One of the great joys of living in the same house for twenty-five years was growing a garden and, at this time of year in particular, I would be revelling in the signs of new life.
The snowdrops are usually the first ones to peep out from the apparently barren ground. I had them arranged in clumps around the trunk of a gnarled old apple tree near the shed at the bottom of the garden. I had made this whole secluded area into a feast of spring colour. After the snowdrops, the crocuses appear, as if from nowhere, out of the lawn. At one side a strip of yellow crocuses, on another side purple ones. A bit later on, in another bit of that lawn, there will emerge dwarf daffodils, and by the trunk of a different apple tree will be a host of brightly coloured anemones. These include some ‘St Brigid’s’ amemones that I was given as a gift. Then, along the fence, that great harbinger of Spring, the forsythia, will burst forth in its yellow brilliance.
Finally, the tall red tulips arrive to complete the incredible show. Meanwhile, the buds will appear on those apple trees and on the other trees and bushes and, bit by bit, break into leaf. And they are followed in turn by the rose bushes and the clematises, which had looked lifeless over the winter.
In the Christian faith, death and new life are closely tied together. And there’s a line in the bible, spoken by Jesus, that is challenging yet surely has an element of truth, especially when we look at our gardens: ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies it bears much fruit.’ In the garden, and so too in our own lives, sometimes things need to die before new life can emerge. In the winter, after the leaves have fallen and withered and everything in the garden looks completely bare, it’s hard to believe that new life could come. But come it does. Those snowdrops are out again, this annual miracle is underway and I’m looking forward to another great show!
And on this theme I’ll finish with a few words from an Australian poet Michael Leunig, some of whose prayer poems have, I know, come from places of deep darkness in his own life:
Dear God, we celebrate Spring’s returning and the rejuvenation of the natural world. Let us be moved by this vast and gentle insistence that goodness shall return, that warmth and life shall succeed, and help us to understand our place within this miracle. Let us see that as a bird now builds its nest, bravely, with bits and pieces, so we must build human faith. It is our simple duty; it is the highest art; it is our natural and vital role within the miracle of spring; the creation of faith.