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Afternoon breezes massage the creamy tepals of the blossom, atop the southern magnolia tree in my backyard; its wonder incites my awe, humbles me before Creator God. This first flowering should not have happened, given last year’s winter bite. Yet, there it is, and another thumb-sized bud emerges on a lower limb. How I had doubted the effectiveness of those biweekly waterings with the soaker hose.

A closer look reveals two rows of four-inch tepals preening within the sun’s rays; its gold-colored carpels in the center resemble the turret of a mosque; its glossy leathery leaves contrast with newer ones, in a lighter shade of green; its lemony fragrance piques my spirit. The tree, itself, appears fuller, more pear-shaped than when it was planted.

Days pass. I’m still moved by the blossom’s presence in my psyche, as if it wants to share something with me. I wait.

Then while washing dishes, it comes: the pristine blossom resembles a virgin soul. Its cupped shape suggests the sacred feminine; its whiteness, purity, simplicity; its velvety petals, unruffled smoothness; its wind and insect resistance, fierce integrity that bodes no intrusion.

It just is, a gift bestowed upon those who seek glimpses into the deeper realm that surrounds us, and with it, seamless joy. I give thanks …

 

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How often will an April freeze scorch a lilac shrub of its regal display? Or brown a full-blown magnolia tree, reducing it to widow’s weeds? Or blister-winds knife blossoms from apple trees and pastiche the ground with snowy whiteness? Or drenching rains wash away tender roots of newly planted annuals? Such losses burn, leave a sour taste.

Such feelings glimmer beneath the opening lines of T. S. Eliot’s elegy, The Waste Land (1922): “April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land mixing/ Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”

It’s all about yearning, about holding onto glimpses of Beauty, whether experienced in nature, in loved ones, or in pets. Within these richly nuanced moments, we catch our breath, perhaps pick up pen or watercolor brush and set to work. For students of such industry, a trail emerges that evidences the expression of unstoppable Life, despite continuous setbacks, even death. The challenge is to begin, yet again, hopefully wiser until the next in-breaking of Beauty that stirs our roots with spring rain.

 

Shuddering gripped our souls as the mixed a capella choir of multiple voices burst into “Priidite, poklonimysa” – (“Come, Let Us Worship),” the first of fifteen Russian hymns of the Vespers/All Night Vigil Service, composed by Sergio Rachmaninoff in 1915. Even the floorboards of the old St. Stanislaus Koska Church in North St. Louis reverberated under our feet. We were in the presence of the Sacred.

Who was this artist who had crafted jeweled harmonies around ancient chants from the thousand-year-old Russian Orthodox liturgy, who interspersed folk songs within the fabric of these hymns, who challenged his singers toward difficult ranges—both soprano and basso profondo? What occurred in Rachmaninoff’s psyche that compelled its composition in less than two weeks? Its first performance in Moscow was a fundraiser for his beleaguered country at war with Germany in World War I.

No doubt he was also sensitive to the disturbing undercurrents that would usher in the 1917 Revolution with its decades of atrocities.

Perhaps Rachmaninoff hoped his Vespers/All Night Vigil would stay the course of evil, but it did not.

Nevertheless to quote S. L. Frank, Russian philosopher, survivor, and author of The Meaning of Life (1925), “The process of transfiguration, of illumination and deification of the world and of human souls is achieved through suffering, for suffering is…the indispensable weapon with which to overcome evil. The victory of goodness can only be achieved through suffering.”

Rachmaninoff seems to echo this truth in his Vespers/All Night Vigil. It can be experienced on YouTube.

 

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