Editor’s note: Brazos Fellows alum Emily Verdoorn (2019-2020) returns to the blog in this wonderful reflection for Eastertide. Be sure to check out Emily’s online studio to see more of her original artwork.
Yesterday afternoon, a beautiful storm rolled in here in Des Moines. Grey green billowing clouds threatened that unsettling and mysterious kind of beauty, smell, and electric atmosphere which only a thunderstorm can bring. The morning had been a kind of anxious blue with clouds scudding across the sky. As distant thunder began, the stillness preceding the storm came almost as a relief to the wind. I had been outside working on the back patio table, so I hurried to pack up my things. In only a few minutes rain came down in torrents. Small bits of hail seemed to jump up from the ground and bounced off the grass in the front yard. Inside, we turned on lamps against the sudden dimness. It didn’t last long and soon settled into an even, steady spring rain. As the evening turned to night, the regular “plunk-plunk” of large drops of rain gave a sense of comfort in shelter and a promise of rich green growth.
I love the turning of the seasons. As I consider this spring, I also remember this Eastertide last year. It was a significant time. This Easter in Des Moines, Iowa, I was thinking back to Holy Saturday, our Easter vigil in the Gutackers’ home, Easter Sunday, and the season following. Sometimes it is difficult to remember what happened this time last week, and I sort of surprised myself with the clarity I was able to remember even small things from this time last year. I remember the scraping and hiss of the match lighting our first candle in the Gutackers’ dark dining room on Holy Saturday night. I remember Paul bringing out his guitar as he and Paige sang songs they played together in their college days while we feasted on homemade bread and pie. I remember holding tiny Marianne as she fell asleep at Gail’s house Easter Sunday morning. Because of the need to quarantine at the time, it was certainly not the Easter we expected when Lent began. But the unexpected pivot to celebrating Easter in a home gave our celebrations a particularity and atmosphere which I still treasure.
Of course Waco is ahead of Des Moines in its springtime and summer. I remember when the cottonwood trees by the Brazos River turned the grass white with their millions of soft fluffy seeds. I remember finding black swallowtail caterpillars and raising them in a large glass jar with a perforated tin foil cap. And I remember the smell of rosemary bushes on frequent walks back and forth between our house and the Gutackers’ for morning prayer or to make homemade vanilla. This was the first time I had ever really experienced the Eastertide as a season casting its color and light onto the world of my everyday experience long after Sunday morning.
Something which never ceases to amaze me in these memories is how creation sings of its Creator – each different season and different place speaking in its own language. Not only does it describe the kind of God who made it, but it also seems to sing praise and prayer in its own particular way. It reminds me of Palm Sunday, when Jesus is riding toward Jerusalem and some of the Pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke His followers for their loud praise. Jesus responds that if they were to remain silent, the rocks themselves would cry out (Luke 19: 37-40). I like to think that in some way, even as we praise, the rocks still join in.
This year, in the week before Easter I went camping in Arches National Park in Utah. In this dry and rocky ground which seemed to be all sand, sunlight, and no water, the rocks sang praises. One day, the hike we did was into a deep canyon in Canyonlands. The trail sign warned us that this hike should not be attempted in the heat of summer, and it further strongly recommended carrying with us a gallon of water per person. In the rugged red terrain I expected to hear old western music at any moment. The words of Psalm 63 echoed through my head, “as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” T.S. Eliot’s words in a piece of The Wasteland also seemed right: “Here is no water but only rock / Rock and no water and the sandy road / The road winding above among the mountains / Which are mountains of rock without water”. And yet it was extraordinary in its harsh beauty. The rocks cried out in their stark, dry, cracked voices as they reflected the light and heat of the sun during the day and held the coldness of the stars at night. It wasn’t a safe kind of beauty or praise, but it was a song nevertheless.
This Easter Sunday, my home church in Des Moines read Isaiah 55. Toward the end it reads, “the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (verse 12). Creation sings with so many different voices. I think this came home to me last Eastertide in Waco and lingers still this year. Seeing spring through the lens of Easter has made all the difference to me. It is not a love of nature in abstraction. That is too pretty and safe. Rather, seeing the natural world through Eastertide brings the particular things around me into sharper focus. It is seeing creation in the paradox of beauty and terror which is reflected in the crucifixion and resurrection itself. It is not a tame beauty, but rather a wild and gentle, stark and abundant, particular and teeming kind of flourishing which sings the song of Eastertime.