This morning, I finally open the box. The lid slides free with a sigh, the satisfying thwump of gift opened, gift held, gift counted.
Riley gave me a white hyacinth bulb for Christmas, seed of promise in a rooting vase the color of water. I hold the bulb in my palm, cupping my hand around its teardrop shape, and I lift the vase up to the light. The artfully cracked glass splits gentle morning rays, scattering them all over my kitchen. Riley’s gifts have always expressed a bit of her soul, as I suppose does all of our giving, as I certainly know does God’s. Her gifts come thoughtful, vibrant, sometimes eccentric, sometimes deep, sometimes with a quirky grin. When I open this one, I draw a finger across the photograph on the front of the box, the gentle curve of sculpted petals, thinking the gift altogether simple and exquisite, something uniquely special–a seed of beauty waiting to be revealed, a gift waiting within a gift waiting, a promise encased in a frail and temporary shell.
Christmas tells a seed story, a Promise encased in a frail and temporary shell. And Easter unwraps the gift.
In the days after Christmas, I placed the box, still closed, beside my kitchen sink. Over days of suds, I have imagined that delicate bloom. I have relished the possibility of a single pure life. Meanwhile, I feel in my hands the chapped, cracked reality of cleaning that never really ends. Dishes always find their way right back to the sink. And before the Lamb, the blood of thousands of inadequate sacrifices ran rank and dirt thick in the ancient streets. One way or another, we human beings always find our way back to the altar, with the dust all clinging to our fingers.
I waited to root my white hyacinth, Riley’s pristine gift, until the Lenten days began to swell. And now, it feels as though the time has come, ripe for the death of a seed, the resurrection of a life. Fill the water until it’s close–but not touching—the bottom of the bulb. There’s something about the reaching that makes these shriveled, brittle roots fill strong, plump. Place the vase in a dark, cool place, like a basement or a cellar until the stem grows 3 inches tall. A dark, cool place, pitch like a tomb, like a cocoon. I sigh. I knew this about bulbs, and yet, I had wanted to watch. I lift the vase and bulb, the water swaying, and take them to the garage. It’s the best I can do, and it seems to be the place in this house where things go to die. Listen carefully, Word says: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal (John 12:24, MSG). Unless it is buried; unless you let go, reckless; life never becomes more than just a seed. So it is with gifts, too. If I let go, reckless, the gifts God freely gives multiply and reproduce.
It occurs to me that all our births and rebirths happen out of dark spaces. Even my own body began as a tiny seed so planted. And out of our deepest pain, our withered reaching for water and light, come vibrant growth and strong, solid roots for pressing on. Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4, NIV). It’s no mistake that bulbs are shaped like teardrops. Perseverance is hard fought. Roots take effort. But in every darkness, a promise waits, rooting a greater glory. So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace (2 Cor. 4:16-18, MSG).
I sometimes wonder why the resurrection sometimes feels just beyond our reach, since its story is the water, the root, the vase, the bloom, the divine-spun thread holding everything living together. For in Him, we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28, NIV). Again and again, we all live and breathe resurrection. We touch it, we taste it, we gather its hope in our hands. We, ourselves, our very skin and bone, are resurrection-born. We thrash forth from our darknesses and breathe, rooted for new life, for fruit-bearing. We live raised. And without the resurrection, we of all people, are to be most pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19, NIV). So, if we grasp about for it sometimes, if we feel all weary-dead and reaching, perhaps it’s only to grow roots that will last.
…until the stem is 3 inches tall, the box says. Then, place it in a bright, warm place to bloom. So, I sigh, settling my Promise seed in a quiet space. 3 days it was, for the ones left waiting while our Lord was in the tomb. So, I wait. I leave the tear-shaped cocoon in the still dark until sheds its temporary, withered shell. I wait for the pure white bloom. And all my waiting on resurrection will be worthwhile. Because within the gift a far more glorious gift waits.
What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body….So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15: 35-38, 42-44).