Saturday, April 3, 2010

In the garden

I started to write this blog post yesterday, on Good Friday. It was going to have a different title then, and was to be about how the crisis (wait, what’s the plural?) in my life has turned into a sharp and piercing crisis of faith. And, no, the timing wasn’t intentional. I’m not that smart or wise or spiritually evolved.

In fact, where faith goes, I’m pretty much a child. I’ve been graced with moments when the numinous has reached for me, gotten my attention, amazed me and then allowed me to go back to playing. I’ve felt the warm embrace of the Divine many times, even when I wasn’t seeking it. I’ve been comforted and protected and loved. I’m not saying my life has been unmarked by grief or sorrows or ugliness. It has. But through most of it, I’ve felt accompanied.

This Lent? A great silence has haunted my prayer. It’s reached deep, with cold ghostly fingers. I’ve been walking around with a hole in my chest where my heart used to be. And it might as well be said, I’ve been pretty angry at God about it.

Yes, I know. I’ve already elicited one priest’s horrified response when I told him that. It takes a prodigious amount of arrogance to get mad at God, doesn’t it? I’ve admitted to the arrogance in another blog post, so I’m not going to get into it here. But the anger, I think, stems from another -- related but distinct -- nature: surety. Surety is more childish than arrogance, somehow more innocent and trusting. Surety has faith.

Yup. Faith. Amid a crisis of faith.

I can have my tantrums, my long moments of doubt, my crises because I know, eventually, Good Friday gives way to Easter. Soon, the stone gets rolled away from the bitter, silent tomb and opens to a promise upheld. The promise that, beyond all human expectation, hope and love persists. That it endures forever.

And it has nothing to do with deserving or not deserving.

Yesterday, amid my obligations, I walked around and saw that despite the destructive intensity of this past winter, our daffodils and sorrel have broken through the ground that held them during the fallow season. The hydrangeas have popped tender green buds on dead brown stalks. The spring peepers are singing, glad to be out from their hibernation in the muddy depths of the pond. Whole battalions of variously-spotted ladybugs zoom around making that distinctive whirring noise beetles make when they fly.

Inside, I rediscovered a song given to me as a gift years ago, when I had been feeling similarly bereft (I want to say when I was berefting -- because it really should be a verb). The song is “In the garden” by Van Morrison, and though the lyrics are as twisty as a Gordian Knot, this is the refrain: Listen. No guru, no method, no teacher. Just you and I, in nature. And the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, in the garden.

It’s impossible for a Christian to hear about “the garden” this time of year and not hear a reference to the Garden of Gethsemane where the Christ’s human companions fail Him -- abandoning themselves to sleep for fear of being abandoned by the Divine as they have known it. It’s impossible for a Christian at any time of year to hear about “the garden” and not hear a reference to the Garden of Eden, where the human children fail the Father -- abandoning themselves to a fall for fear that love will not be enough. And still, the song is lovely, a paean to the way the Divine is always present -- in sadness and incertitude, in joy and celebration. Even when we are at our most fearful, and in middle of our gravest failures.

We continue to fail in all sorts of human ways. We fear to fly so we choose to fall. There are deaths, both literal and figurative; large and small. We fear that we will remain in the sere of winter -- abandoned to it without mercy. And yet, we yearly experience that the love really is unending and that we will not be forsaken. That like the daffodils, we can break through hard ground again and turn our faces to the glad sun. That like the tiny frogs with their big voices -- and me with my Van Morrison rediscovery -- we’ll find our song and have cause to rejoice anew.

I’m glad to be writing this on the Easter Vigil. I’ve always liked vigils, with their flickering candlelight heralding the next dawn. I understand the way the light from candles sometimes seems near to guttering out, then blazes up again. I like that the candles’ smallness doesn’t prevent them from casting their pools of light onto upturned faces. They’re no suns, but they puncture the dark and get us through until the greater light can bathe us in its warmth.

At tonight’s Masses (unbelievably long ones, by the way) all the candidates and catechumens who have chosen to step forward in faith will stand before their family and friends and God. They will do so with the comforting, encouraging hands of those who have helped them get there on their shoulders.

We don’t have to be candidates or catechumens to need those hands on our shoulders. The hands aren’t always physical, and they aren’t always the hands we expect to be there. Sometimes, their touch is so light, so ethereal and evanescent we can’t even feel them.

But they’re there all the same.

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