The opening of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” is often quoted this time of year. I always like to join the annual chorus:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
In winter, these lines are nonsense to me, though I will forever love their sound and their rhythm.
After a taste of winter, I long for spring. I read my gardening books almost in a fever. March here in Pennsylvania is especially difficult. The light says spring, the snow comes and goes, but the ground is awash in mud and old, brown leaves. Winter feels neither warm nor forgetful, especially during the long march out of it.
But in April, these lines spring to life. Yes, I say to myself. April does have a cruel edge to it.
I feel it especially on a morning like this. Still and cold. Though the sun shines, I fear it will not really warm the air but merely stir up a painful breeze. But while I could forget the garden in winter, while I could tuck myself up by the fire with a gardening book, April demands that we go out in it.If there is to be a summer garden, April asks that we stir ourselves, go outside, clean away the dead leaves, prune the spindly canes of the roses, cut back and cart away the dead stalks of perennials.
I love those words the risen Jesus speaks in the book of Revelation: I am making everything new.
We are, always and in every season, invited to participate in the risen life of Jesus. We are invited to begin practicing resurrection and clearing space in our lives and communities (and gardens) for new life.
But every April I remember how hard that work can be, and how hopeless it can sometimes feel. Yes, forgetful winter is sometimes easier. It is more comfortable. It asks less of us. It seems to me extra meaningful that Eliot ends each line, not with the pause of a comma, but one very active word later: breeding, mixing, stirring, covering, feeding.
April can be a sharp, somewhat prickly time of year, like the bare root roses I always add to the flower garden before anything else is growing.
But if we want to participate in the work of new life, if we want to see with our own eyes its first appearance, we must get up. Go out. Clear space.
It is time to make room.
It is time to anticipate, but actively.