Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. John 12:24 KJV
After Hurricane Irma, we returned to our coastal home from mandatory evacuation to discover an uprooted tree on the roof of our porch and that ocean waters had covered all of our property by at least two feet. Although our house is elevated and was not affected by the flood, the influx and outflow of salt water left its mark under the house, on the driveway and across the yard. We wondered if it had damaged the camellias, azaleas, gardenias in the yard. Our zinnia bed was completely wiped out and eventually we realized that we had also lost some azalea plants.
Although tree removal and a new roof were major undertakings, we suffered minimal loss compared to so many in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and even Georgia. But, we spent weeks cleaning up. And during that period, we began to notice new growth coming through the concrete and rock border around the zinnia bed.
At first glance, the seedlings looked like zinnias. Whatever was growing, we didn’t disturb the stems pushing their way through the aggregate in this seemingly infertile border. Lo and behold, the new growth put on buds, then a multitude of zinnias - red, pink, orange, yellow - bloomed. I gathered a bouquet to sit by the kitchen sink.
According to Lift Right Concrete LLC, “tiny, little plants don’t actually have the power to cause concrete sidewalk cracking. Instead, the plant’s roots take advantage of existing microscopic cracks…As the root system grows and develops… feelers seek out the paths of least resistance for expansion….Eventually, molecule by molecule, the plant’s growth can force its way into the slab and create a surface crack. Talk about a mustard seed moving mountains!”
Usually, we spy this concept with grass growing through cracks in a sidewalk. In Texas, I have seen it in cacti growing out of what appears to be a rocky mountainside. But these new zinnias, after a storm, took me by surprise.
Every time I glimpsed them, I was reminded of “The Hymn of Promise” written by Natalie A. Sleeth, 1986. “In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree/ In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!/ In the cold and snow of winter, there’s a spring that waits to be/ Unrevealed until its season, something alone God can see.”
C. Michael Hawn, writing for The United Methodist Church’s Discipleship Ministries, explains this musician’s thought process in writing these lyrics. “The author states that she was ‘pondering the ideas of life, death, spring and winter, Good Friday and Easter, and the whole reawakening of the world that happens every spring.’ Inspired by a T.S. Eliot line, the germ of the hymn grew from the idea ‘in our end is our beginning,’ the phase that begins the third stanza of this hymn.”
Symbols of Easter - the egg, the lily, the dogwood - are the same images spring brings us year after year. What appears as dead is alive. Throughout nature, God repeats this message each year. While we humans learn by repetition, sometimes we see and hear; sometimes, we act as if we’re deaf and blind. But God’s message is constant, year after year after year.
Recently, I came across these words in my daily devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, by twentieth century Scottish chaplain Oswald Chambers. “…We have a tremendous treasure in nature…that is holy and sacred. We see God reaching out to us in every wind that blows, every sunrise and sunset, every cloud in the sky, every flower that blooms and every leaf that fades.”
Author Jack Kornfield adds, “Gratitude is confidence in life itself. In it, we feel how the same force that pushes grass through cracks in the sidewalk invigorates our own life.”
And poet David Igratow, writes “If flowers want to grow right our of concrete sidewalk cracks, I’m going to bend down and smell them.”
Witnessing, giving thanks, kneeling, they are all a part of the Christian’s observance of Easter. After the storm - the promise.