“The long hard winter has broken at last – not as yet in much sign on the earthward side but in the late afternoon yesterday the great cumulus clouds sank away, and in their place lay long horizontal bars, one above the other, dove-grey touched with pale apricot, upon the tender eggshell blue of the eastern sky. They are a harbinger of spring out here, that I have never known to fail.” 24 January 1927
Spring returns to Central Florida. Or at least first signs of the same. While one could hardly call it a “hard long winter,” compared to much of our country, there definitely has been a period of dormancy punctuated with stretches of chill even in our subtropical clime. So it is with a lift of joy that we welcome signs of new life – “harbingers of spring” – that signal new beginnings: tight new buds on our rose bushes. . . trees leafing out forcing off last season’s remnants of withered leaves. . . grass filling in bare patches with green. . . a tiny yellow-bellied goldfinch flitting from branch to branch, trilling its song of praise. . . .
And with Spring comes a sense of renewal. The return of green and budding flowers brings a freshness of spirit and renewed energy. Some, like my mother, welcome spring with a brisk full-blown housecleaning – attic to basement – emptying bookcases and dusting each book, scrubbing walls and woodwork, washing windows and putting up screens, even switching out heavy drapery for gauzy organdy curtains to billow in the sweet spring breeze. Then the big finish: placing rich soil in old window boxes and filling them with young plants and fresh greenery.
I wonder if God intended the cycle of seasons to trigger within our spirits a like renewal? George Herbert in his beloved poem, “The Flower”, wrote: “How fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean/Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring,” suggesting that the same “returns” of His creation – “flowers in spring” – are possible in the souls of His creatures.
Surely God purposed us to see Him through His Design – much as, yet ever more profoundly, we see the artist through his or her consummate work be it a building, a painting, a quilt.
One of the perks of researching the life of Lilias has been “conversations” – phone, email, letter – with the few remaining people who actually knew her or knew people who did. Today I had yet another conversation with a woman in London who, with her husband, are the only living members of the original Algiers Mission Band. While they came to Algeria several decades after the death of Lilias, they lived in her home, Dar Naama, in the suburbs of Algiers. They worked with people who knew Lilias intimately having served alongside her for many years.
At the end of our conversation, I put down my figurative list of questions, and asked: “What would you like to tell me about Lilias? What would you want people to know? Without the slightest hesitation she said, “Love. Lilias was loved by the Arab people – and they knew that their “La La Lily” loved them. But you can’t talk about Lilias can you, without noting her love of beauty, of nature. She rejoiced that God called her to a land of such beauty. And she believed that God’s created order pointed back to The Creator – that we could learn about God through the beauty and design of His natural world.”
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” exulted Gerard Manley Hopkins in one of his finest poems. He notes man’s ill-treatment of the earth but concludes:
“And for all of this, nature is never spent:
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things,
And through the last lights of the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs –
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
The rhythms of nature – night followed by day, the predictable seasons of each year – provide renewal and fresh starts in the physical world. They also suggest the same in the world of the spirit. Even as we open the windows of our houses to receive a fresh spring breeze, we can open the doors of our hearts to the refreshment that come from the sweet breath of the Holy Spirit: His “nature never spent.”
We know the bit of housecleaning our souls require, the refurbishing of our minds, the planting of new life in the spirit. Let us turn off our smart phones, take off our headphones and be attentive to the world around us. What does God want us to see? What “new thing” does He want to do in our lives?
The day is yours,
and yours also the night;
you established the sun and moon.
It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth;
you made both summer and winter.
Painting: Travel Journal 1894