Lenten Journey – On Forsythia and Hope


“You can cut branches of forsythia before they bloom and bring them inside and they will bloom quicker.” 

It was Western Easter a few years ago and we were at my mom and dad’s. Large branches of forsythia were in a vase on the windowsill, bright with yellow blossoms that defied the remains of winter outside. I still remember how surprised I was at my mom’s words; how surprised I was that I didn’t know this before.

Forsythia is the first plant to bloom in the Northeast. Its buds begin turning to stunning yellow flowers as the first days of spring arrive.

I remember my mom’s words as I put large branches into a white pitcher and smaller ones into a jar. The buds shyly peek out and I imagine them to be scared; scared that if they make a commitment and leave their plant cocoon, they will be betrayed by our fickle weather. I know how they feel. I know this is anthropomorphizing at its finest, but I don’t care. I still imagine we are comrades in our fight against winter’s never end date.

I realize as I arrange the branches that I am desperate for forsythia – desperate for a sign of spring, a sign of hope, a sign of new life. When all around feels dead, when relationships feel strained without reason, when I anxiously look toward the horizon, longing for Pascha when it is still Lent – this is when I need forsythia. This is when I need hope, this is when I need to know that what I see now is not the end of the story.

So my husband cuts large branches of forsythia and we stick them in water. We force them to bloom. We look for bright, beautiful yellow blossoms to fill our house and our lives.

…I need to know that what I see now is not the end of the story.

Often healing begins by embracing beauty, by voicing gratitude for the amazing signs of life that surround us, by expressing thanks for what is, instead of longing for what is not.

So we resolutely cut and arrange the forsythia, waiting for bright, yellow blossoms to fill the room.

And we begin to hope.

Surprised by Spring

  
My heart’s been in a bit of a dither. I’ve had a strange week.

Last Friday afternoon was a tad unsettling. I was a part of a conversation that misfired. We couldn’t seem to connect. I kept misunderstanding her and I could tell that caused frustration.

Saturday I felt keenly my foreignness. Kansas was caucusing. I hardly know what that means and even my ignorance highlighted the fact that I clearly do not belong. Certainly I cannot vote. To be honest Donald Trump’s continued success is completely disconcerting. This is a year I’d love to be able to vote.

On Sunday I had a strange experience at church where I felt the tightening grip of anxiety in my chest just as I was about to go into to teach the elementary school kids the Bible story. I had a difficult time breathing. That has never happened to me before. I love those kids. Teaching is what I do. I hid in a bathroom stall for a few minutes, wiped tears from my eyes, took long deep drinks of oxygen and said some breath prayers. As quickly as it had surfaced, it was gone. I was fine. I went in and with animation retold the incredible miracle story of Lazarus dead and then Lazarus alive! But the anxiety freaked me out. It seemed so un-Robynn. What was happening to me?

Still the week wasn’t over. On Wednesday we received disturbing financial news from the non-profit we work for. They’ve been switching computer systems and the status of our account hasn’t been accurately reflected in our online statements. The weakened Canadian dollar, sending our son to university, my own studies in spiritual direction all have taken their toll. The deficit in our account is discombobulating to say the least.

My dad has been in and out of the ER the past couple of weeks. He has had kidney stones again this week and a strange and stubborn infection. Our youngest daughter hasn’t been feeling well. The middle one has been consumed with her future—career choices and college, ACT scores and the pressures of AP classes have kept her brain abuzz. There’s been some relational stresses simmering and those are never pleasant.

In the middle of this week, suddenly, we were surprised by spring. While the noises of the week were deafening my soul and doing their best to stomp out hope, spring silently tiptoed in. Lowell was on the front porch and he called to me to come look. Across the street, in full dress uniform, stood a magnolia tree dripping with huge pink corsages! I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before. Suddenly I had eyes to see. Daffodils and jonquils are peeking out mischievously. There’s a creeping bush next door that now boasts tiny coral pink flowers. Forsythia, the prophet bush that always announces the arrival of spring, is glorious and golden, and has popped out with a burst of yellow all over town.

There is consolation in the predictable rhythms of nature. Winter is over. Spring is here. We will have summer. We will see fall. Faithfully the seasons remind us of order and calm. Hope pushes through the dormant soil of winter, past the dead leaves of last year’s autumn and bursts into bloom again. Spring celebrates new life and the power of resurrection. The old is gone. The new is come. As quickly as this week’s stresses surfaced, they are quieted. I will be fine. Spring came in and with great animation retold the incredible story of the earth dead and then the earth alive! Miracles never cease.

   
    
    
 

All was Well

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It’s 5:30 in the morning and the street is quiet, save the birds who are singing their morning song with joyful abandon. I hear the sounds of distant traffic, because this is the city and the city never stops.

It is now warm enough to sit outside in the early morning light, surrounded by soft noise of morning. My coffee is in my hand, my thoughts in my head, and I am at peace. What is it about this hour of the morning that comforts and assures me that all will be well? 

It has been a full weekend. On Thursday and Friday my husband and I attended a colloquium called “Orthodox Christianity and Humanitarianism: Ideas and Action in the Contemporary World.” We were humbled and challenged by all we heard. The brain cells alone were staggering, but they were combined with front line responses from those involved in the ongoing struggles in Ukraine, Syria, and Gaza. The need is indescribable and the challenge undeniable. Though our world moves on, these needs have not gone away. But first, every speaker affirmed that we do this because we are made in the image of God, and we have a responsiblity to see both the image of God and potential in each person we encounter. I am humbled realizing that I can often do this with refugees but struggle to do the same with my neighbors.

The rest of the weekend was full of chores and family. Mother’s day – that socially constructed holiday that I love – was warm and lovely, with two of my five children home to celebrate with me. We ate chicken korma and goat curry, sauce dribbling down our chins, our noses running from the deliciousness of it all.

Last night we sat on our porch until late in the night. My friend Heather is a new mom and brought her baby. We got to hold eight pounds of perfect, watching his little mouth scrunch up into a subconscious smile in his sleep. We laughed, knowing he is probably dreaming of a giant breast full of milk.

And now it is Monday. The world has woken to a new day, and I am a part of it. I know it will be a busy week, I know that I need all God’s strength and grace to work well. But right now, in this early morning hour with all the colors of spring surrounding me, I think of the last lines of the Harry Potter series and I smile. “All was well.”

Talking About Hope

A light rain falls on my way into work. The pavements that only a few weeks ago were piled high with dirty snow are now clear, even the puddles are gone. Spring is in the air.

The winter has taken its toll. Everyone you meet is oh so tired. They speak of going to bed at nine at night and still waking up exhausted. But there is hope. Hope in clear sidewalks. Hope is shrinking piles of dirty, pollution-filled snow. Hope in rising temperatures. Hope in goslings and geese. Hope in new babies and new life.

Three years ago I wrote about hope being in middle of the well-known verse from the Bible in the New Testament book of Corinthians:  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.”* I wrote these words and I remember them today: 

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I’ve often wondered why ‘hope’ is in the middle. There’s faith on the one side – faith in all its strength, setting a foundation. There’s love at the end – love as a benediction, a blessing, put at the end and recognized as the greatest of the three. Then there’s hope. And hope is in the middle. It is neither foundation nor benediction.

Its place in the verse is symbolic of hope’s greatest gift, for hope is most needed in the middle. I need hope most when I am in the middle of a crisis. At the beginning my adrenaline kicks in and I run on autopilot doing what I need to do to survive.  Towards the end of a crisis, I know I have gone through the worst and I have survived. But in the middle? In the tunnel that is the middle I am at the end of myself. There seems to be no future, no help, no hope. This, then, is where I need hope.

Hope in the middle of chemotherapy for cancer.

Hope in the middle of the nightmare of losing a child.

Hope in the middle of a messy divorce.

Hope in the middle of addiction recovery.

Hope in the middle of the night when echoes of loss or sadness keep us from sleep.

Hope in the middle of a move, the middle of the journey, the middle of life, the middle of chaos. Hope.

So there is hope. Hope in the middle; the in between where spring is not quite here but winter has gone.

And for me, what in my faith tradition is the greatest hope of all – the season of Lent. A season that leads me through denial of self, to death on a cross, to that hope of all hopes – a glorious resurrection.

*1 Corinthians 13:13a

far and wee – thoughts on spring from a lower case poet

forsythia eecummings

I feel like winter has reverberated across the globe this year.

Whether it be friends in Germany where the sun did not shine for weeks or friends in Minnesota, trapped in ‘always winter, never Christmas‘, or friends in the eternal summer of Djibouti that would give anything for the cool, freshness of this unknown season, we have all longed for spring. Two years ago I wrote this post but I resurrect it today. Because today the wind outside feels mighty cold and I am in a winter coat. But the colors are fighting with the temperature, for in their brilliance they proclaim to the world that it is spring in Boston.

So enjoy this post – and a happy spring from me and e.e. cummings. (In that order because he’s dead.)

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Spring in Boston deserves a post every year, for no matter what the winter has held, be it a snow fall of 85 inches or dreary rain and cold grey, spring in all its glory casts a spell on the city. Yesterday was a balmy 70 degrees with hardly a cloud in the sky and today promises more of the same.

Forsythia and crocuses are the first to bring the promise of warmer weather and are a welcome color against the dead of grass and limb. Soon after come leaves of hedges and other perennials, added to the landscape the way an artist dips their paintbrush into colors of paint and with broad strokes creates color out of nothing. The banks of the Charles River enjoy foot and bike traffic as people emerge from the cocoons of their dorm rooms and homes to breathe deeply and feel the warmth of spring. Even drivers forget their Boston angst and road rage for a short moment. Everyone thaws.

Who better to bring us thoughts of spring than the poet e.e. cummings, native to this area? e.e. cummings was born in Cambridge and we have driven past his house many times. He went to Cambridge public schools, graduating from the same high school that my two youngest children have attended. Author of thousands of poems as well as novels, essays and plays, e.e. cummings had a magical way of weaving words and creating poetry. As temperatures rise and spring becomes official I’ll leave you with the magic of spring as expressed by this lower-case poet.

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i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

[in Just-]

bY e.e.cummings

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it’s
spring
and
         the
                  goat-footed
balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee

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Stacy’s muffins for today are inspired by her daughter Cecilie! Take a look here for her Mom-Bro muffins! http://www.foodlustpeoplelove.com/2014/04/mom-bro-coconut-energy-muffins.htmlEnhanced by Zemanta

Forcing Forsythia

This year, for the first time, we forced forsythia.

Let me explain.

Forsythia is the first plant to bloom in these parts. Its buds begin turning to stunning yellow flowers as the first days of spring arrive.

But this year has been cold.

Much colder than normal. And so the forsythia stayed put, afraid to come out of its plant cocoon, staying inside lest the cold kill or harm it.

We went to my mom’s house for Easter in New York state and she had bright branches of forsythia on her windowsill in a vase. “Your forsythia is blooming” we cried! “Ours still hasn’t come out”

We were desperate for forsythia – a sign of spring, a sign of hope, a sign of new life. The fall and winter felt like they have held so much that is not life-giving, much walking in the dark, feeling around for markers on the journey. We wanted forsythia. We wanted spring.

My mom replied that her forsythia was not yet blooming either. “You know” she said “You can cut the branches and it will bloom inside”. We had no idea.

So we did. My husband cut large branches and we stuck them in water. We forced them to bloom. We brought them in, put them in a warmer spot and in two days we had bright, beautiful yellow blossoms.

We had forced the forsythia to bloom and brighten our lives.

I’m not sure all the lessons in this. But I know this – sometimes, when all around me seems dead and ugly, I need to force forsythia. I need to do something to force growth, to create change, to bring beauty.

When all around us seemed dead, we needed to force forsythia to see signs of new life.

This week marks a new beginning. A healing of Cambridge and Boston, the cities where I both live and work. Since last Monday at 3pm eastern standard time, there has been terror, death, loss, and hopelessness.

It would be easy to continue to drown ourselves in news, to keep track of every aspect of this case, to shout for revenge. But none of those things bring about true healing. Sometimes healing starts by embracing beauty, by voicing gratitude for the amazing signs of life that surround us.

My friend Sara of The Roving Home posted a beautiful picture of her baby girl, Francie on her Facebook wall. The caption above the picture said this:

“Francie at the beach yesterday, making the world better through cuteness.” Francie simply by being made me remember beauty and the gift of life.

As we’re shaking in the aftermath of sorrow and ugly we begin to surround ourselves with beauty – with light and life and all that is lovely. Forcing forsythia to bloom and change us.

And we begin to heal.

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Earth Reborn

Just as a baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on, springtime is God’s opinion that the earth should go on. A city morose in winter comes alive in spring, road rage diminishes, and curt responses turn into….well, let’s just say they’re less curt.

The colors of blossoming trees along the banks of the Charles River are better than any color palette available to mere mortals. Every shade of green and pink, ivory, white, and purple are visible, creating images that you want to capture and hold as long as possible.

Along paths runners, walkers, and bikers share space soaking in the spring, not wanting to go inside for fear they’ll wake up and find it’s winter once again. And in the midst of this, baby goslings hatched just days before take the shaky steps of newborns adjusting to life on solid ground. Fuzzy and yellow they are fiercely protected by mothers who bark if you get too close and keep a watchful eye on all who pass, quick to lead their young into the water if danger in the form of dogs pass by.

This is Boston in springtime. A time when life seems possible once again and hope, along with the earth, is reborn.Boston Public Garden in Spring The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring.Bern Williams