Searching for Signs

I’m gathering prayers for the days of Holy Week that I hope to put on The Edge of the Enclosure I’m listening to hours and hours of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and the St. John’s Passion while culling the librettos for the gorgeous prayers commenting on the passion texts. I spent all morning looking at renaissance art renderings of the crucifixion, deposition, and lamentation on internet art sites. Books lie open upon every surface of my study.

But I also went out and raked the front of St. Aidan’s until my back ached. The chickens could have scraped the ground more effectively and in half the time. Womblike sheaths of skunk cabbage unravel throughout the day in the black bog above St. Aidan’s. The woodcock returned for spring and a bluebird scouts the nesting boxes near the hen-house. Bill and I ate supper outside on the white Adirondack chairs for the first time this year.

I toured the farm looking for emerging plants. A cluster of purple crocuses bloomed brightly all week in front of the kitchen at St. Cuthbert’s, but today two slender white blossoms opened to the warm sun. A few days ago I raked the kitchen garden and the scent of sage, mint, oregano, thyme and savory rose like incense from the winter debris. 

My friends in Texas tell me the bluebonnets cover the fields. I remember California springs lasting about an hour and a half each year. But in the Northeast winter lingers through Lent offering only gradually unfolding tokens of promise; the scent of warming earth, the hidden sap rising in the trees, hints of changing birdsong, thin slips of green breaking through the dusty palatte of grays, sepias, and browns.

I wonder if the agonizingly long wait for spring influences my prayer? Waiting, noticing, searching for hidden signs amidst grays and browns and dust? My soul’s Lents last for years at a time waiting for signs of resurrection.

But I rake skeletal leaves and the scent promises rare flavors in our summer suppers. In early spring I recognize each tender shoot and memories of rich blossoms illuminates my imagination.The books teach me what to look for. But the garden teaches me how to look.

2 Responses to “Searching for Signs”

  1. Ann McElligott Says:

    I grew up in Minnesota where spring unfolded slowly as you so beautifully described. The brave crocuses often popped their heads often through the snow; even if the snow had melted, there was danger that the snow would return and threaten their exuberant optimism.

    My surprising life in the church took me to Australia for seven years followed by four years in Hawaii. Suddenly I was without the northern hemisphere signs of spring through which to see, smell, and hear the sleeping world unfolding into life.

    Even in these foreign environments, I found new signs in nature that spoke to the to the Lent and Easter season. Lent was a time of harvest rather than of new growth, of winnowing for service rather than bursting forth unmatured. I found I needed to preach the resurrection as fulfillment and maturity — it is finished, completed.

    Now back in North America [Oregon] I am once again in the gentle roll of the seasons of my earlier years. Your meditation reminded me of how grateful I am both to have experienced alternative understandings and to have been brought home for my final years.

    • ammaguthrie Says:

      Anne – I first noticed the seasons of the church year when I moved to Texas. That is, the liturgical seasons separated from what I knew as the progression of seasons around me in the Northeast. But it was then that I noticed the mysticism of the seasons – advent=conversion and purgation, Christmas=’first night’, Epiphany=illumination, Lent= Dark Night of the Sense, Easter=First Union, Ascension=Dark Night of the Soul, Pentecost=Apostolic Union. I’ve contemplated the seasons this way ever since.

      After visiting New Zealand I always think of the Southern Hemisphere, and wonder how preachers manage with the church year especially in Advent and in Lent. Thank you for that insight! Thank you so much for your comment. Suzanne

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