A few days ago it was the first day of spring. Since then we have had about three inches of new snow. Someone even built a snowman(person?) near the front entrance. The snow is melting again, leaving large brown patches of dead grass, muddy roads and little rivers of water running through mud clumped fields. As I walk down the roads the old beer cans that have been covered since November are now glaring in ditches, the cattle seem to be mud-caked wonders.
At this time of year I wonder about all the romantic images of spring. The sappy paeans to spring flowers seem inappropriate at best and delusional at worst. Spring seems more like the temporal and geographic equivalent of purgatory, an awful, interminable in-between state that has neither the pristine promise of white snow blankets nor the green fecund reality of summer greenness. It is a grumpy, difficult time of year that shows no sign of ending.
But I wonder whether this mud time, when it is hard to believe much less see the possibility of transformation, is a metaphor for our monastic life. There are frequently days when it seems like living with all these people, each of us with our own unique brand of brokenness, is an interminable slog through mud. There are days when it seems like this mud time won’t end, that flowers will never bloom, fruit won’t bear, the reality will always be dirty snow, patches of brown dead grass and a sea of mud.
There are those days, but then something funny happens. The big picture is only mud, but the closer inspection so easily overlooked shows something else. Little blades of grass poke up out of snow and peek out of the muck, almost lost in soggy ditches they are a subtle hint of possibility.
In the mud of community it is easy to miss the grass. There are little hints of grass when someone patiently answers the same question over and over from the sister who doesn’t remember she just asked the same thing two minutes ago. There is laughter at the dinner table at some shared absurdity. New life comes when someone visits and feels the presence of God in this place. There is a promise of fruit in common worship and prayer when moments of grace pierce through our distractedness.
Living in community is living in mud time. It means living with patience that can be stretched to its limits. It means living in hope, living in promise, waiting for a change that is slow in coming, change that comes in jerks, fits and starts. Living in mud time teaches us to look closely, carefully, deeply. Do you see it? There, the subtle, fragile green of new life. It is coming. Just wait, believe and know that it is God’s work and not your own.