By MARY HOOD HART
One of the most remarkable aspects about spring in the Carolinas is the transformation of once-ordinary landscape into cascades of color. Dogwoods, wisteria, azaleas brighten otherwise dull scenery and create a spectacle of blossoms. I spend a lot of time driving along rural roads, and I am amazed at how suddenly a modest, woodframe house or rusted barn I’d passed countless times without noticing has become a splendor. A rustic structure is dramatically transformed as if, over night, brilliant color splashed down around it from the heavens.
Indeed, the most dramatic transformations occur in the least likely places. Perhaps made more striking by the incongruity of beauty and brokenness, in the countryside, ramshackle homes are surrounded by the largest azaleas, spilling over with pink blossoms. Brilliant dogwoods, blazing like huge sparklers in the sunlight, thrive in yards strewn with old tires, rusted bikes, and heaps of trash.
While we expect to see the beauty of spring manifested in the manicured grounds and well-tended gardens of stately homes, this wild, indiscriminate beauty catches us off guard. Passing a scene we’ve ignored for months, we do a double take, we catch our breath … why haven’t we noticed this place before?
When spring is over, we know why. Because there was nothing to notice, save the beauty of those short-lived blossoms.
In his poem “In a Station of the Metro” Ezra Pound describes the experience of seeing, as he emerged from a subway train, “suddenly one beautiful face, and then another and another …” The poem’s imagery includes a single metaphor; he compares the beautiful faces he encounters to “petals on a wet, black bough.” The contrast of the dank, dismal subway station with the beauty of the people inside it makes the image all the more striking.
If there is symbolism in such a striking contrast, in the haphazardness of beauty suffusing ugliness, it would lie in the process of transformation. Through nature’s gifts, that which was stark, ordinary becomes breathtaking, worthy of wonder. If in the natural world we can detect a reflection of the world of the spirit, we sense through nature the glory our souls — sometimes as littered with debris as the trashiest yard — can also adorn.
It may seem ironic that the most stunning scenes of spring often occur in the least auspicious surroundings. Many of us go to great lengths to plant and maintain our yards and gardens, and we take great pride in our success. At the same time, glorious azaleas, surpassing anything we can plant, flourish in places where they have never been pruned or fertilized. Through all the expense, labor and time we invest in our landscaping, we may never duplicate the beauty that exists untended by abandoned tobacco sheds along lonely country roads.
If there’s a spiritual metaphor in the existence of beauty in such unpromising places, it may be our need to recognize that all our efforts are not sufficient or necessary to win God’s favor. The act of humbly acknowledging our brokenness, our dependence on God’s mercy, our inability to exist without him, provides the most fertile place to receive his grace.
Comparing transformation in the spirit to the transforming beauty of spring is not a perfect metaphor, of course. When spring ends, the blossoms fade and wilt and that which seemed so stunning in their presence returns to its original dreariness. Spring’s physical transformation is temporary. However, through Christ, the transformation of the soul is complete and everlasting. God’s grace and mercy are not seasonal. They are offered to us freely for all time.
Transient though it is, spring provides us a glimpse of hope in our brokenness. Nature’s vibrant color in the midst of the dismal, the dreary, refreshes and inspires us. Just as we awaken to the startling beauty around us, we are newly aware of the possibility of grace’s transforming power in our own lives.
Mary Hood Hart lives in Sunset Beach, N.C., with her husband, Jim, and four children, ages 8 to 16.