This is a special time of year in my part of Canada: the lilacs are speaking!
Lilac flowers don’t use words, of course. They announce their presence through their beautiful fragrance and delicate purple colour.
But there’s another way lilac shrubs can talk to us. Their very location can give us clues to the history of a place.
“…the story of early Canada can be read in the lilacs clustered where log cabins once stood, at the edge of abandoned fields—flowers marking time in centuries.” (from “A New Leaf,” by Merilyn Simonds)
Settlers to the northern parts of North America would often plant lilac shrubs on either side of the front door to their farmhouse. Generations or even centuries later, the building has long since been torn down, but the lilacs live on. If you see a pair of lilac bushes in a field or empty lot, you can be pretty sure they used to flank someone’s front door. The house is gone, the family has moved away, but the fragrance of the lilacs they planted still fills the air.
This reminds me a bit of how prayers can live on, long after the person who prayed them is gone.
There’s something strange about the crisis the world is undergoing right now: from the outside, things look surprisingly normal.
If you view the streets of your town during this pandemic, most things look the same as they did before. The buildings are intact, the streetlights come on at night like clockwork, and the spring flowers are blooming. This isn’t a crisis like a flood or earthquake, where the devastation is plain to see.
The COVID-19 crisis seems almost invisible, until you realize that something isn’t quite right when you look around: missing from the scene is the normal hum of human activity. The workplaces are shut, people aren’t in restaurants, and children aren’t in playgrounds. An eerie quiet pervades most areas.
It’s only when you look behind closed doors that you see the devastating impact of the pandemic. The high death toll in some nursing homes, the stressed out health care workers, and the loneliness of self-isolation.
When we have a crisis of our own, like depression or despair, we can look a bit like those intact buildings. Things look normal from the outside. When people look at us, there’s no evidence of the turmoil raging within.
The lockdowns associated with the coronavirus pandemic have produced some unexpected results in the natural world.
With fewer vehicles and industrial machines operating, noise pollution has been reduced so dramatically that seismologists can hear sounds from inside the planet that they couldn’t detect previously.
In cities, reduced traffic noise is allowing people to hear birdsong, the chatter of squirrels, and the chirping of crickets like never before. People have been surprised to discover that they can now hear the flapping of birds’ wings as they pass overhead.
A quieter environment is probably also allowing animals to hear each other better. City birds usually have to sing more loudly than their country cousins to make themselves heard above the urban cacophony: perhaps their mates and rivals can hear them more easily now. With a reduction in ship traffic, marine mammals might also be finding that they can contact each other with greater ease now that there is less “acoustic smog” in the oceans.
If we can hear the creation better during the lockdowns, and creation can hear itself better, can we hear our Creator better?
The shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere is the winter solstice, which occurred last year on December 21st. From that day on, the days begin to lengthen and the sun’s position in the sky begins to rise from our perspective.
But if the days are now getting longer and we’re getting more sunlight, why does it keep getting colder and snowier here in January and February?
Sometimes there’s something we want to express, but we can’t seem to find the right term for it. There’s a feeling or situation that we just can’t put into words. Or maybe the precise word doesn’t even exist in English.
On occasion we have to turn to words and phrases in other languages to describe exactly what we’re trying to say. For instance, in English we often borrow the German word “schadenfreude,” which means “pleasure at the misfortune of others”.
Maybe we should consider borrowing a few more foreign words that have no English equivalent. I suggest the following:
For over 30 years now, the Butterball company has hosted a hotline for those encountering problems or questions when cooking their Thanksgiving or Christmas turkeys.
The experts at their turkey talk-line answer calls from over 100,000 people per year, desperate cooks mystified by the process of roasting a turkey and needing advice. Usually, the caller is unsure how to thaw the turkey, or how to calculate the cooking time.
Sometimes, however, the problems are a bit more complicated…not to mention hilarious.