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
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
From The Tablet dated 11 April 1981.