Several months ago, I was searching for a smooth rock seat on Mt. Arbel at dawn, when I surprised a herd of Palestinian mountain gazelles grazing below in the morning twilight amidst a myriad of wildflowers decorating the bright green hillside. As I settled in with my Bible, surrounded by peach-colored flowers and red tulips, I felt drawn into a conversation with nature, telling me of God. Using words from the Spiritual Canticle of St. John of the Cross I asked,
O groves and thickets
Planted by the hand of the Beloved;
O verdant meads
Enameled with flowers,
Tell me, has He passed by you?
And I received this answer:
A thousand graces diffusing
He passed through the groves in haste,
And merely regarding them
As He passed
Clothed them with His beauty.
It is likely that Jesus and his apostles climbed this very path at some point during his public ministry, and recognized the Father here, who with a breath, dressed this place in beauty. This region is called the ‘Holy Land’ because God incarnate lived here, and his presence set it apart from every other place in the world, covering it in grace and blessing. All of nature everywhere proclaims the glory of God, and draws each of us into conversation and encounter with Christ if we take the time to see, smell and listen. “He claims our earth not as his fief but as his motherland,” according to St. Bernard. “He receives for it his Bride and his very body… As the Lord he rules over it; as creator, he rules over it; as Bridegroom, he shares it.”
The rains are over and gone
The flowers appear on the earth
The season of Glad songs has come…
The fig tree is forming its first figs
And the blossoming vines give out their fragrance…
Come then my love
My lovely one, come…
Show me your face
Let me hear your voice;
For your voice is sweet
and your face is beautiful (Song of Songs 2:11-14)
These verses of the Song of Songs invite us to shake off the pessimism and torpidity of soul that has entered in during this time of corona virus. Spring is becoming summer, bidding renewed hope, life and growth. It’s striking that these events coincide, communicating God’s deep desire to behold us and fill us with renewed vigor.
Getting out to climb Mt. Arbel again, hiking the close-by Wadi Amud, trekking the Gospel trail north of the lake, and walking the ancient city ruins of Hippos across the sea, have helped revitalize my own sprit. What has enlivened me more than the fresh air, incredible views, sunny skies and birdsong, have been the flowers. New blooms replace the glory of yesterday’s blossoms, as flowers go dormant and are supplanted by others in rapid succession.
The first flowers I saw were ubiquitous light pink and peach colored asphodel and multiple varieties of bright mustard, followed by delicate almond and cherry blossoms in the neighboring orchards. The yellow crown daisy, corn marigold, and chrysanthemum began to multiply, together with the less vibrant lion’s foot. Striking red poppies, red crown anemone, red pheasant’s eye and crowfoots, and the sun’s-eye tulip dazzled in valleys and on hillsides, together with surprising varieties of orchids, the odd arum bloom and snapdragons. Bright full lupins, a variety of iris and the Barbary nut grew by the water, while the meadows of mustard gave way to thyme, sage, Syrian catnip, lavender, wild artichoke, and the striking two meter-high blooms of wild carrot and parsnip, Queen Anne’s Lace and the similar-looking toothpick plant. Together with these grow flowering garlic, leek, radish and onion, aloe and sweet bay. Below them is a carpet of different varieties of vetch and wild peas, multiple species of purple salvia, pink Pretty Maresia and flax, diverse types of clover, yellow mullein, purple chicory, cornflower, pick sorrels, rockroses and Jasmine, as well as purple stork’s bill, crane’s bill, goat’s beard, bluebeard, and goosefoot, mixed in with different kinds and colors of bindweed, and varieties of white daisy-like chamomile. The warmer weather has brought out the tall rosy hollyhock (also called St. Jospeph’s staff), different shades of the small alkanet flowers, asters, trefoils, and the unusual Egyptian and Sicilian caper flowers and salt tree blooms, as well as mulberries and blackberries, henbane, nightshade and the bright sunflower. The fragrance of the vivid yellow rush broom flowers, mix with the aroma of the fig tree as its rich sap feeds the newly forming fruit budding directly from its branches. These dot wadis, fields and footpaths sprinkled with purple and lavender status, next to bright green grape vineyards.
Jesus himself seemed to have been enamored by flowers when he preached in this area.
Learn from the way the wildflowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? (Mathew 6, 28-30).
Let’s hear and take up a challenge that creation offers us now that we can go outdoors. Do we have great or little faith in the future as we behold the marvels of creation? Do we trust that God will provide, beautify and glorify us even more than the wildflowers? Beauty is God’s language of desire, an expression of his longing for our happiness. Awaken your faith in God’s loving care as you admire the beauty of nature around you, and hear each bloom speak of His yearning to bring you life and joy… and answer Him back with the same words of the Song, ‘Your voice is sweet, your face is beautiful.’