Spring, a time of hope
I’m writing from the north of England, very much in the northern hemisphere, and, where I live signs of spring are beginning to emerge after a long, hard winter. For me this is a time of great hope. Therefore, although I love both poets, I’m more of a Robert Browning that a T. S. Eliot fan when it comes to interpretations of spring. ‘O to be in England/ Now that April’s there’ (written with nostalgia for home while he was in Italy) echoes my feelings more than ‘April is the cruellest month, breeding/ Lilacs out of the dead land’.
I love seeing the natural world coming to life: parks full of daffodils, trees in bud, birds singing in greater numbers and at louder volume than in recent months, ducks on the river and lambs in the fields. April brings a mini-Hanami to our street as the cherry blossom billows into life followed by a carpet of blossom in the gardens and road. There is so much promise in the air with longer, warmer days to come, the knowledge that buds will be replaced by blossom and flowers, bees and butterflies will emerge, and showier plants will dominate garden borders.
Especially after a year and more of coronavirus, I feel fortunate and privileged to own a garden and have regular access to outdoor private space. At all seasons this has given me solace and the privilege of being outdoors, even in strict lockdowns. But I especially love being able to enjoy my garden as longer days arrive and warmer days become more frequent. It is early enough in the year to develop new plans which make a difference to the garden later in the season. Gardens are never perfect and that makes them both a challenge and a lesson for life. I have just moved a couple of shrubs to create a bed with more flowers and colour, I have sweet peas germinating in the porch and I’m pondering which vegetables to grow. I usually have success with courgettes and tomatoes in my small outdoor space, but green beans, normally foolproof, were a definite no-show last year. I could just drop them from the scheme, but this year is nothing if not a time for resilience and persistence so, okay beans, you’ve just earned yourselves another go.
Spring is also a time of spiritual renewal and growth. We’ve just passed the spring equinox (20 March) where equal days and nights herald the lengthening of the days as summer approaches. For Zoroastrians, the spring equinox is celebrated as New Year’s Day, including acknowledging the exact moment of the equinoctial point which obviously varies around the world. Iranians sing the poetic line ‘my yellow is yours, your red is mine’, which accepts the need to share both strengths and weaknesses. Fires are lit to take away ill-health and problems and replace them with warmth, health, and energy. Fire and colour are also key to the Hindu, Sikh and Jain festival of Holi. On 29 March this year, Holi celebrates the arrival of spring, the end of winter, the blossoming of love, and for many it’s a festive day to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, repair broken relationships and acknowledge the strength of good deeds and positive intentions in overcoming evil. Currently Christians are observing Lent, a time of abstinence in preparation for Easter. Easter itself is on 4 April in 2021 and is a festival of hope and renewal. It is the most important Christian festival, celebrating God raising his son Jesus from the dead as well as the promise of eternal life and the destruction of the power of sin. Chocolate eggs symbolise new life and are eaten to celebrate Easter and to end a period of going without treats.
Whatever your faith or world view, spiritual strength can be gained from the certainty of the turning of the year and the cycle of new life, birth, and regeneration, bringing comfort in these uncertain times. We cannot ignore that for many the last year has been touched by untimely death and that the challenges and threats of a global pandemic are not coming to a swift end. But there are signs of hope in that respect too. Many people are fortunate to have access to vaccines and can contemplate a time when restrictions will be eased.
And for those of you for whom this is now autumn, whose year and festivals unfold differently in the other half of the world, I am thinking of you too. I am hoping that you are finding sources of hope and spiritual renewal even as your world grows colder and begins the different kind of regeneration that is found in winter, less visible but crucial to the future of all forms of life.