Almost every year, even the hardiest, most patient New Englanders need a lift to get them through the last few weeks of winter. They've been fooled too often by early thaws and the arrival of well-meaning crocuses. It's even worse in other places where people measure their snow in feet, not inches - meters, not centimeters.
But whatever the elements have done to you, nothing hurls out a better lifeline than a well-organized spring flower show. In Boston last month, fleece-lined thousands, including those who had never muddied their fingers in the soil, surged into the vast exhibition hall used by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.
As always, the air was damp, fragrant, and resonant with recorded birdsong. There were flowers crowding every nook and cranny, in tiny meadows, in woodland glades, beside gurgling streams. Some plants and shrubs had been "persuaded" to leap ahead of schedule so that visitors were able to feast their eyes not only on spring blossoms but on the zingyness of midsummer's palette. Like flower shows everywhere, it was an exhilarating experience.
It occurred to me then how vividly the true spirit of renewal, fresh hope, and individual growth is captured in an essay titled "Voices of Spring," in which Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "With each returning year, higher joys, holier aims, a purer peace and diviner energy, should freshen the fragrance of being" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 330).
This passage reminds me of something a friend of mine used to say with life-tested conviction - that everyone has to grow. And he also pointed out how manageable that becomes when you place yourself in God's nurturing hands, where progress is inescapable and renewal is irrepressible.
The growth that I find myself wanting most is in loving the people around me more this year than last year. And what encourages me in this effort is knowing that it's God who is nurturing this desire in me - God who is infinite Love. God's unfailing love is causing me to grow in patience, hope, and the desire to give to other people.
My father was an enthusiastic gardener - and giver. He could dig for hours without strain, and always had to be dragged, protesting, to the dinner table. He especially loved his "secret gardens" - those he planned and planted for people in the neighborhood who couldn't quite manage the heavy labor. He loved to tiptoe in under cover of darkness, arms filled with trays of seedlings, and transform their gardens. It was reward enough for him simply to imagine their joyful surprise the next morning at the instant arrival of spring.
There was no way Dad could persuade me to get enthusiastic about working in his gardens. "School projects" were my standard excuse. But I did learn rich lessons from his flowers. I noticed their tendency to look expectantly up to the light. To me light has become a metaphor for understanding. At that point in my life, the flowers reminded me to look expectantly to God for the understanding and intelligence I needed in school.
Another life-lesson I learned from Dad's garden was not to compare my own abilities and achievements with anyone else's. His purple dahlias, golden chrysanthemums, and crimson roses all expressed the infinite variety of God's creation - each a little differently, but with equal beauty. This encouraged me to appreciate the whole spectrum of God's expression in those around me.
It wasn't long before I could identify with the psalmist who sang, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches" (Ps. 104:24).
Now, when I think of spring, I see it as an expression of God's creativity and ceaseless giving - as the beauty springing up around me as well as within me. And I'm learning that each of us can be a kind of flower show in someone else's life.
And the Lord shall guide
thee continually ... and thou
shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor