Yellow daffodils swaying in the breeze, carpets of snowdrops, cherry blossom hanging over the lawn, dead looking branches of a magnolia tree suddenly and purposely sprouting little green buds. These are some of the Springtime blessings appearing in my own garden. Spring is now very much in the air as we head through March. Nature is bursting back to life, colour is returning and our hearts feel pleasure and hope.
The liturgical season of Lent coincides with Spring, calling to mind new life and growth. Hope and change should characterise this time of conversion. For 40 days, the Church invites us to start afresh, just as Nature renews itself every Spring.
The word Lent is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word lengthen or lencten meaning “spring.” We are “to spring” into action, to prepare for the new growth and graces that overflow from Easter. Spring is an important season for a farmer, for it determines preparing the soil and planting seeds carefully, hoping that the seed buried deep in the soil will produce an abundant crop. The sunlight and the rain remind us that God renews Earth.
It is so important for those of us with urban eyes and ears to appreciate the wonders of Springtime. A Benedictine nun and Doctor of the Church, born nearly a thousand years ago in Germany, can help us. Hildegard of Bingen gave us the concept of viriditas, the greening power of all creation. The early threshold of Spring has always been a powerful metaphor for the new life, dormant, which has prepared itself under layers of dark and cold. “There is a power that has been since all eternity, and that force and potentiality is green!” Hildegard wrote. She reminds us of our deep connection with the life force which sustains the universe and every living being: “Viriditas is the natural driving force toward healing and wholeness, the vital power that sustains all life’s greenness.”
Hildegard reminds us of what can got lost in the midst of human concerns. Faced with a planet threatened by our own destructive consumerism we are realising that our very existence depends on a healthy and sustainable relationship with creation. We are made of the same elements, fire, earth, air and water, that make up the rest of the created whole.
Let us remember the warning of another woman in our own time, Rachel Carson. In 1962, the US conservationist published her influential book Silent Spring, which helped spur the global environmental movement. It focused on the sounds of Spring disappearing because of the often negative effect humans were having on the natural world. She felt pesticides used in modern agribusiness were killing off insects amidst ignorance about the ecological interconnections between nature and human society.
Just a few days ago, on 3rd March, World Wildlife Day, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterrez said: “One million species teeter on the brink of extinction, due to habitat destruction, fossil fuel pollution and the worsening climate crisis. We must end this war on nature.” Meanwhile, Columbans in Fiji, South Korea and Britain are publicly campaigning for measures to protect climate stability and biodiversity.
This Lent, let us appreciate the wonders of Springtime and, as the poet William Wordsworth put it, to learn again to dance with the daffodils.
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills.
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a boy:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance
The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay
In such a jocund company;
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.