It happens every year around this time – I cross that threshold in which I become tired of winter and everything that goes along with it, and start yearning for spring. I’ll admit it; as much as I always enjoy the winter months, I’m now ready for longer, warmer days; for green grass, wildflowers, and wind blowing through leaf-filled trees! And yet here it is, still winter, with spring still several weeks away (and this is to say nothing of what what’s often referred to in these parts as “mud season,” that strange “in-between” season of gray, when everything seems so drab and lifeless). Suffice to say these are the days designed to test patience and endurance, a time to “hurry up and wait” and wonder if springtime will ever really come.
And yet, for those who would have eyes to see just below the surface of it all, there’s a whole lot more going on than what seems to be. I reminded of a clergy retreat I attended at about this time several years ago up at Sebago Lake in Maine, the best part of which involved some extended time of silence and prayerful meditation. I spent much of that time sitting on a stone wall along the shoreline of the still-frozen lake. Almost frozen, that is, since the ice had begun to break up along the shoreline. In fact, I could see through some openings in the ice to the bottom of the lake, and even caught tiniest hint of water bubbling up over the surface of the ice.
I remember this because it provided something of a contrast; hopelessness and hopefulness wrapped up in the same package. To look out across the ice-covered lake, all was cold, silent, desolate and lifeless. But if you looked closely just beneath the surface of the water where the ice had broken away, you could see, if only in a glimmer, life going on; life fresh, cold, clear and invigorating; life renewing itself for the coming of spring.
It’s the way of nature, part of God’s order of creation in the silent, hidden cycle of the seasons, and it lifted my spirit considerably – and here’s the thing – it had been right there with me all the time, even though under other circumstances I might not have even been aware of what was happening. An incredible sign of spring and a harbinger of new life bursting forth right before my eyes, and because of my inattentiveness all I’d have seen was a frozen lake and an endless winter – what a shame that would have been!
It occurs to me that much the same thing can be said about our relationship with God: how so often we walk through the seasons of our lives cognitively unaware of God’s presence, movement and power; barely even realizing as we go that God is there. We know better, of course; in faith, we know, as Jesus said to the woman at the well, that there will be in us “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life,” and that God constantly seeks to fill us with this cool, living water when we are parched and dry. But – be the reason complacency, the busy chaos our day to day lives, or perhaps our struggles with the state of the dark and muddy world we live in – whatever it is, despite everything we know in faith, so many of us are unable to see what God is doing in the reality of our lives and living. Like the ice and snow hides the water flowing beneath the surface, it goes unseen and unrealized. We live out our days as though God were not there at all.
The good news, however, is that regardless of our blindness God does come to us – God always comes to us! It’s there again and again throughout scripture; that it’s God who takes the initiative; it’s God who starts the conversation; it’s God who goes out looking for us even and especially when we don’t have enough sense to go out looking for God; it’s God who brings to us living water that will keep us from ever being thirsty again. God comes to us – in creation, in the Christ, and through the Spirit – that we might come to God!
How God comes, however, might not always be immediately apparent to us; those signs might exist just under the surface veneer of what we hold to be real and true about our lives. Especially in this Lenten season, but indeed in every kind of season in which we walk our walks of faith, you and I must take care to be particularly observant and open to the very real possibility that, spiritually speaking, at least, all this ice, snow and mud beneath our feet is not all there is, and that the freshness and green of springtime might even now be coming to life just beneath the surface.
Speaking as someone who at present is feeling a bit mired in the month of February, I for one wouldn’t want to miss that.