Faith Works 3-16-13
Looking deep into the landscape
Monday I saw my first forsythia blossoms peeking out of their buds.
Granted, they were on a south-facing slope with a masonry wall behind them to hold the evening heat, but it's a sign.
Spring is coming, and the sap is flowing, and all of nature is warming up some songs and rhythms and soft shoe routines for your post-winter entertainment.
We're in the last few weeks of being able to see up along hillsides and down creekbeds for long distances. Soon the buds will break out into full blossom, twigs will beckon with leaflets straining to point skywards, and trees will slip on their more usual green dressing gown, covering their limbs.
Right at the end of winter, when the last leaves of the year before are all gone and enough white has dusted the slopes below, you have vistas that don't appear any other season. Homes you didn't know were there, trails you didn't know went up hills you'd never thought about climbing, tree stands and chimney remnants show up far off the road but easily seen even in a speeding glance from the car.
The landscape has no secrets in early March, but will soon retreat into the cover of foliage leaving only the memory of where you could look along the ridgelines and down the country lanes.
It's a good time of year to be observing Lent, the days lengthening (Old English "lencta") and the sharper angle of sunlight revealing through the barren branches all around. We're trying, we who observe a Lenten discipline or two, to live lives that are amenable to observation, not to flaunt any personal credit for following in the way (which is what "discipuli" do, follow in the way of one's teacher whether Socrates or Jesus), but to know that there's nothing about our personal journey that wouldn't stand up to scrutiny.
Which isn't really true, all the time, for any of us, is it? We generally welcome some cover, a little obscurity, the relish of "my way" versus the discipline of the Way shown us by the One we claim to follow as "discipuli."
A popular internet "meme" takes a riff off of the long popular "Footprints" story, about how our journey in the way can be clearly seen in a vision as two sets of prints on a beach, occasionally merging into one set, those stretches being when the One we follow carries us. The humorous version goes on to have the One note that there are also stretches where you see one set of footprints, and a pair of deep grooves in the sand.
"There, my child, is where I had to drag you kicking and screaming . . ."
In truth, we're happy to have the tide come in and wash away those gouged stretches of the journey, and we don't want all our failings and falterings exposed to public view. But Lent can be good practice in trying, and failing, in public view, or at least where friends nearby can see how we deal with not quite coming up to our own standards, where we know we've made promises in public we can't quite keep on our own.
Soon enough, all the treetop canopy will cover the hills, and brush and brambles over the valley floor. I'm looking ahead to March 31, and a sunrise service atop Horns Hill at 6:30 am that morning, when we celebrate the coming of One from whom nothing can be hid. When I drive up and down the streets of north Newark, I can see the outlines of the slopes and location of the picnic shelter above so clearly. That won't be the case come April.
For now, I enjoy the views across and into the landscape, and I hope that my own public choices this Lent have shown the world the kind of journey I'd commend to others passing by. "Live out loud" as Steven Curtis Chapman says, and look deeply into our landscape while we can, as Henry David Thoreau might have said.
They're both talking about aspects of Spring that speak to us all.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's probably out walking around somewhere right now. Tell him where you've found some lovely views at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Knapsack on Twitter.