“The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which…like a strong man runs its course with joy.”
(Psalm 19:1, 4-5)
It was damp and the sky was ashen grey the other day when I set out for a run. Given recent events in our nation, the harsh winter we have had and the Lenten season we are in, it seemed appropriate that the sun never came out of its “tent” that day. And yet there were unmistakable signs of better things to come. While numerous puddles reflected the grey sky above, they also highlighted the abundance of God’s firmament below.
I find running to be a good opportunity for another type of reflection—a time to lose oneself in the natural world, compartmentalize the day-to-day struggles we face and clear the mind to ponder the bigger picture and gain direction on the challenges ahead. Occasionally, though, reality intrudes and the solitude is interrupted by the presence and sounds of other human beings.
And so I found myself at the beginning of Manayunk towpath, aware of the ducks silently but assertively swimming against the current where the canal splits from the Schuylkill River. Further on, the quiet was broken by the rattling of a kingfisher, and then the wooded trail began to give way to a manmade, reclaimed industrial landscape. It was impossible on such a grey day not to notice the vivid colors of a Mural Arts installation depicting three-dimensional fish, and in its shadow I witnessed three men actually fishing in the canal. It was unclear whether they were catching anything in the muddy water below, but they appeared to be having fun shooting the breeze while trying.
There were many more people as I continued along the canal, and I could hear the sound of music emanating from Main Street above. I reached my turnaround point and jogged the 10-20 yards up from the path to see what was going on. It turned out to be a Mummers parade, another colorful contrast to the weather—and the crowd was clearly in a good mood, many sporting their Eagles swag.
It was time to head back. As the crowd noise began to give way to the sounds of red-winged blackbirds, I became increasingly aware of signs of rebirth all around me—literally green shoots rising from the dirt. I thought that it won’t be long before daffodils and forsythia will be in bloom and turtles are basking in the canal, and I was also reminded of the already budding weeping willows and flowering Lenten roses I had seen previously.
This is where I turn to the words of Psalm 19:7-9, which describes the Lord’s precepts as “perfect…sure…right…clear…pure…[and] true” and certain of them as also “reviving the soul…rejoicing the heart…enlightening the eyes…[and] enduring for ever”. Further, Psalm 19:10 declares the order of God’s ways as:
“More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.”
These verses give us hope. Although bees have not yet emerged from their winter hibernation to start producing a new season of honey, soon enough they will be giving life to the budding trees and flowers around them—so that we may bear the fruits of God’s handiwork in our midst. So in this Lenten season, I invite you to consider the ways God’s presence continues to break through, interrupting and reminding you of the new life before us. And may it bring a sweetness to the spirit even in the midst of so much greyness.