This article was first published around the March equinox four years ago. Winter 2014 has been long here in Maryland. The clocks have sprung forward and the sunset sprawls wide in the evening—but yesterday it was only 43°F and we’re not yet sure whether spring is here to stay.
“Spring Cleaning” surfaced when I reviewed my March 2010 journals and posts during my birthday month reflections last week, and publishing it again after such a long snow season seems a fitting way to honor this phase in the inexorable turning of the Earth.
When I was small, it was common for people to talk about spring cleaning and mean it literally. We threw open the windows, aired our homes, gave away old clothes, and started walking off any “winter baggage.” I still feel extra fresh during spring, especially when I see the sun hanging in the sky a little longer, and the first few buds breaking out on the branches outside.
I prefer to start my new year in March, rather than in January. By March the mainstream “new year resolution” fever has worn off, and I no longer have to hear what TV breakfast show hosts think I should change about myself. The popular spotlight has moved to some other issue, and I can enjoy my month without a million contradictory voices clamoring for my allegiance. I can be still, and watch the trees.
When the trees outside begin to blossom, they’re not blossoming because someone voted to permit it. The trees follow a pattern that God laid down in their cell biology, a pattern that unfolds via wind, sun, rain, soil, and time. Every spring, after the dead quiet of winter, that pattern pushes out new twigs, leaves, petals. Soon buds open, and fruits appear. Whether humans cultivate the land or leave it to rest, this is a reliable order.
Writer Oriah Mountain Dreamer once presented a graduation speech to her former high school, and she describes how uncertain she was about what to say. (Graduation speeches are notoriously difficult to write: everyone remembers if a speech is bad, but whether it is good or bad, no one remembers what was said.)
Speaking to graduates who were ready to leave their most awkward years behind, she said:
“‘Your parents and teachers and others who care about you, in an effort to prepare you for life, have told you a story about who you are and what you can and should do. Now, it’s your job to sift through all of what you have been given and decide what is useful to you and what is not. Because… a lot of what you have been taught has nothing to do with you.’
There was a short stunned silence followed by a smattering of polite applause.”
I wonder how many parents left that ceremony pleased with this speech! Not even friends like to be told that their opinions aren’t helpful, and all of us grow by being willing to learn. Yet when every passing soul has an opinion about your unfolding, how do you filter the voices?
I think Job’s story is marvelous not only because he didn’t curse God, but also because he didn’t curse his friends. His friends explained his upturned life as just punishment, but God judged that they didn’t have a clue about Job or his circumstances. No doubt they intended well, but their good intentions only gave their words more power to undermine Job’s confidence in the one Authority that held him steady. Instead of cursing his friends, though, Job offered sacrifices for them; he acted in favor of those who believed him wicked and out of step with his Redeemer. He trusted God to balance the scales, and held onto God’s pattern in him.
When I look outside each spring, I see all of creation following its pattern, and I remember this very simple prayer from R. Lionel Blue: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, king of the universe, who has made me as He wanted me.”
What does spring teach you? What are some of the things you do to clear your mind and life as the seasons change?