The Meadowlark Has Got It Right

by Fr. David May

I love summer. It’s my favorite season of the year. While the other three seasons here in Ontario each have a certain allure, they don’t compare with it, really.

True, autumn has, for a brief time, the brilliance of leaves afire with color and clear days fresh and pure with a promise of the harvest coming in.

And yes, the long, long winter has the beauty and brightness that snow alone can bring to darkening days.

Spring here is brief, a kind of interlude between winter and summer, with its mix of snow, rain showers, warm sunny days, and the quick march of spring flowers. And how welcome it is!

But summer! Summer is not only a promise of life and fruitfulness—it is this. From forests awash with billions of green leaves of all shades and shapes, to gardens flooded in color of flowers and fattening crops of berries and vegetables, to the long, sunny, hot days, to the exciting unpredictability of an afternoon thunderstorm.

How can one not love it? (Well, there are a few biting bugs and occasional humidex readings of over 35 C (95 F).

Contemplation of something beautiful is essential to the spiritual life and to one’s psychological state generally.

Each season has something to offer, and of course this is enhanced when one lives at a distance from intense and dense urban living, as we do here in Combermere.

But beauty of any kind, manmade or of nature, beckons us out of ourselves so that we are, for a time, caught up in something beyond the prison of self. For without something or someone of transcendent beauty to attract our notice, the self remains in a prison of its own making with no hope of release.

With no hope of release, there remain only attempts to escape. This takes various forms today—ranging from addictive behaviors of all kinds to changing one’s identity, to escape reading, videos, the internet, games, vacations, etc..

All too soon the vacation is over, the great escape comes to an end, and in the words of someone frustrated with the turn of events in his life, “reality rears its ugly head.”

It’s a tragic state of affairs when our reality is not beautiful in some deep way, even if hidden.

But, you might say, isn’t it more realistic to acknowledge that real life does indeed have ugly features? There’s nothing pretty about cancer, for example, nothing positive about sexual and other types of abuse.

What is beautiful about the tragedy and the travesty of modern warfare? And the hidden, largely unknown sufferings of people are legion, too numerous even to try and list.

Better to be a realist, facing the hard facts of life squarely, than to seek escape through writing poems to Beauty. Better honesty about life’s pains than living with one’s head in the clouds while classifying bird sightings. If you’re going to live with your head in the clouds, at least become a meteorologist, preferably competent!

But try as you may to be “realistic” in the way just described, something in us is made to seek, to find, and to admire an awesome glory that is beyond us, a glory transcending our worst sorrows and miseries.

I may be heartbroken over the loss of a loved one, but the local meadowlark just keeps singing his melodious song. Is that song mocking me as a heartless universe follows its impersonal, instinctive destiny? Or perhaps worse: does that song have nothing to do with my situation at all, sounding carefree but really care-less?

What if, on the other hand, the whole universe is now, in some mysterious way, a sacrament of Christ’s mercy, since through his Ascension he fills all creation with his presence? That would mean that every aspect of life, potentially, could become a sign of the loving presence of our Risen Lord!

“There is the dearest freshness deep down things,” wrote the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

This view is based on faith in Christ, whose Holy Spirit is ever at work in hidden but wonderful ways, illumining the tired and broken creation with a divine light that brings about the fulfillment and simultaneously reveals the deepest truth of the created order.

In other words that carefree meadowlark may well be at one time or another a sign of the truth that, despite continual struggles and setbacks in life, these are not the final word. Rather the meadowlark has got it right.

As Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” For Christ has conquered.

Or maybe that word will be spoken at just the right moment to us by someone purified by great suffering. The radiant joy of such a believer is indeed a most wonderful sign of the glory of God made present in our very flesh. Mr. Meadowlark, take notice!

What joy there is in giving in to hope! When we are enabled by the grace of God to believe in his saving goodness, all of creation takes on a different quality. Adoration and praise open us to God our Savior, ever at work in our lives offering tokens of his saving love.

Two feasts in August capture these truths and display them in beautiful liturgies: the feast of the Transfiguration on the 6th and the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the 15th.

The former celebrates the revelation of divine glory in and within the very flesh of Jesus; the latter, Mary’s receiving that same gift at the end of her earthly life. Both stand as assurance of the deepest reality of human beings given to Jesus Christ and transformed by the grace of his vivifying Spirit.

How glorious the man or woman given to Jesus Christ in prayer and loving obedience!

How seldom we are aware of this mystery kept hidden from our eyes! But the flowers of summer are clothed in glory and the birds of summer are feeding their young in a frenzied celebration of the gift of life. And the summer tourists look relieved to find themselves once again on vacation in Renfrew and Hastings counties.

For an instant in time, eternal life shines forth all around, whispering and at times singing aloud the praises of God. How foolish of us not to join in with the abandon of children hurling themselves into cool waters on hot summer days.