We are in need of hope today, or at least I am. The painful reality of our fallen world is fresh in my mind as I still grapple with the news of shootings in southern Virginia, at a school and town with which I am familiar. We live relatively peaceful lives, many of us, not accustomed to coping with or knowing how to respond to such mindless hatred and violence. To complicate my emotions further, I discovered last evening that my former mother-in-law is in intensive care, struggling to breathe, and I am suddenly all too aware of my mortality once again. I went on a walk this morning, hoping to lighten my mood. I talked with God about my children and their various needs, about all the people saddened by the events in Virginia, about my own fears of aging and losing health and strength. For a while, the walk may not have been cheery, but it was honest and that is something.
It has rained recently and the water flowing through the oxbow was high. I wondered if the holes I noticed in the creek banks were muskrat homes and if so, how they were faring. I looked down into the marsh, knowing that the bittern was not likely to be present, and the brilliance of several red-winged blackbirds caught my attention. Their wing patches reminded me of rubies set against the brown clumps of soggy grasses. The morning was cloudy and there was not much in the way of color except for the greening fields and the red-winged blackbirds. It is in times like this, when things seem bleak and dark, that we are well served to search for signs of hope and indications of God's presence.
The weather has been cloudy, cold and wet for a long number of days now and the various swallows are suffering. Their food is primarily winged insects and these do not fly when it rains and do not fly much when it is cold. I have been concerned for these birds, as there is not much humans can do for them when conditions become harsh. I did not expect to find swallows on my walk today but, gladly, I was mistaken. First to catch my eye was a nervous looking rough-winged swallow who took forays out over the water and then returned to a branch, resting and watching for insects. While sitting, he continually turned his head from side to side and it almost looked as if he were unsettled by the realization that he was the only one of his kind in the area. As I followed his flight with binoculars, a splash of metallic blue zoomed past and I rejoiced that at least one tree swallow had also lived through the cold and dampness. With luck, the hardest days of spring are behind these birds and they will soon be able to go about their business of feeding and breeding.
Walking home, the verse "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen"(Hebrews 11:1) came to mind. I thought about the signs of new life that often occur in what first appears as complete destruction. Burned over meadows or woodlands are the places in which pioneer species can take hold. A degraded clearcut forest floor is the setting in which shade intolerant tree seedlings may flourish. And sometimes the grieving heart becomes a seedbed for the growth of new dependence and reliance on God and His grace. Nothing takes the place of what is gone and nothing is ever the same as what we have lost. But, sometimes unexpectedly, we are granted glimpses into the sure reality that God does not mean to leave us in our pain and in our sorrow. I am persuaded that He knows the depths of our suffering and our longings because He has experienced the same suffocating grief of losing someone He loved. He gives us assurances in His word and in His world that what seems to us to be the end can, in time, transform into a new beginning. These assurances are what we refer to as hope.