Springing to Life

Spirit Quest

Spring to Life

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

Hope springs eternal — So wrote Alexander Pope (1688 - 1744).

In the cycle of the seasons of the year, Spring is the time of hope. It is the promise of new growth and life.

On the evening of my 86th birthday, my spouse Marlene and I, enjoyed a delicious meal at Le Cafe at the National Arts Centre here in Ottawa. The view of the Rideau Canal was still obstructed by mounds of ice and snow, no longer white but dirty grey. Following that we adjourned to Southam Hall for a concert that featured Beethoven’s 6th symphony, the Pastorale. He wrote about this composition that, “it is no picture but something in which the emotions are aroused by the pleasure of the country.” It is preeminently a symphony of hope.

The musical themes of this, one of his most popular works, are familiar, even whistleable. Did I hear someone in the staircase at the end of the performance rehearse those tunes?

For the Ottawa crowd who have just emerged from a hard, cold winter it spoke of a hope for a new season in the wings. The streets are still fringed with dirty ice and snow  but the surface of the roads are mostly bare. Potholes abound. A few days of balmy weather have wakened the anticipation of spring.

But than back again to the old reality. On Friday the Thirteenth wet snow covered the streets. Old Man Winter seemed only half beaten. He still had a few ounces of strength in him.

As a child my parents read to me a book that anthropomorphized the seasons of the year such as the aforementioned Old Man Winter with his shaggy grey beard confronted by a young damsel full of life and joy, the embodiment of spring, dancing rings around the aged embodiment of bleak winter.

As I reflect on this past season I recall that not only were the days short and frigid ( though I must admit quite sunny) but the news from the world and our own country had a negative feel about it. War in the Ukraine, Iraq, Syria and Libya, the rise of ISIL and their atrocities have cast an icy coating over life, even if those countries have never seen a flake of snow. (Except for the Ukraine someone will undoubtedly remind me)

We humans cannot live without a sense of hope as Pope intimates. It dares to move us beyond pessimism and fear. It beckons us to confront what stands in the way of a new world and to recognize the possible; “to accentuate the positive” as the old swing ballad had it.

Beethoven loved nature. He commented that, “my bad hearing, (he was going deaf) does not trouble me. In the woods there is enchantment which expresses all things.”

On the wall of our living room hangs an original painting that I inherited from my in-laws. When we visited them when they were still in their home in Charlottetown, I coveted the painting of the Sugar Shack in New England by Georgie Read Barton, a Maritime artist. Smoke and steam issue from the chimney. A team of horses haul logs to the fire to boil the sap. Sugaring time presages life to come as the sap surges up from the Maple roots. The very smell of syrup can be perceived in the painting.

As Pope wrote, Hope springs eternal and the young maiden portrayed as spring in my children’s story dances around the withering old man. Spring will prevail.

Hope also makes me feel that the forces of nature will overcome our greedy selves that have been so destructive of the environment. I am aware that such optimism may seem unrealistic. It would be easier to yield to despair or even to join the other, the exploitative side. But that is not the way of hope.

Thus let me dream that some day the tar ponds of northern Alberta will dry up, that healthy fish and other wildlife will find their home, that our Aboriginal people will reinherit their lost lands, way of life and spirituality, that cities will become truly international communities and that we will celebrate our differences.

Dream on, you will say, and dream we must. Without dreams the future is in doubt. But to dream is not enough, hope must be put to work.

I believe that the human heart is hard wired for hope. I trust that peace and justice will prevail even as spring will follow winter.

Don’t believe me? Then at least join me in my hope. It makes life worth living.  Thus:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

    – Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man