Thursday, April 04, 2019

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: Renewal

Dani Burtsfield is our host this month for Spiritual Journey First Thursday, and she's asked us to reflect on the topic of Renewal. I bet I know why. Dani lives in the United States, well north of me, and there, spring is coming. It's a time when the monochrome of winter gives way to bright colors and Lent gives way to Easter. It's a time of rebirth, resurrection, renewal.
Since I live in the Caribbean, a place where the seasons don't change much over the course of a year, you'd think this focus on spring wouldn't mean much to me. But what I've learned is that when you're paying attention, both to nature and to the ways of human beings, there are seasons here too, way more than just four.

Recently I was reading the book Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, by Ingrid Fetell Lee.
Lee has a lot to say about design and color, and how our surroundings influence how we think and feel. She discusses ten aesthetics of joy: energy, abundance, freedom, harmony, play, surprise, transcendence, magic, celebration, and renewal. See that last one? There's our topic! And Lee associates this aesthetic partly with seasons. She talks about how life organizes itself in cycles. I was particularly fascinated by what she says about seasons in Japan:

“The Japanese are particularly good at creating moments of anticipation. Instead of having only four seasons to look forward to, they have seventy-two. The ancient Japanese calendar divides the year into a series of micro seasons, each only four or five days in length, with names that capture small changes in the surrounding environment. Hibernating Creatures Open Their Doors marks the tail end of winter, followed a bit later by Leaf Insects Turn into Butterflies. In June, the Plums Turn Yellow, and in October the Geese Arrive and the Grasshopper Sings. The names made me think of other seasonal moments that naturally seem to stir feelings of renewal: the whiteout blanket of the first snowfall, the hard drenching of an April rain, the blush of sunrise, and the golden glow of a harvest moon. There is a joy in the first day cold enough to light a fire in the fireplace, the first one warm enough to go outside without a jacket, and the first blinking of fireflies in the summer yard. By building excitement for these subtle transitions, we can invite more cyclical-anticipation into our lives.”

I haven't identified seventy-two seasons here in Haiti, but there are many. We have some plants that bloom all year round, like bougainvillea and hibiscus, but many others take turns. Right now the African tulip trees and the frangipani (plumeria) are gorgeous, and soon the flamboyant (poinciana) will cover the city in red.
I live in the city, so I'm not really in tune with crop activity like planting and harvest, but I do watch the goat population on my walk to school with great interest; right now there are a lot of pregnant mamas, so soon there will be nursing kids. Since I started paying attention to these natural events, I often notice that when I post a photo of the latest flowers or livestock on Facebook, the Memories feature shows me that they appeared the same week as the year before.

It's not just nature, it's the way people react to it, like this season's kites in response to the windy weather.  Easter weekend is traditionally the biggest kite-flying time of the year.
And then there's the renewal inherent in the school calendar. Each year I get new classes. Each Monday starts a new week of instruction. Each quarter their grades start fresh. Each new class period is an opportunity to try again, no matter how frustrated we were with each other last time. From the overawed seventh graders who join us in August, experiencing their first lockers, their first forays into the secondary building, to the jaded eighth graders who in May are ready to move on to high school, and then to the ninth graders who come back to visit me like the swallows to Capistrano every year, huddling in the doorway and whispering nostalgically about their memories of middle school, conveniently forgetting the way they slumped sullenly in their seats some days the previous spring: these are some of the predictable seasons of my school year.

But the best renewal every year is Easter, Resurrection Sunday. After the contemplative weeks of Lent, the lament and self-denial, Easter comes with delight, reminding us that death is not the end. Here's a Jonathan Martin quote I found last year: "The sense of foreboding can be trusted -- a faithful witness to Good Friday. It doesn't feel like everything will be okay, cause it won't be. The message of Good Friday is that things aren't going to end well -- things just end. Violence will always run its course, hope bloodied. The message of Good Friday is that death has the last word, on all of us. The message of Easter is that the last word isn't the final one. Easter doesn't lie to us, doesn't say our own stories won't reach dark ends. Only that our dark ends won't be Love's end, God's end. On Good Friday we remember that death is an inescapable cold, hard fact. On Easter we remember that the mere facts may not yet be the story. Death is reality, just not the ultimate one. Easter is the proclamation that even death must bow, to possibility."

Three weeks from today is Maundy Thursday; three weeks from tomorrow is Good Friday; then the waiting of Saturday and the rejoicing of Sunday.

Here's Jonathan Martin again, this time from How to Survive a Shipwreck: Help is On the Way and Love is Already Here: "In whatever remains in you that wants to create, to make, to birth something new, in whatever corner that longs for some kind of resurrection on the other side of death, something divine quietly snaps, fires, clicks, flickers. This is the Spirit of God, lurking in your own broken spirit."

Welcome, renewal! Welcome, again and again! I long again for Easter, for Jesus leaving the tomb empty. 

Be sure to visit Dani's blog to see what others have to say about this month's topic!


Karen Eastlund said...

Thank you for this post, Amy, especially for the idea of many mini seasons. Fascinating! Also, I enjoyed your pictures very much and I think I will have to find the book you quoted. I hope things are going well with you and I continue to hold you in prayer.

Donna Smith said...

It was fascinating, Ruth, to think about the subtle changes that are celebrated. I celebrate them too and look forward tot them...just never thought of them as "seasons" in place of seasons. Right now I am anticipating the return of the osprey to their nests (even though we have moved and cannot see them in "person", I watch via web cam). I am eager to hear the spring peepers, see the forsythia, the lilac...each have their own time and are markers to me. Small joys are huge.
And I agree, the best renewal is Easter. Funny how the end of the story is not pretty...but it is beautiful.

Carol Varsalona said...

This line is just one among many that stood out to me:
"By building excitement for these subtle transitions, we can invite more cyclical-anticipation into our lives.” I am noticing the cyclical changes in life and how they relate to me more and more. I am eager to draw closer to Easter Sunday for the ultimate renewal and restoration of life and its energy. I am going back into your post tomorrow to get a deeper understanding of how everything you wrote fits so beautifully together. For tonight, your post gives me much to ponder before sleep. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

Ramona said...

Ruth, thank you for this thoughtful post. I'm intrigued by the book you shared. I just requested it from the library and I'm number 98 on 26 copies. It will be a treat whenever it arrives. I love these words you shared - "It's a time when the monochrome of winter gives way to bright colors and Lent gives way to Easter. It's a time of rebirth, resurrection, renewal." And the idea of mini seasons to celebrate seasonal moments throughout the year is lovely. Your post is a feast of renewal.