Spring’s Progress

After a sluggish and hesitant prologue, the phases of our Northern Virginia spring have been moving right along at a rapid and regular clip.  We still wake up to the occasionally chilly morning, but there have been no recent dips below freezing.  Spring now has a spring in its step. 

As the branches of the earlier blooming cherry trees were greening, the ground beneath them being transformed into a carpet of pink petals, the next wave of blossoms, darker in color, was peaking. 

The bright fuchsia buds of our Appalachian Redbud always take their good sweet time in emerging.  When they appeared, they were as brilliant and jewel-like as ever. 

Last spring, a bitter cold snap blasted the buds of the camellia that nestles in a corner of my mother’s house.  This year we were treated to a show of lush red flowers. 

Spring in three layers:  camellias and fuchsia blossoms against a backdrop of weeping cherry.   

In October I planted some sixty daffodil bulbs in a barren mulch patch beneath a black walnut tree in our front yard.  All winter I kept my eye on the area, watching for the first shoots of spiky foliage to emerge from the snow.  I love the optimism implied in planting bulbs.  It’s assuring to remember that even in the depths of winter, regenerating forces are at work, beneath the ground and even in the frigid air.  When I spot those first green tips, usually in early February, I never fail to be surprised, yet comforted by such faithful heralds of the spring.  The first daffodils to bloom were the smallest, the Tete-a-Tete miniatures.  As their golden heads bobbed in fierce March winds, they were the picture of cheery perkiness.   Following soon were the tall, bold Trumpet Masters, the type I remember from old Easter coloring books.  Next appeared some fancy double blooms.  With ruffled petals in shades of  apricot and pale yellow, this variety reminds me of Cinderella dressed for the ball. 

The last to join the daffodil band were several pink cupped varieties, simple but elegant with their delicate shadings and crimped-edged centers.   The mulch patch has plenty of room for more inhabitants.  This fall, if things go as planned, I’ll add another sixty bulbs. 

Wild violets tend to pop up fortuitously around the grape hyacinths I planted two years ago.  These kindred spirits pair well in mini bouquets.  

Our rhododendron is currently putting on an exuberant show. 

As are the azaleas.  In red. . .

White. . .

And pink. 

On this second day of May, our Japanese maples glow fiery red in the sun.  The old silver maples have sent forth their multitudes of angel-winged seed pods.  Our trellis roses will be budding any day now.  The air smells of lilac, laurel, locust blossoms and honeysuckle.  Spring’s final phase is at the ready.  The warmth of the morning anticipates summer, and Kiko, still in his winter fur, seeks the shade.  

 

The Day of Resurrection!

The day of resurrection!  Earth, tell it out abroad;

the Passover of gladness, the Passover of God.

From death to life eternal, from earth unto the sky,

our Christ hath brought us over, with hymns of victory.

Now let the heavens be joyful!  Let earth the song begin!

Let the round world keep triumph, and all that is therein!

Let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend,

for Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end. 

The Day of Resurrection; Words by John of Damascus; trans. by John Mason Neale, 1862; Music by Henry T. Smart, 1835

Where is the Good in Good Friday?

What is good about Good Friday?  How can there be any good in a day on which the very Son of God died a barbaric death, betrayed and dismissed by the very ones he came to earth to love and to save? 

On Good Friday, we give thanks to a loving, compassionate God who suffers with us. Our God is not a remote, impassive being who rules from on high. He came down to our level; he entered into the midst of our messy lives. Jesus, our brother, gave his own life to save us, his unworthy siblings. He died for us while we were yet sinners. He knows our worst pain, because he has endured it first-hand: betrayal, sorrow, humiliation, physical agony, and death. God the Father knows intimately the terrible reality of losing a child. Our God continues to suffer as we suffer. He grieves as we grieve, because we are his. We are family. Our God surrounds us with his Holy Spirit, as close as our own breath, to sustain and comfort us.

Good Friday is good because our God is good. This day commemorates the completion of Jesus’s mission. From the cross, he cried out, not in exhausted defeat, but in triumph, in victory: “It is finished.” The perfect sacrifice has been made.  The mission is accomplished, but the story is far from over. 

Because of Good Friday, Easter is in the works.  The stone of the tomb will be rolled away.  Because Christ our Savior lives, so we shall also live.  Death will be swallowed up in victory.

Let us give thanks to our Good Friday God! 

Before His Death, Advice from a Brother

On the night of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus gathered with his disciples for one last time to share the Passover meal together.  He knew that his life on earth was drawing to a close.  He had tried to explain to his dearest friends that he would soon be facing death, and doing so willingly.  But the disciples didn’t understand.  Probably some of them were expecting to witness a magnificent earthly triumph.  Judas, the betrayer, may have been counting on such a victory.  None of the disciples, it seems, were expecting their friend, teacher and Messiah to die an ordinary criminal’s death on the cross.

But the group must have been fearful and confused.  They were back in crowded, dangerous Jerusalem, where Jesus’s life had been threatened multiple times during clashes with the Jewish religious leaders.  And so, on that fateful final night, Jesus had the full and rapt attention of his disciples.  He chose his words, and his actions, with care. 

According to the Gospel of John (13:1 – 17), after the meal, he did something completely unexpected: he got up from the table and began to wash the feet of his friends.  In those days, traveling, for people of ordinary means, meant walking, in sandals, or even barefoot, along dusty, dirty roads, through fields and stretches of sandy wilderness.  A servant typically washed the feet of guests as they entered a home.  If there were no servants, guests usually washed their own feet from a basin near the door.  John the Baptist refers to this practice when asked by Jewish leaders if he is the Messiah.  According to John 1:27, he replies, “I baptize with water.  Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize.  He comes after me, but I’m not worthy to untie his sandal straps.”  The disciples were clearly uncomfortable with their leader and teacher washing their dirty feet.  Had foot washing been done upon entering the upper room that night?  It’s uncertain. Maybe there had been no basin set up for the purpose until Jesus poured water into one, as mentioned in John 13:5.  The Pharisees had criticized Jesus when they noticed that some of his disciples failed to wash their hands before eating (Mark 7: 1-5).  Certainly, Jesus’s focus was not on Jewish rituals of purity.  External, physical cleanliness was evidently not one of his primary concerns.  He may not have been a stickler for foot-washing prior to that last gathering. 

The disciple Peter’s reaction supports this (John 13: 6-11). Peter was fiery, passionate and impulsive.  Like many of us, he was often a bit dense.  He couldn’t stand the idea of Jesus abasing himself to wash his feet.  Foot washing was the job of an underling, a slave.  Peter jumped up and exclaimed, “You’ll never wash my feet!”   When Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me,” Peter was all in. “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!” 

Jesus went on to explain his puzzling behavior. “Do you understand what I was doing?  You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am.  And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.  I have given you an example to follow. . .Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” (13:12-15, 17). 

Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that he had in mind much more than literal foot washing.  Following his example is to mean humbling oneself in order to serve and help others.  To further drive home his point, he continued:  “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (13:34-35).

Jesus had spent three years traveling with this rag-tag group.  They’d heard him teach and preach, seen him heal the sick and cast out demons.  On three separate occasions, he’d even restored the dead to life.  The disciples had been with him as he confronted the Jewish authorities and challenged their interpretation of the Law.  Sometimes his words and actions had been difficult to comprehend.  But on the night before his death, Jesus summed up the essence of his ministry in the simplest of terms:  Serve others.  Love others.  Just as I have served and loved you, so you should love others.

For those of us who call ourselves Christians, let’s take this Maundy Thursday message to heart.  Let’s heed the wise counsel of our dear brother Jesus.  Do our best to follow his example.  Try our hardest to model his caring, compassionate behavior.  We won’t always succeed.  Sometimes we’ll backslide and act in ways that are selfish and petty.  But let’s persevere.   And change the world, little by little, through service and love. 

{The Thursday of Holy Week is known as Maundy Thursday from mandatum, the Latin for command, because we remember the new commandment that Jesus gave his disciples during the Last Supper.}

Cherry Blossom Time Again

Cherry blossom season crept up on me this year, as on the softest of silent pink petal feet. The famous DC trees had been in glorious bloom for a while, like those just a few miles away.  But in our neighborhood, which must lie in a cold spot, winter persisted.  And persisted.  Until suddenly, about two weeks ago, spring burst forth.  Thanks to relatively cool temperatures, the formerly bare brown branches of our local trees are still mostly obscured by clouds of fluffy pink.  On this chilly, blustery day, a spring snow of rose colored petals swirls in the air.  The wind continues to gust.  Our cherry  blossoms will soon become pink ground cover, and spring’s next act will take center stage.  

For previous cherry blossom posts, see Frost in the Cherry Orchard, from April 26, 2018, and Cherry Blossom Time in DC, from April 16, 2015.

Springtime in Charlottesville

Charlottesville is about a hundred miles south of our home in the DC suburbs.  The weather there is consistently warmer and sunnier than here in Northern Virginia, and spring tends to arrive earlier.  My daughter thoroughly appreciates the beauty of her temporary home.  She knows I do, as well.  I’ve been wanting someone in our family to attend the University of Virginia for the last thirty years, but that’s another story.  Here now, thanks to my daughter, some photos of Charlottesville in its spring glory. 

Shelter from the Storm

Among my list of life’s greatest luxuries is this:  a stormy day with no appointments, no commitments, a bad-weather day that offers the chance for an extended snuggle with my sweet, sleeping dog.  The rain arrived last night, just as predicted.  After a short morning walk and a largely futile attempt to dry his wet fur, Kiko was curled on our favorite sofa, heading off contentedly to doggie dreamland. 

Before long, I crawled in, around and sort of under him.  Carefully, so as not to disturb.  As I’ve said before, Kiko, by nature, is more aloof than affectionate.  No lap dog, this stately Prince of Cool, he’s reserved and prefers his own space.  Unless there is thunder, or the suggestion of it.  Then he can’t get close enough.  See here.  But as he’s aged, he’s become increasingly amenable to human contact.  More and more frequently, he tolerates, and occasionally even seems to enjoy, my close presence as he sleeps.  Sometimes he even rests his head on my leg.  I consider this gesture to be his highest compliment.  Despite today’s rain, Kiko doesn’t seem anxious about the possibility of thunder.  Yet he very nearly welcomes me.  He does love me.  On this rainy day, I’m sure of it.  What a comfort it is to join my little dog in dreamland for a while.  What sweet spot for shelter in the storm.    

Hello Spring!

Are you there, Spring?  On this first official day of the new season, our area has been granted bright sunshine, if little accompanying warmth.  No complaints, here, though.  After so many sodden, gray days, some blue sky is a dazzling, welcome vision.    

Considering the prevailing March chill, it’s hardly a surprise that our Northern Virginia spring is not off to a particularly showy start.  It’s wisely hesitant, biding its time.  I’ve seen a few daffodils in bloom, although none in our yard.  Our hyacinths are sending up spiky green shoots.  The redbud is clearly in no rush.      

Around our little local lake, most trees retain the stark wintery guise they’ve worn since January.  Only the buds of the maples provide a wash of rosy color. 

Pounding rain and high winds are predicted here in the days ahead. Wherever you are, may you find some sunshine to savor.  And may you trust in the promise of spring. 

On Ash Wednesday, From Darkness to Light

It’s a bitterly cold Ash Wednesday here in Northern Virginia, as in much of the country.  An icy breeze whips up from time to time.  But the sun is shining brightly, and at least for a brief while, nothing frozen is falling from the sky.  The weather seems appropriate.  It’s conducive to imagining the joy and beauty of an ideal Easter morning while experiencing the big chill of Ash Wednesday.  This is a day for a clear-eyed, head-on look at our mortality, a time to peer into the bleakness of what would have been, had it not been for God’s saving grace. It marks the start of Lent, the forty-day period leading up to Easter, during which prayer, repentance and self-denial are encouraged. Lent’s Biblical basis is Christ’s retreat to the wilderness to commune with the Father in preparation for his ministry.

Ash Wednesday dawns in Charlottesville.   

So what’s the deal with the ashes?  Why the messy smudges on foreheads of neatly dressed and otherwise well-scrubbed people?  It’s because of these words from Genesis 3:19, declared by God to Adam and Eve, just before He ushered them out of Eden, the paradise garden He had intended as their eternal, blissful home. 

You are dust, and to dust you shall return. 

Tough words from the Creator and Landlord.  What did the privileged First Couple do to make God so angry?  Incensed enough that He sent the two, created in His own image, out into desolation, to eke out a living through toil and pain? 

Many of you who didn’t grow up attending church and Sunday School, along with some of you who did, no doubt consider the saga of Adam and Eve just another myth for the simple-minded.  Whether you see it as God’s literal Truth, an interesting folk tale or something in between, it’s a powerful story worth contemplating.  Here’s my take on the Fall and its particular significance on Ash Wednesday.

Adam and Eve lived in a glorious garden created by God, suffused with His divine light, life and love.  They had full-time leisure, full-time luxury.  God walked with them there in the garden.  The trees dripped with delicious treats, theirs for the easy picking.  All except for the apples on one tree.  A tree with an impressive-sounding name:  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.   

Life was wonderful.  Life was beautiful.  

Among the friendly and fantastic creatures of the garden, there was a serpent.  He was wise and wily, and he knew about that whole free-will thing.  Indeed, he owed his very existence to what he saw as the weak link in God’s great plan.  The serpent looked with contempt upon the innocent contentment of the two humans.  He realized the fragility of the thread that kept them in their lovely home.  It wasn’t long before this scaly Con Guy Supreme made his move.  Appealing to Eve’s pride, he offered an opportunity for further greatness.  Knowledge equal to God’s was at her fingertips, but God selfishly chose to keep this power to Himself.  She deserved better, didn’t she?  So Eve ate from the tree.  Adam, who apparently needed no convincing, munched long complacently.

God found out.  He wasn’t happy.  Paradise was lost, for the taste of a forbidden fruit.  We may think we would have known better.  But probably not.  Like Eve, we might have been tripped up by pride.  Or maybe, like Adam, we might have given very little thought to the matter.  If Eve says it’s fine, it must be.  In simply thinking we would have known better, it’s evident that we would not have.  With free will comes the ability to make the wrong choice, a choice we tend to exercise repeatedly.  Like Adam and Eve, if left to our own devices, our fate would be to wander in the dust.

But we are not abandoned, without hope, in a barren land.  Paradise is still within our grasp, as these words from Mark 1:15 tell us:

Repent and believe the good news!

On Ash Wednesday, we confront the grim reality of our tendency toward pride, selfishness and petty meanness.  On our own, none of us will ever be good enough to work our way back to Eden.  But we don’t have to be.  The Christ that was already present within creation since God spoke the universe into existence, the very Word of God described in John 1: 1 – 5, came to earth in human form.  Jesus, fully divine yet fully human, took our sins upon Himself.  As the spotless Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice, He wiped our messy slates clean.

To accept Christ’s free gift of salvation, we merely need to acknowledge our wrongheadedness and to ask forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness is granted for our willingness to repent; it’s not contingent on our going forward without a misstep.  We are human; we will stumble and lose our way at times.  We cannot be perfect in this lifetime, but we can desire to achieve perfection.

The Ash Wednesday ashes are marked on the forehead in the shape of a cross, the instrument of death that became the tree of life.  Christ’s good news saves us from a future of ashy, dusty nothingness, replacing it with the promise of unimaginable joy in a paradise everlasting.  We can’t even comprehend unending joy; our flawed human nature prevents us.  But we will understand it fully, and magnificently, one day, I am convinced.

On this frigid Ash Wednesday, the sun’s rays fall on new green shoots and buds.  We are reminded of the new life that comes of death, of the new birth offered to us without price.  On this Ash Wednesday, look into the darkness of the ashes.  Then give thanks for the love that pulls us back into the light of love.   

Early morning Ash Wednesday sunshine begins to illuminate the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.  Thanks to my daughter for the Charlottesville photos. 

A blog about motherhood, marriage and life: the joys and frustrations, beauty and absurdity, blessings and pain. It's about looking back, looking ahead, and walking the dog.