Strength for Today, Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Great is Thy Faithfulness

I planted bulbs today. It might be possible to plant bulbs and not wax philosophical, but I’ve never pulled off such a feat. There are few acts of faith quite like the planting of a bulb. Here, in the waning of the year, when the last brilliant burst of color paints our hills and views before the monochrome eternity of winter overtakes us, I knelt in the fading sun and dug into the mulch and compost I had laid down this summer. Even at the moment of digging, I was building on what I had already begun – the beds I had laid out, the depth of the soil loose over the hard rocks. And with the light slanting so strongly as to throw shadows at noon, I buried the bulbs and covered them – and it was as though they had never been there.

Purple and gold here

When my work was complete, the world LOOKED the same as it had before, or maybe even worse. A detritus of bulb-papers covered the ground, and the mulch and soil were irrevocably mixed. The casual observer might think nothing at all had changed. And so it will remain for the rest of the year, and well into the following. We will pass Halloween, and the election, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. We will walk into whatever 2021 holds for us, and work well into the year. And then there will be a day where the dirty snow has receded and the warmest part of the garden, where the sun falls first, will show the first sign of my labors with a small, green glimmer. What happens next varies greatly on the year. If we get a warm spell, then maybe the bulbs race towards maturity, exploding into color and brilliance. In a cold dark spring, they’ll linger long at every phase, inching towards blossoms that they’ll hold onto with extended awe. The patches of color will spread and change as the colder, darker parts of the garden finally bask in light and warmth. And my spring self will be grateful to my fall self for her foresight and altruistic gift to the future.

Planting

These are hard times for pretty much everyone. My family is going through big challenges, and we’re not alone in that. The world is in the wearying clutch of pandemic, shut off from each other. Conflict and tumult are the order of the day. Anger and fear have become the only emotions we feed, with every news story, tweet, and interaction telling us that we should be both afraid of what is happening, and angry that it has happened. There are few – and failing – sources of hope, of joy or even of fun. It can feel irresponsible and impossible in such dire times as these dark autumn days to be cheerful, optimistic, hopeful, joyful or even just content. Those emotions feel frail – difficult to create and easy to destroy. We are in a winter of our souls, with the emotional monochrome of that fear and anger. And it doesn’t seem possible that the frail sun will ever break through the clouds or be able to melt the implacable ice of division, or that we will ever again stand bare-armed in the sun among fragrant flowers.

But there are seasons in most things. Just because this is winter, it does not mean that winter is the only truth, or the only way we will ever experience life. I don’t know whether this is the beginning of a longer season (I have been thinking a lot of Gregory of Tours – for whom my son was named – who watched the curtain close on the civilization of Rome with a lonely dread), or if we are in March and the days are already lengthening. Or perhaps we’re in February, with much left to come but none of it worse than we’ve already lived through. But I do know that we are not fools to hold on to hope.

And so we plant bulbs, knowing that we will not see flowers for a long time. We plant bulbs, knowing we are mortal but not knowing what day our mortality awaits us. We improve the soil, which will be planted with seeds of some generation of flowers to come. We create loveliness, and do not squander the loveliness left to us by the loving anticipation of the past.

Do not despair friends. The things you fear may truly be real. But they have not yet come to pass. And there is still strength in you, to either prevent those things or endure them. In this season, we strive for enough strength for today to create that bright hope, which will bloom if not tomorrow – then soon.

The first colors of spring

Belief

I have thought a lot about belief. This is an inevitable part about being both a Christian and a person who trusts science and the scientific method to be trustworthy and reliable ways to understand both ourselves and our universe. One of the key questions is – what depends on belief, and what is true outside my believing in it.

There are things that depend on our belief, or where what we (usually collectively) think makes the truth. The stock market is definitely this way. The economy, less so, but still reliant on “confidence”. In the recent democratic primaries, you could see how some candidates (namely Elizabeth Warren) did poorly because “everyone” who wanted to vote for her had heard that she couldn’t win. So they didn’t. So she didn’t. (Not to say that she would otherwise have had a majority, but it’s hard to tell.) Money is one of those things that actually relies 100% on belief. If all of us suddenly stopped thinking that those little slips of paper (or worse, the digital markers that represent slips of paper which don’t actually exist) weren’t worth anything – they wouldn’t be. This has happened before. Bitcoin, which is valuable because we think it is, is another excellent example of this.

Then there are those things which care not a whit for whether we believe in them or not. Gravity. Death. Spring. Pandemic viruses. Global climate change.

Finally, there are those things where we as people are unsure how much our beliefs matter. God is a big one there. Does God exist without our believing in an almighty? I believe in a God whose existence does not rely on my belief – by my belief does not make that truth. The truth of God is there whether I believe in God or not. Health is another. Our mindset and beliefs definitely matter to our health, but they are a piece, not the whole. Belief in a treatment (or lack thereof) may enhance or inhibit effectiveness, but it does not create it.

This gap between things that are entirely made up of belief (the stock market) and things which do not give a damn what we believe (viruses) is the great chasm we find ourselves in today – where we have people applying the practices of belief to the indomitable forces of truth, and shocked and dismayed (and disbelieving) to find those forces ineffective. It seems as though the practiced response of our leadership is to try to reshape reality by belief. That actually works, to some extent, on a capitalist market. It is deeply counterproductive to something like a pandemic, where action must follow belief, which must follow (instead of attempt to create) truth.

I believe we humans are in for a hard year. I believe we will face challenges which our ancestors faced before us, but for which we are greatly out of practice – it having been over a hundred years since the last global pandemic. I believe humanity itself will overcome this hard, difficult moment. I believe many of us will lose people we love in the process, or ourselves be lost. But the point, my friends, is that the virus is untouchable by my belief. The only thing about my belief – or lack thereof – that matters is how it shapes my actions. And so I will work and do those things which are difficult to bend the curve towards the well being of humanity and the survival of my fellows, as much as my small ability allows. And I believe that matters, very much.


Thane is doing much better today. His fever is gone, and his energy is back. (That’s a mixed blessing.) He’s still coughing, and has added phleghmy to his repertoire, which gives me hope that this is rhino, not coronavirus.

Adam: Bane of oriental bittersweet

Adam and I got some outside time doing one of those things that I daydream about having time to do. I walk or run the Greenway often, and see the trash on the sides and oriental bittersweet devouring trees and wish I had a trashbag and a pair of clippers. So today we went with a trashbag and a pair of clippers and launched a brief battle in what must clearly be a much longer war.

New art since yesterday

Tomorrow, we all start to figure out how to lead more balanced lives with work, some kind of education, exercise etc. in these new times.

Spring – which comes with or without our believing it

Hold on to what is good

During Lent, I am trying to not walk down the path of panic, negativity and despair. I know the path is there. I know what is going on in the world. But I see nothing to be gained by letting fear corrode my soul, by widening and making firm that dark road. Bad things will happen, or they won’t. Who by worrying can change what may or may not come?

Of course, there still needs to be planning. I think we’re all saving our extra nickels these days and carefully looking at our balance sheets. Do you lie in bed at night and think about how long you would be ok if you lost your job? I do. I make plans in my head for what I would do if it were a little bad, a lot bad, horrible. I stop at the “martial law and pillage” level because I don’t think there is a good plan against that one.

During the hard times, though, those who have enough and a little bit extra need to be sure that we throw our weight against the doors of last resort, to keep them closed against hunger, nakedness and bitter cold.

This morning I read an article talking about food banks. Actually, donations to food banks are up. But costs and needs are up higher. How horrible it would be to swallow pride (your only meal for the day) and go to a food bank, only to discover that there is nothing for you.

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/03/16/turse/

There is a great sense of powerlessness and anxiety, rippling through our culture and our days. It is hard not to feel insignificant in the face of problems in the Trillions of dollars and the canker of uncertainty. We can’t fix the banking system. We don’t know how the world will look when this all shakes out. We don’t know if ours was an aberration of time, and things will never be that way again. Against that, however, we need to hold on to what we have and what we can do. We have love, friendship and fellowship. Spring is not aware that life is dismal, and will shortly be glorious as though it’s 2005 all over again. And while we can’t fix the banking system, many of us can give a donation of money, food or time to help our brethren eat.

Hold on to what is good. Encourage the faint-hearted. Help the weak. Be patient with them all. Rejoice without ceasing.

What a wondrous time is spring

I have spent the better part of 12 years being confused about Spring. I think there must be one year in your childhood — I’d have to pick the year I was 9 if I had to guess — where you solidify your view about how certain aspects of the world ARE.

Sweet and sour anything is yucky. I like hiking. Spring starts in March.

Some of these ideas are more easily modified than others. I have yet to get over the “Spring Starts in March” issue.

In Washington State, it does. The crocuses are probably starting out, even in my mountain home. The days are getting lighter. The last snow has probably fallen for the year. By the end of the month, there will be daffodils and you will be able to smell things outside again (for good or for ill). But I live in New England. Not even Southern New England. No. Middle New England.

It was 12 degrees when I woke up this morning. There is a foot of fresh snow on the ground, and more in the forecast. It is, by no means, the beginning of spring. By the end of the month, there will be 6 inches of dirty snow left on the ground and we will have at least one surprise snow storm in front of us. Possibly in June.

But somehow I can never quash that inner child who believes Spring is coming. My husband laughs at me because I always pointed out the red buds at the tips of the trees as a sign of the imminence of Spring. I had lived here maybe 8 years before I figured out that the red buds appear at the END of FALL. But still. I can’t help myself.

My youngest, my baby, has never in his entire life known a warm, welcoming world. His toes are rare and unusual visitors to his curious hands. It snowed the night he was born – an unseemly early snow in the Berkshires I barely processed in my post-partum fog.

But.

There are tiny little daffodil spikes under the snow, in front of our basement window fan (where it is much warmer). I saw the beginnings of snowdrops during a recent melt. I showed my son.

I heard birds singing this morning.

The days are longer.

And look! There are totally red buds on the tips of those trees!