Friday, March 30, 2018

Good Friday

A doe followed by four fawns -- nearly yearlings, this season's babies won't be born until late May -- strode through my yard yesterday afternoon. They are not all hers; I suspect it's the twins I've seen with her through last fall, as well as another pair of twins that must have been orphaned along the way. I've seen these five together a few times lately. They look like a bright and fulsome family, calmly navigating from the lakeshore up into the woods to the south of me. They remind me of the faithfulness and abundance of God each time I see them.

Last fall I saw Momma and her twins many times on the hill next to my cabin, feeding on acorns. The fawns were trusting and beautiful as only fawns can be. A friend of mine, walking carefully up behind the screen of an oak tree, approached within eight or ten feet of one of them. They have learned a little wariness since, but I still see them dancing sometimes in the twilight, looking for all the world like they're just happy to be alive in the fading light.

I was thinking yesterday about the winter we're leaving behind. While it was cold -- bitterly cold at times, and dark, and lonely as winters in Minnesota can be -- there was little snow here, and the deer seem to have come through healthy and strong. I fully expect to see more sets of twins in late May and early June when the fawns first appear with their tiny frames and brilliant dappling of white spots. Hard winters mean more single births for whitetails, and a low-stress winter means more sets of twins, and even triplets.

So much of how I mark the turn of the seasons wraps around what the deer are up to, whether the ice is out of the lake (it isn't, not even close), if the sap is rising in the maples, the buds starting to pop on the boxelders, and -- above all right now -- whether the frost has come out of the ground (nope). We are at that last gasp of winter, still, and nothing looks alive just yet -- but you can feel the earth turning these days, turning under your feet. You can feel life yearning to begin again. It's like everything is waiting to breathe. Mud and patches of ice and brown, withered grass will very soon give way to rich greens and the evening smells of moist, warming earth pushing flowers up to greet the sun. But not yet.

Almost a year ago I snapped this picture of a bird sitting in the grass -- whether because her feet were stuck in the thick mud, or because she was just taking a breather from learning to fly, I never did decide. (Rational, naturalistic minds would say the latter, but who knows? I like to leave a little room for storytelling and delight and mystery.) She reminds me that life is an adventure, and gives me hope. I wonder if this particular bird is back in that same valley now, but grown to strength and maturity? I wish I knew.

It's amazing to think about those fawns, or that little bird, or the sunfish waiting patiently under the ice outside my back door. Think of all the variables required for each of those creatures to experience life, life to the fullest. And that, more than anything, is what today is all about. What is required for us to experience life to the fullest, what Jesus called "abundant life?" So many variables. So many choices. So many possibilities. While we would like to think that life is all just upward mobility and choice driven by our free will (if such a thing exists), the reality for us is much more like that of the deer and the sunfish than we would like to admit. There are deadly forces at work around us, and we are set in competition with a world in remorseless motion. Life is hard, and rising to the challenge is a daily struggle.

It is Good Friday, the day when Jesus bled out his life on a Roman cross. The sanctuary at Faaberg Lutheran Church where I was nurtured as a child focuses your worship on an altar piece that made an enormous impact on my growing mind and heart in those days. When I think of the crucifixion this is the image that first springs to mind:

The more-or-less realistic portrayal of Jesus' suffering (contextualized a bit for its Scandinavian audience); the hint of shekinah glory around Jesus' head, even in death; the titulus, written by Pilate, above Jesus' head proclaiming him (in Latin) the King of the Jews; the inscription below the painting that proclaims (in Norwegian) "Behold, the Lamb of God!" See what is needful -- the blood, the struggle, the grief, the presence of God's people in the corrupt political arena, the patience to grieve in the face of unjust loss, the cosmic agonies as the sun is hidden -- for us to have life! 

Like the world outside my door, this painting is a powerful reminder that God's love is stronger even than the brutal realities of death. Those loves, those dreams, that we place in the ground in the chilling fall, are not lost. It seems like fall in my life has been so often a mixed season of joy and of funerals, a season of the effervescence of adventurous delight, and the death of dreams. Spring is a season of renewal and hope, bringing resurrections, bringing new life. This is a season of promise, rooted in the love of God that overcomes even death. Today we hang with Jesus in the balance, knowing the harsh reality, the alienation, the desperate forsaken cry of death. And we trust the promise of abundant life, for ourselves and for all that we love. 

No comments:

Post a Comment