Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Week of Spring

This week has run us head-long into the contradictions of spring. People talk about March in terms of Lions and Lambs, and the word "cruel" is also bandied about a good deal, referring no doubt to promises given and then taken back. And we've seen a lot of that. The temperature has varied from 60 to 5. Several days have been balmy, and we've noticed that in the early morning there are actually birds singing. The Snow Drops are blooming and there are shoots of daffodils and tulips poking up, and the parsley is bright green and growing in the kitchen garden.

And tomorrow we are supposed to have snow, sleet, rain and ice.

But no doubt there will be beauty to be savored there, too, and the signs of life that are particular to this time of the year. The Hudson is still full of ice, and that will last until April, probably. It's all broken up by now and it floats up and down the river on the tides, but it's still heavy enough that the Coast Guard patrols a couple of times a day, making sure that there is a lane open for the tugs that stubbornly push barges north and south through every kind of weather. From time to time we get glimpses of eagles sitting on the ice floes, watching for fish, or whatever else they may like to eat. Over the centuries they seem to have learned that soaring over the river is very dramatic but sitting on a nice ice floe is a lot easier. This morning great V's of ducks flew over, high and tiny above the river, which they are following north.

There was also a display of beauty from the river which only comes at this time in March. When the ice is still thick on the Hudson and the sun is exactly right, there will be a few days when the ice pack is rich with sparkling light, as the sun catches the edges and points of the ice and reflects off the angles and refracts off pieces that are positioned just right. Then we see a magical display of flashing lights, hundred of points of light winking at us, and all the colors of the spectrum, too. Actually, we also get this effect sometimes at just the right time of the morning in the trees, too, after an ice storm. It was after one particularly breathtaking display in the trees that I all of a sudden realized where the idea for Christmas tree lights must have come from originally.

One Springy thing is certain: no matter how punishing this winter storm may turn out to be, at the end of it the Snow Drops will still be blooming on our hillsides. They refuse to be defeated. I don't know how many of you know about these flowers. They come from tiny bulbs, with flowers about half an inch long and they hang down on flexible stems. Early in their blooming their display is mostly in the form of white buds, which look like drops of milk. Later on they open up to display a little downward pointing flower with four petals (I think - I might have the number of petals wrong).

And they are absolutely indestructible. They begin sprouting sometime in February, depending on how thick the snow pack is above them. But they don't let the snow deter them, and if the winter has been particularly hard, they will come up right through the snow and ice. I think that each plant must generate a small amount of heat, because you can see the little circular free spaces around each sprout which it made as it melted its way up through the ice. They last a long time - several weeks at least - because the cool weather of this time of the year doesn't hurry them along. Then, as it gets warmer they fade and drop and give way to more showy spring flowers. One of the rituals of spring here is seeing the first of the Snow Drops. Then you know that winter won't last forever.

So the warmth, the light, and the first of the flowers have lifted our mood and lightened our load and we went through this week, which was, in fact, somewhat heavier than usual. We've had unusually large mid-week groups each week ever since January this year, and every weekend has been pretty full, as usual, and this week half the community has been gone. Robert is in South Africa, doing his yearly Visitation to the community in Grahamstown, Jim has been in Philadelphia conducting a Quiet Day and preaching at St Mark's, Locust Street, Bernard is in Maryland doing his residency at the Shalem Institute, training for the ministry of Spiritual Direction, Charles is at the Convent of St John Baptist in Mendham, New Jersey, having his retreat in preparation for being clothed as a novice later in the month, and Lary is enjoying some vacation with the brothers in Santa Barbara.

So the 5 of us who were left here at home pursued the usual course of things: welcoming guests, providing programs and retreats for the groups that came from Connecticut, New Jersey, Manhattan and Maryland, doing piles and piles and piles of dishes and setting many tables. (Over the weekend we got some people in to help with the dishes and set-up, to ease the burden a bit). We also did a lot of smiling and chatting, and had innumerable conversations at the supper table and in the Pilgrim Hall and the Book Store, as we always do.

We've been in remarkably good humor through it all, and taken care to be kind and supportive to each other. This is a good time in our community life, and we are enjoying our ministry and our prayer and our life with each other. It's not an easy time in the world or in this country - and the Order of the Holy Cross shares a lot of the financial burden and worry that is the world's lot right now. But it's nice to see us navigate our way through this time like a small community of Snow Drops - pushing our way through all the obstacles and radiating a bit of beauty around us.

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