Winter grows into spring about as smoothly as children mature into adults, including a time of ragged adolescence when moods change from moment to moment. A few weeks ago it was prematurely spring, with record-breaking high temperatures here in Pittsburgh. The next week it was winter again. Magnolia blossoms clamped themselves back shut. Daffodils braved a dusting of late snow.
But one afternoon during that early spring I saw something marvelous as I sat here at my work table in the Beadery. It had been a day of thunderstorms and skies the color of asphalt, but suddenly the sun struck me straight in the eyes: it had cleared off to the west. I turned quickly to see if there was a rainbow to the east, as there sometimes is. There was no rainbow, but something equally lovely and surprising: the sun was illuminating the barely budding out trees, dramatic against the dull gray sky.
A moment later and it was gone.
But I had seen it. And it set me to pondering.
How is it that, in the time it takes to sneeze, the world can change from black and white to living color, and then back again? How can things appear so different, and yet not change at all?
It was the light, of course. And the dark background.
If the sky had been entirely clear, the sunlit trees would not have stood out so dramatically. It needed the darkness, the contrast. Without the darkness, the effect of the light cannot be seen as clearly.
Without a background in life of struggle, and pain survived, we can’t as fully delight in the reappearance of peace, of joy, of well being.
Here is the 18th century poem that inspired the title of this blog, by English poet William Cowper. I’ve taken the liberty of expanding the understanding of God by using feminine pronouns instead of the original male pronouns. Alas, I could not figure any way to make the first line more inclusive. Still, it is a lovely piece, especially during the changeable days of spring, and against a background of life that has held suffering. Darkness can’t completely overcome such surprising Light.
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises with healing in Her wings:
When comforts are declining, She grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.
In holy contemplation we sweetly then pursue
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new.
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow bring with it what it may.
It can bring with it nothing but She will bear us through;
Who gives the lilies clothing will clothe Her people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed;
And She Who feeds the ravens will give Her children bread.
Though vine nor fig tree neither their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the field should wither, nor flocks nor herds be there;
Yet God the same abiding, Her praise shall tune my voice,
For while in Her confiding, I cannot but rejoice.
Blessings of this Holy Week and Easter, and the vernal equinox. L’chaim!
Kris Haig — artisan, teacher, spiritual director