, Newburyport, MA

May 4, 2013

Devoted to the spring faith

In the Spirit
The Rev. Harold E. Babcock

---- — Perhaps, like me, you are a devotee of the spring faith.

Unlike so many of the other things into which I have put my faith, spring has never failed me yet. It is even more predictable than baseball. The swallows, so I am told, have returned to Capistrano. The inevitable green is starting to show. After months of half-life, months when I have wondered as the poet Christina Rossetti did, “if sap is stirring yet, if wintery birds are dreaming of a mate, if frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun, and crocus fires are kindling one by one,” I have begun to feel alive again, fully alive. Spring is more of a new beginning than New Year ever thought of being; in fact, the astronomers actually see it that way, too: They measure the length of the year from one vernal equinox to the next.

I trace my complete devotion to the spring faith to the three winters I spent in Minnesota. I never got used to those long, bitterly cold Minnesota winters. Out there on the prairie, the spring faith is sorely tested, for as colleague from Minnesota once wrote, “In our part of the world, spring does not mean gardening and cycling and short sleeves. For us, spring is a much more complicated season than that. It brings those things, but it can also involve shoveling and snowplowing and cross-country skiing.” We in New England can relate.

For me, the clincher in finally accepting the spring faith was the fact that spring always came, even in Minnesota.

I love the smell of spring, the cast of the light, the sounds of the birds returning. I love the spring rain, in what the African-American poet Langston Hughes once called “The time of silver rain,” that time “When spring and life are new.”

It is that “new life” of spring that we so desperately need after the long winter. It’s what baseball gives us each spring; new life, a clean slate, every team a pennant winner, high hopes for another season. In springtime, wrote the great New York Times nature writer, Hal Borland, “Resurrection is there for us to witness and to participate in.”

The spring faith sustains me as I struggle to come to terms with sorrow and loss, and with the reminder of other sorrows and losses. My favorite grandmother died in the spring; so did my best friend.

There is a solace and redemption in the spring. As poet Mark Van Doren writes, in spring there is “Blessing beyond any thinkable dream.” Blessing indeed: for what can possibly compare to the feeling of the warm sun on our skins after the cold, dark winter?

Spring, like life, shall pass. But it is spring’s brevity, like life’s, that makes it sweet. Even this brief life of ours is a miracle, like the miracle of rebirth that occurs each spring. No wonder that on beautiful, early spring days, we find it so difficult to keep our minds on our work. Surrounded by the miracle of spring, aware once again of the miracle of life itself, of our once only lives in this mortal form, how can we possibly think of anything else?


The Rev. Harold E. Babcock is pastor of the First Religious Society in Newburyport.