We’ve just passed a significant milestone in the year, the Spring Equinox, when day and night are equal and after which for three months the days become longer and longer, and the nights shorter and shorter.
At least that’s how it is in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere it’s the opposite: from now on the days become shorter and the nights longer. In one part of the world, the explosion of new life; elsewhere the beginning of that journey to decay and eventual death. A constant interchanging dynamic. I’m always struck when I go to the sea by how the tide goes in and out, in and out, in and out. Ebb and flow, ebb and flow.
And that’s how it is, I guess, with our lives: ebb and flow, ebb and flow. Part of my daily routine for many years has been reading or singing the psalms at various key points in the day. The psalms contain, in often graphic language, the whole range of human experience: from, “My God, my God, why have you deserted me?” of Psalm 22 and, in a later verse, “All who see me jeer at me,” to Psalm 145 declaring, “The Lord’s name be ever in my mouth, and let every creature bless God’s holy name for ever and ever.” The psalms of ‘lament’ and those of praise are interlinked with one another each day and throughout the liturgical year. Some days I may not feel like praising God with ‘blast of the trumpet’ (Psalm 150), and other days I may not be able to relate to being “more worm than man” (Psalm 22 again), but the Church in its wisdom knows that if I am feeling elated, somebody somewhere will be in the depths of despair; and on the days that it is me in the depths, somebody somewhere will be rejoicing.
Life and death are so intertwined. The date that my dad died was September 24th, and it was the very day that he and mum had received in the post the announcement of the birth of Sean, my third child and his fifth and last grandchild, four days earlier. The passage from Genesis 26 that Yim Soon had chosen for the announcement were the words of God spoken to Isaac: “I will fulfil the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven.” We’d always thought that dad’s birthday was September 19th. We discovered about a year before his death that it was in fact September 20th. In 1920s rural Ireland such mistakes in recording were seemingly quite common. At least they were in dad’s family, with a similar thing happening to one of his sisters, my Aunty Mary. How fitting that it turned out that dad and Sean should share a birthday, and I know there was far more than that linking them together.
It’s good to be reminded of how interconnected we are, and how we’re all part of this constant ebb and flow. It’s good as well to have milestones, markers that show how far we’ve come, how far there is to go. When I ran the London Marathon in 2009 I remember the excitement of seeing the mile markers: 1 mile, 2 miles, 3 miles…11 miles, 12 miles, 13 miles, half-way…20 miles, ‘only’ 6 to go. So too with Lent, it’s helpful to be able to clock off the long weeks. We’ve now clocked off over four of those weeks that seemed an eternity back on Ash Wednesday. Like with those last five or six miles on the marathon it’s time now to dig deep, to not lose heart; and to not beat ourselves up if we haven’t managed to keep our Lenten resolutions. Perhaps we can recall the good intentions with which we set out, and we can still make the most of the final two weeks. Perhaps we can even find opportunities to rejoice with those who rejoice, to mourn with those who mourn.
In less than two weeks we will arrive again at Good Friday, and shortly afterwards at Easter. Death and resurrection; ebb, and flow. It is our human, and our divine, mission.