It was a winter that made unbelievers of us all. It had snowed, was snowing and would snow in aeternam; it was dark, and would be dark, cold and would be cold. The earth had tilted away from the sun, and kept tilting, falling out of the arms of gravity into endless space. Soon our candles would be burned down to stubs, our woodpiles depleted and our root cellars empty. That which had fallen into the earth would slumber there forever.
I stared at my camera. Why bother ? I had a few free hours, but, honestly, how many pictures can one take of dead knotweed, crumbling swallowwort and mouldering bittersweet ? The day had clouded over, the clouds were spitting rain, and the wind was getting colder. Friday had been bright, almost balmy; spring, as usual, was vacillating. Backsliding, even.
I decided to go to the river. It was, after all, just a few blocks away, behind the grocery where I needed to go later, anyway. A walk would do me good. It had been a long Holy Week, and the week back to work had been arduous. I was tired. I would get some air. Air was good, right ? Or, sometimes bad -- hadn't a slew of patients the week before evoked drafts blowing across bare heads and other vicissitudes of the air as the source of their ills ? Mal-aria, as it were ? Well, I was after some bonair, some salubrious, cobweb-clearing misma. Easter Sunday had come and gone, but creation seemed to be lagging behind, infested with the same I could live in a world of Lent as I'd been feeling a few weeks back.
Lent was indeed over. I was finding it hard to go back to the things I'd given up for Lent -- the rabidly opinionated political blogs I'd been compulsively reading since the Clinton impeachment, and soymilk icecream. I'd even stopped reading the blogs and listserves documenting the minutiae of the travails of the Anglican Communion. And I felt amazingly better. There's only so much snark and vituperation that a body can take. And only so much soy icecream.
There was still a mountain of snow in the parkinglot near the river -- maybe 15 feet high, encrusted with road dirt, and laced with trash. But beyond it, the river was full and swift and the geese milling about, madly honking. I felt my heart leap. Coming to the river is always a homecoming. This is where I learned to see. This is where seeing led me deeper into the Mysterious Ground of Being, the Source and End of All, the Ground from which faith springs, an exuberant assent.
But Easter is not just about the end of winter and the coming of spring; God is not simply Creator and Ground, easter bunny and easter eggs. God is also redeemer and sanctifier; God is with us, with suffering humanity, within history: Christ, God Incarnate, the Word. Like us, scandalously particular; unlike us, without blemish. Like us, of suffering flesh; unlike us, of pure Love, absolute mercy, and absolutely without vengeance. Who died an atrocious death at the hands of social, political and religious elites out to preserve their own power and status -- hands like our hands. Who forgave, infinitely and abundantly, even as he died on the cross.
And who has been resurrected.
That's the Mystery, the central koan of Christianity. God operating within history and human concourse, not just in the revivifying woods and by the rushing river. A Word signifying a thing of infinite, inexpressable complexity -- a word, a music, an icon, an encyclopedia, a teacher, an example, a call, a lovesong, a cry -- a Word that is the answer to all the badly phrased, stumbling, half-formed questions of the human heart: Who am I ? Where am I going ? Where have I come from ? And why, oh why, oh why ? Why pain, why suffering, why grief, why loss, why anything at all ?
All around me were strokes of green -- leaves, grass, the early mustards, some even flowering white. The red, complicated knotweed stalks were pushing up everywhere. There was no doubting it now. Spring, inexorable, was underway, uprushing like a juggernaut from its hidden places. I saw and I believed.
Gratitude welled up. The God of Genesis was right: it is good, this thing, life, our life, the life of fellow creatures. It is good, and astonishing and a gift. I watched a tiny gnat poised within a newly unfurled leaf. I thought of the expansion of my own life-with-others that was occurring since I'd joined the church. That was a like a springtime, too, a resurrection.
Yes, I was glad I'd decided to come to the river. It never disappoints. As many springtimes as I've walked its banks, it still seems new and astonishing. May it always be so. And may that other river remain as fresh to me --
...then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as a crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the street of the City...
as they both flow, side by side, one crystal, one brown, through the middle of Waltham, Massachusetts.