Butterfly wings, daffodil brightness, the head of an infant, bird nests, an elderly person’s hug, the legs of a newborn pony, cherry blossoms, and a million more of ‘my favorite things’ – these are all worth cherishing and protecting and noting their strength in the midst of their seeming fragility. Spring makes me mindful of beauty’s fragility, of vulnerability’s beauty, and of new ways of understanding strength.
Today is sunny after days of rain, and I rejoice! The tulips’ bright colors shout, the pansies in purple and yellow and deep red pick up their little heads, and I can almost see them trying to grow strong. The dogwood tree is preparing to bloom like a bride before a mirror on her wedding day. Birds are singing and shouting to each other as they romance and hunt nest-places. If not for school today, children would be calling to each other from their yards or bikes. Only the occasional car sounds outside my window. The sun and the season give me joy. It is my favorite time of year.
Yet I am mindful that the new buds will be full leaves soon, that the bright tulips will not long be with us, that the azaleas – not yet budding – will bud and go to green, that the puppies I see will soon be full grown dogs, that the butterflies that burst forth will have brilliant lives – but oh too short. And I note the wind on days of rain that too soon robs the tulip tree of its magnificent blossoms. My own lawn mower runs way too close, in the effort to well trim, and cut a few daffodils, now in a vase. In the fall, nature’s fading is brilliant but oh so sad to me. In spring, the temporary and fragile beauties are treasures to be seen and held in mind’s eye and heart’s memory – to be tapped as needed in longer or shorter days.
Human life too is fragile and beautiful. Infants are born and toddlerhood celebrated, learning and growing and exploring and playing are childhood’s joys. Little ones fall and get up a great many times learning to walk, and on their way to adulthood… in early years with an enthusiasm for all of their restarts. Their grandparents’ falls are sources of concern for middle generations who wonder what harm or limitations will be caused. The wonder of the human body’s great resilience is near taken for granted by the child and young adult, whose experience is of energy unlimited and then restful sleep. All of this, of course, varies as pain or trauma, illness or violence – like early wind and rains to the budding tulip tree – can sweep away some or all of the security of youth which is related to a sense that danger is nowhere nearby.
Adulthood and/or experiences of great change or loss bring a different sense of life’s fragility. Hearts and minds learn, with time, the seasons of emotions and cognitive reflections that are love and yearnings, frustration and judgments, achievements and new pathways, self determination and interdependence in the complexity of human relationships. Suffering and illness are encountered through the stories of others – and close to hand with loved ones or in our own flesh. Human pain – emotional or physical – is a signal of ‘all is not as I thought it was’ to the person, at any age, who has known the beauty and security of sunny days primarily.
At some point, we all encounter and are invited to learn some peace and acceptance with life as it is – in seasons spring to spring: beginnings, full life, fruitfulness, fading glorious beauty, dyings and hidings in the earth, and eventual rebirth.
One of the joys of the Incarnation, of God-WITH-us in Jesus, is the assurance of God who lived and learned these seasons by our sides, at our shoulders, close to earth. Jesus’ own physical human journey followed this pattern, and he saw beauty and age and fragility and strength first hand in the natural world and in the bodies and eyes and lives of Mary and Joseph, and others he loved. “Life is fragile, handle with prayer” is a needleworked phrase hung in my room – crafted by my mother . I imagine Jesus learned this too in his journey.
Life’s fragility takes us to prayer. The delicateness of a rosebud or the last blossoms of a cherry tree – beginnings and endings – call us naturally to praise and celebration and longing and confusion. The thin skin of an elderly relative reminds us of how temporary is our housing here. The cocoons do fall away at some point, or we climb out of them. Joseph’s death, however it occurred, must have taken Jesus on a heart journey that included yearning and love and loss – and a reflection on life’s fragile beauty. He knew the strength of those carpenter’s hands on wood, around him as a child, and guiding him along the way. His words, not long from his own death, about a grain of wheat needing to fall into the ground and die for new life to occur — these signal the wisdom he has gathered and the lessons from which he learned and lived.
Not many days now until Holy Week, and we are in the midst of the juxtaposition between fragility and strength, death and resurrection, being buried and new life. Wherever each of us is in our personal experiences of these rhythms, life’s strength and gift is true; life’s beauty is real; life’s fragile vulnerability is present. We cannot grasp all these things with our minds. Our hearts come closer. But our experiences are the real tutors, and the book of creation around us can be read clearly. Enjoy it all! Sometimes the most fragile is, because of its very fragility, the most beautiful. Some beauties last very long. Whatever its shape, embedded in all of life is a strength that has nothing to do with a time clock or protective coating. Each item in creation is strong when it is what it is, and stands in its reality confidently and without need to dissemble.
You and I are God’s work of art, as Paul puts it. When we can stand in the beauty of our individual and collective creation with confidence, we can give from who we are. And that giving is unlike what any other can offer. We stand, as beautiful-strong-fragile-loving-and-loved creations. And we smile and we cry, we laugh and we sob, we play and we praise, we create and we give — and we help each other with the vagaries of the seasons, the winds, the factors that impact our lives and hearts and bodies. And we learn, hopefully, to trust and to be. We learn faithfulness and celebration, treasuring and loving.
Jesus enters Holy Week. Is he prepared? What would that mean? He enters Holy Week as himself, and that will be enough. He loves and treasures. He is faithful. He celebrates. He remembers times in the carpenter’s shop, times with his mother, fields of flowers and grain, seeds and sparrows, bread and wine, fellowship and obtuse friends, blind men and thirsty women, words and longings and prayer. And, ultimately, he will give himself wholely. But those moments of self gift come directly from all the other ones of being in, experiencing, and embracing life before.
So let us, like him, embrace the life that is ours – celebrate the beauty, the fragility, the strength of what is around us and within us – and commit to the path it takes us.