but I never did grow tired of the song.
I’ve been waking to it all winter.
Last weekend I bought vegetable seeds for the garden. The grocery store had all the packets I’d been waiting to buy online.
Such delicious names: Bumble Bee striped tomatoes, Carnival blend carrots, Black Beauty zucchini.
It didn’t matter that an icy northern wind bore down on me as soon as I stepped out of the store. I hadn’t thought I would look forward to planting so eagerly again, but my father helped me clean out the yard at the end of his recent visit, and the resulting sight set me thinking about what could come into being this year — in the form of vegetables, and especially flowers.
My suspicions of the past two years are proving true for a third time: Easter — and by association, Lent — is my favorite time of year.
Lent here is a quieter time than Advent, and preparation for it has tended to be a private affair for me. I haven’t tried yet in these mothering years to lay traditions, hold to a strict reading schedule for the season, or come up with activities for the children, though those days may come soon. I do want to be more intentional this year, and will be laying aside some usual privileges, and taking up a few small disciplines of time and thought.
But whatever the chosen exercises, I’ve found that gravity is already present in these forty days, in the passages that describe Jesus’s approach to Jerusalem. There is space to consider the silent and sorrowful hours passed by Joseph of Arimathea as he prepared Christ’s body for the grave — how beautiful that act of service, how precious the promises remembered. In this season I’ve often had moments to retreat from the hum of household matters and sit in the awareness of grace.
I love that Easter coincides with the return of Spring and green and growing things (or ought to — our weather has an independent streak!) in our hemisphere.
Easter Sunday is for me the breathtaking expression of the promise, every year, that daybreak is coming, and it is especially beautiful when I think of those who bear the weight of depression and anxiety and illness and sorrow and grief right now. At this time of year, I remember that something as momentous as the Stone Table cracking in Narnia actually happened — and all the joy and heartbreak and longing swell into fullness for me then. I suppose you could say the effect has worked backwards: because Easter is so momentous, Lent has become more wonderful to me as a season to ponder why.
It’s a time for stillness, and sorrow, and beauty.
My favorite stories are often ones whose endings I love — endings that give a proportionate answer to the great conflicts and struggles that precede them. Sometimes I walk more slowly through my rereadings because I know the payoff will be rich.
Recently I was arrested by something a commentator said during the Winter Olympics opening ceremony:
Six hundred years old, “Arirang”. . . is a song about sadness and sorrow and separation, and how even in the most tragic moments you can find a glimpse of beauty.
Just listen to the voice of singer Kim Nam-ji and you can hear it, beautiful and sad at exactly the same time. That is Arirang.
Director Song told us the heart of this ceremony was hope: the idea of what might blossom. And here you see the blossoming of buckwheat flowers, so common in the province, and such a part of South Korean life.
There is nothing inherently beautiful about tragedy. But this observation about “Arirang” and the approach of Lent and Easter remind me that sorrow and beauty go together when a story is about hope.
Through [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:2, ESV)
This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us. Already we have some experience of the love of God flooding through our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, Phillips)
Hope. As I type the word I hear a certain preschooler’s cold-dampened voice singing “For De Beaudy of De Earth” and “Id Christ Alone” (and now “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Do, Re, Mi”) with aplomb upstairs, and I have to smile.
The days are lengthening. The empty shelves over the kitchen table are going to fill up with flowers again. The rose stems outside will unfurl serrated leaves again. The little shoes by the back door shall tromp once more through the grass and over sun-warmed bricks. And even if, by some greater provision, these things should not come to pass… we who have shed tears will laugh.
Someday the last of our sorrows will give way like seed-husks unsheathing pure joy.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
It is a reminder of our mortality.
it is the sound of a note starting low in the hour before dawn and blooming out in a lightless space, rustling, warming, fluttering the sight awake.
And when the winter is over…