Monday, April 28, 2008

Dormancy and Bloom

Chicago.

The rain, which has been full and steady all day, has turned to snow. I suspected it a few moments ago, when the tall dining-room bays that overlook a row of neighbors' backyards seemed to be framing something in the air more substantial than transparent water. I looked hard then, but a change into snow is easier to detect by accident than by close observation, and I walked away unsure. Water falls so fast. But now it has all become apparent, because it has all become snow. Things with less substance, like snowflakes, are easier to see. Do you find that as odd as it is?

I arrived less than two weeks ago and there weren't even buds on the bare tree branches lacing the city's streets. Now everything is spring green. The tulip trees (I don't know what they're really called) have budded and bloomed great big hand-sized flowers. Green leaves are already pushing the blooms off, and the beautiful shedding process has begun. It will leave pink-and-white carpeted circles on the ground for a few weeks more. In fact, the entire city is the light, Irish-yellowish green of spring. It took only several days for the huge tree outside my window to produce egg-sized buds, spring them open, and form Dr. Seuss-like pinwheels of tall cone flower topping four spikes which each drip six long, finger-like leaves. Only a few days. To move from nothing, to multiple plant formations each at least 8 inches in diameter. Spring is like a corpse coming to life again. I suppose that is the nature of the very word we use to describe it. "Spring." But I still find it shocking.

Dormancy can be so ugly, so bare, and so unpromising. There is little to distinguish it from deadness, if such is a word. Yet an entire world could fill the void between the two. In the one, life is being stored up, tucked away, harbored and secreted. In the other, life is utterly gone; the shell and carcase might as well be burned.

When my parents purchased their home, theirs and their neighbors' yards both sported trimmed Mulberry trees. Less than six feet tall, with trunks perhaps 6 inches in diameter, the trees look like miniatures. It's a mystery how long they've been here, continually trimmed back every year into a neat, ball-shaped package. Mom is a gardener, more along the lines of the rambling English cottage than the pin-tucked tightness of little brick ranch-houses, and she treats her plants the same way. Our two Mulberries were not trimmed into tight shapes the next year, though they've been judiciously pruned. The neighbors (new owners, now) still have their just-under-six-feet tall miniature trees, and my parents...two Mulberries now tower over their four-storey house, assisting squirrels who want to caper on the roof and visually overshadowing the hundred-year-old structure. Many years had those Mulberries remained in what seemed like stasis--small, awkward, not fully themselves. But how deep was the root system they spread during that time? How wide and strong did each become underground, while above it nothing was happening?

Spring and dormancy are like this in lives, in ministry. What exactly is God doing underground? How strong are the pruning and the trials and the hiddenness making us? And what will happen when He says "Now" and everything is unleashed to grow? Nutrition absorbed over years and years will shoot to the tips of short branches, bulging out in a space of days into blooms and fruit and stunning, light-catching, attention-arresting foliage. Pruning will always be needed and life-preserving, but those times when He chooses spring, those times that come at the end of a long but silent nourishment, are insurpassible in pleasure.

This, the bloom, is not only to be hoped for but to be expected, because we are not of those who are dead! Dormant, perhaps. Dead? Never again.