Spring 2020

The spring equinox happened in Edmonton just before 10 pm yesterday, which makes today the first full day of spring. This is always a moment of wonder and joy for me as the earth seems to come into balance: every spot on the earth experiences 12 hours of sunlight and darkness, if only for a day. I appreciate the equinoxes and how they mark a logical halfway point of the earth’s yearly swing around the sun.

But what a strange spring this seems. The earth may be at balance, and the biosphere may continue its stupendous and awesome efforts to maintain homeostasis. But humanity feels out of joint. Infection and fear continue to spread in Canada and many other countries. Much of normal life has come to a halt. The responses of the world’s leaders to the new coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease reveal stark differences between foresight and denial; order and chaos; transparency and opacity; and compassion and cruelty.

A global pandemic also reveals our interdependence. It threatens every country, every class, and every religion. It crosses partisan divides and mutual incomprehension. It reminds one of the trade union slogan “an injury to one is an injury to all.” It forces us to consider not just the well-being of affluent people but of the homeless, the refugee, and others without adequate access to healthcare, food, and sanitation. It impresses upon us that we are connected to the entire biosphere and to the whole of humanity. We are one, and this is a moment where more of us might wake up to this gracious truth.

For another perspective, here is what one of my mentors Father Richard Rohr of New Mexico wrote this morning: “There are only two major paths by which the human soul comes to God: the path of great love, and the one of great suffering. Both finally come down to great suffering—because if we love anything greatly, we will eventually suffer for it. When we’re young, God hides this from us. We think it won’t have to be true for us. But to love anything in depth and over the long term, we eventually must suffer.”

I agree with him, even though his formulation might seem bleak. He is reiterating one of the teachings of Lent, that out of loss, fear, and pain can flow a rebirth of light in spring that brings us closer to the Source of Love we call God. He is showing us that Lenten path of suffering and the Easter path of love are the same, and happily that love shines brighter than the fear.

As we go deeper into Lent and springtime, may our prayers and actions continue to focus on the sick, those who care for them, and on our work of staying connected with one another despite spending so much time physically apart.

To close, I offer a favourite poem.

Spring, by Mary Oliver

Somewhere a black bear has just risen
from sleep and is staring
Down the mountain
All night
In the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring
I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue
like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:
how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge
to sharpen her claws against
the silence of the trees.
Whatever else
my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,
it is also this dazzling darkness
coming down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;
all day I think of her — her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

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