Friday, April 25, 2008

In preparation for Spring

In the prelude to her latest book, Grace (Eventually), Annie Lamott says, "I knew that if you had the eyes to see there was beauty everywhere, even when nature was barren or sloppy, and not just when God had tarted things up for the spring."

Though the temperature this morning was in the low 30's again, God has definitely begun "tarting things up for spring": you can hear it in the birdsongs, smell it in the air, see it in the delicious pale yellow-green of the trees that line the roadside. There is a feeling of release: people walk with a lighter step, the teenage girls are returning to their flip-flops, garage doors open and boxes are cleared away, sent to the dump, recycling, or goodwill.

It all seems as natural and effortless as the appearance of the goslings on our beach: one day the mama goose is sitting on her nest at the end of our boardwalk, and then, sometime in the night, the goslings peck away their shells and the next morning they are paddling gently along the edges of the lagoon.

If only birth -- and the rebirth of transformation -- were as easy for us. We look around us and see the exultant explosion of life and color and forget the long cold dark winter that nurtures all that color and light; much as a the soft burden of a new baby nuzzling a mother's breast erases most of the memory of the nine long months of waiting and the almost unbearable suffering of the birth process.

It's only when we're in the throes of it -- the waiting, the birthing -- that it seems endless. And it's when the transformation process is at its worst that we begin to question why we ever began at all. As CS Lewis says in Mere Christianity, "I wonder what an ordinary baby would do if it had the choice. It might prefer to stay in the dark and warmth and safety of the womb. For of course it would think the womb meant safety. That would be just where it was wrong: for if it stays there it will die."

From the outside, watching the pregnant woman crossing the street, or as the midwife assisting the birthing process, we have the eyes to see the beauty of what is happening and is to come. Watching our friends and our children struggle, we know with confidence that spring and rebirth will emerge on the other side of the challenges. It is only when the struggle is our own that we lose that ability to see.

But I think we need that utter darkness, when all the familiar paths disappear, when we are totally lost, to learn that there is another way to see, another path to follow, and the soft invitation of a new dawn to light the way.

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