Hope Is Everywhere, Like Early Summer Leaves

As I Was Saying

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

Getting the vaccine was the gleaming hope I had looked forward to all last year. In May, my husband and I both got fully vaccinated. But after that, upon hearing one bad news story after another every day, from India’s worsening Covid situation to plateauing cases in the U.S., a new sense of hopelessness reemerged: This world we call home will never get better.

Meanwhile, green new leaves were sprouting everywhere in west Michigan. I used to love this time of the year when your eyes meet the most tender shades of green. But this year these familiar sights did not cheer me up; on the contrary, I found it disorienting to live in the combined reality of nature’s gracious beauty and the traumatizing effects of a prolonged pandemic. My spirit was low, and I found myself lacking heartfelt praise of God’s work in his ongoing creation.

It took me a few weeks of reading and pondering to acknowledge the present reality of disorder within myself. What I have been experiencing (the loss of inner liveliness) may be a pandemic syndrome many are suffering from. Another layer of depletion may have come from having witnessed some dark sides of American evangelicalism.

I also came to the realization that behind my deep sense of despair and hopelessness is a deep yearning for restoration, for something much more wholesome, inclusive, and expansive. But where is that path to restoration in a world so broken? One day, this prayer of Saint Patrick began to expand my heart: “I arise today, through the strength of heaven; Light of sun, radiance of moon, splendor of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of wind, depth of sea, stability of earth, firmness of rock… Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise.…”

This prayer gradually recalibrated my spiritual eyesight as I read it silently in front of a backyard full of early summer green leaves. The swaying of branches with tender green shades brought me pleasure and the tweeting of birds was delightful. There was love in such beauty, the love of the Creator. It brought back a sense of realness that had long been absent.

Nature has the power to draw us out of ourselves. As human beings, we are only one small part of God’s creation. Medieval mystics used to believe that human beings connect with God through “the Great Chain of Being” and our bodies are wired to experience awe from nature and art. But in our fast-paced and mechanically-organized modern society, we tend to ignore these humble and simple moments of contemplation. Our so-called “biblical worldview” is in fact a contracted worldview that is devoid of a real sense of wonder and awe for God in rocks and trees. Many of us spend most of our days in chronic busyness, feeling disconnected from the Great Chain of Being.

The sudden halt from such busyness due to the pandemic ought to channel us back to a different view of nature, but most people are experiencing restlessness and worries brought on by the disruption of normalcy and uncertainty in all areas of life. Economic downturn has also exposed my fearful ego. All I saw was scarcity and death. I had lost touch with abundance, new life, and resurrection until this revelatory moment brought by Saint Patrick’s prayer and the green leaves of early summer. That spaciousness of divine love gave more breadth and brought healing to my spirit. The inner music of praise rose, and I saw hope everywhere, like early summer leaves.

About the Author

Mary Li Ma, Ph.D., is a a member of Plymouth Heights CRC church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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