by Rachel Campbell
In our garden there is a cluster of daffodils standing in their resolute beauty amidst the stark branches of shrubs yet to awaken from their Winter slumber. The low-lying delicacy of snowdrops and crocuses has given way to these vibrant heralds of the season.
I am proudly Welsh, and the daffodil is our floral emblem, patriotically displayed on March 1st, St David’s Day, our national day. In many schools, pupils and staff dress in traditional costume and gather to sing songs, often in Welsh, to recite poetry, and perhaps enjoy traditional folk dancing.
As a child who didn’t excel in sport, I whole-heartedly entered into these cultural activities. My primary school placed us into four houses, a little like those in the Harry Potter books, only ours were named after Welsh heroes of the past. On St David’s Day we would hold an inter-house competition known as the Eisteddfod. On one of these occasions we were given Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” to recite by heart. I came first in the recitation that year, earning maximum points for my house team.
And even now, I am grateful to whichever teacher decided that we should learn such beautiful words. As Wordsworth himself reflected in the last stanza of his masterpiece:
“For oft on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,”
We are facing unprecedented days of isolation. The solitude of which Wordsworth spoke is not one of bliss, but of anxiety. National borders have been closed and many of us are imprisoned in our own homes. Even the glorious daffodils will have to work harder this year to convey the hope of Spring. New life is being overshadowed by illness and daily death tolls.
Over the last week, I have been studying Celtic spirituality as part of an MA course. Before the church of Rome enforced a uniformity in the British Isles, the Celtic Church with its heroes, Patrick, Brigit, Columba, David and the like, led active mission campaigns proclaiming the Gospel to the pre-Christian population. These men and women seem to have done so in a way that drew alongside the existing culture rather than by battling it into submission. The appreciation of nature, the passing of time through the day and through the seasons, continued as an expression of faith. Yes, there was a shift from worship of the creation to worship of the Creator, but the rhythms of life were honoured.
The Celts expressed their faith in poetic form. These lines which speak of the Spring are taken from a poem that reflects the beauty and uniqueness of each season:
“The face of nature laughs in springtime, her breath fresh and her eyes clearest blue…
The sun glints through the fresh green leaves;
the wind rustling through the branches is the harp of nature,
Playing a love song…
The whole world is in love with its Creator.”
These words might seem hollow this year. The joy of the season is muted.
The Scriptures also acknowledge the rhythms of life. Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes (which I suspect will be widely quoted in the days ahead), chooses the richness of poetry as he contemplates the passing of time:
“The sun rises and the sun sets,
and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and turns to the north;
round and round it goes
ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
there they return again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7)
In perhaps his most famous words, Solomon speaks in a realistically balanced way of:
“A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build…” (Ecc 3:2-3)
And in this season of social distancing,
“A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” (Ecc 3:5b)
The current crisis may make us feel trapped, reflective of CS Lewis’s words about Narnia, “Always Winter but never Christmas”: a prolonged time of endurance when a sense of hope seems elusive. Maybe this year we can identify more with Lent than with Spring. Many of us have, after all, had to surrender our lifestyles, our livelihoods, our education, our experience of Christian fellowship, even our freedom itself.
But Lent has a purpose. It leads to the greatest surrender of all time when the King of Glory, the Darling of Heaven, surrendered to the physical torture of a Roman cross, and the even greater agony of separation from His Father. And there, in that scene of desolation, is the greatest offer of hope there is. The cross did not mark the end but the beginning: the beginning of renewal, of life beyond death, life triumphant over death: eternal Hope.
This season too will pass. There will come a day when the delicacy of snowdrops will yield to the more robust daffodils in the season of longed-for recovery.
Rachel lives in the north of England in a friendly community which has, like many others, been massively impacted by the current situation. She is undertaking an MA in Theology – now remotely – and is currently living in isolation with her husband and three teenagers. She tweets @OurRachToo and can be found on Instagram @rachel_e_campbell.