The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


Easter and springtime

by Anthony Ross: rector of Edinburgh University

It was Hugh Macdiarmid who wrote

Spring to the North has aye come slow,
But noo dour winter's like to stay

For guid, an' no' for guid

This year Spring has not been slow, nor Winter dour. At this moment, looking over the Leader Valley from a window in St Andrew's College, near Melrose, is a heartening experience. Spring's purple haze is already on the larch plantation, hundreds of daffodils are half-open in a field where young rabbits are running around with no obvious purpose, abandoned to sheer enjoyment of the morning: five rhododendrons are covered in pink blossom, and beyond one of them two wild ducks are moving sedately together.

The snow has gone. Ploughing is finished.It is good to be alive and to look forward to Easter.

The covenant with Noah comes to mind. God's promise of seedtime and harvest, summer and winter. Towards the end of winter harvest came, for two old ladies who had survived many storms. One, in her ninetieth year, serenely peaceful and interested in everyone around her, went joyfully home to God with some hope of Resurrection. The other had known a harder life in many ways but was at peace, sure that God was neither Catholic nor Protestant and that life did not end with burial or cremation. If she was cremated, as she hoped, her ashes would be scattered on a field she had loved, and be available rapidly to encourage the spring grass. If the family decided on burial it would be a longer time before any advantage was given to the birch trees in the cemetery. In either case she felt the unity with the rest of God's creation would be expressed which she had realised so often in her previous life. What is sown as an earthly body will be raised as a heavenly body, as St Paul said, but in between will merge with the life of other creatures in a new way.

Morbid thoughts? Not at all, for those at least who live with the rhythms of life shown in plants and animals throughout the seasons. Change and decay are only part of a process of becoming, a preparation for new life. New life is declared even in the grim derelict sites of Edinburgh and Glasgow in which saplings spring green, and rosebay willowherb and dandelions make great splashes of colour, covering man-made debris. Spring stirs there too. It would surely be a good thing if everyone could share the experience of joy and wonder associated with nature, and do so from an early age. There would then be more concern to avoid pollution of the earth and to ensure a healthy ecology everywhere. There might be more awareness of "the great chime/and symphony of nature," and so of God.

The winter weather has been mild here, the human scene less so. The obsequies of the two old ladies were a grateful celebration of lives lived fully, but there was shadow and pain elsewhere. The economic cuts and unemployment caused increasing anxiety. There were overseas students trapped by inflation, or by the Iraqi-Iranian war, in financial crises. There was growing evidence of increasing circulation of hard drugs among young teenagers. Marriages broke up. Children were taken into care; wives battered; young people and elderly people were tortured by psycho-sexual problems to the point of despair; some, seeing no end to inarticulate suffering, in any other way, made their own end with weedkiller or pills. Sometimes they were glad to think that others prayed for them, although they felt unable to pray for themselves. Those who prayed, often felt powerless also. Where does it end?

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Hopkins knew and expressed the hope revealed by God through his creation.

How right it is that celebration of Spring and Easter should come together. The sad music of humanity gives way to alleluias. Pollution and death and sin are viewed with the renewed hope that in good time all will be renewed and made perfect. "All manner of thing will be well!" In the Resurrection our powerlessness in face of sin and death no longer depresses us because, as the late medieval Scottish poet, William Dunbar wrote: "Done is the battle on the dragon black! Our champion Christ has confounded both his foes, and ours. We can face the future in faith and hope."

From The Tablet dated 11 April 1981.

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