I don’t think God spends a lot of time agonizing over me and my struggles with faith and doubt. I certainly hope He doesn’t, because He knows He has a lot more important things on His plate at the moment.
On the other hand, every now then one of those magic moments occurs that make you sit back in wonder. I’m not talking about the big, dramatic things: the dead who rise up like leavened bread or speak coherently even as the undertaker arrives to take the body; the beloved child rescued whole and sound after hours under icy water; the mysterious stranger who saves a life and vanishes; the signs, the visions, the inexplicable, all the glorious and incomprehensible magic of life that reaffirms life and faith and wonder.
I’m talking now about little things, those brief and delicious moments that make you catch your breath for an instant before breaking into joyous and delighted laughter, laughter because you’re alive in a world of breathtaking beauty where people and animals do marvelous and unexpected things that preclude any other reaction but delight.
I had been debating not going to the Easter service. If my fingers aren’t moving on the keyboard, I’m not earning a living, and we’ve been accumulating medical bills and veterinary bills at a staggering rate—literally staggering, as Sisyphus staggered with his load—and we just paid the income taxes and the real estate taxes, and the automobile registration is due on both cars and that’s not insignificant in California, and the state has added another “fire” tax for people in rural areas, even though there is no state fire agency in this county, and we’re among the people whose critical information at Blue Cross was hacked, and we had to hire an electrician to make some repairs at a cost I normally associate with brain surgery, and I had two deadlines to meet, and could I really afford two hours away from my desk, and… All the “ands” we all face.
But in the end, I decided to celebrate the holiest day in the Christian year, if only for a few hours in the morning.
The liturgical colors of the Roman Catholic Church do not include yellow. (I’m being specific here because the liturgical colors of both the Byzantine and Russian Orthodox Churches do include yellow or gold.) But one of the colors most popularly associated with Easter is yellow; think of all those nauseating candies and plastic eggs and cardboard silhouettes of bunnies. Yellow symbolizes both the presence of God and the sun’s renewal of life and growth and fecundity, the ongoing processes of our world, spiritual and temporal. In our little church up here in the mountains Father Michael’s vestments at the Easter service were trimmed in yellow, and the transept—our modest and abbreviated transept, barely deserving of the name—and the chancel and the sanctuary were all decorated with daffodils and jonquils. Among the worshippers yellow and pink were the most evident festive colors visible, a testament to the faith of our little congregation, because the thermometer plummeted on Easter day, and most of us opted for heavy winter clothing; Darleen and I both wore pink, but it was buried under layers of green and black wool.
But rightly or wrongly, like much of the wide world in general, I associate yellow with Easter, and as I was just about to get into the car to drive to town for our Easter morning service, I saw a flash of the most brilliant yellow, a lemon flashing through the oak trees behind the house.
It was an oriole, a Scott’s oriole, to be precise, and what makes it so especially delightful is that we don’t often get them up here. The Bullock’s oriole—a Western variation of the northern oriole that used to be called, and still is by me, a Baltimore oriole—is a common resident in the spring and summer months, but the Scott’s oriole is more of a desert bird, more often found in Joshua trees and yuccas and piñons at lower elevations than in oak trees at four thousand feet. They’re not complete strangers up here—I have seen them before—but usually not quite this early, and certainly not with the temperature in the uncomfortably cold bracket, the barometer plunging, and the threat of snow in the forecast.
Yet there he was, boldly brilliant and beautiful and commanding my attention completely as he rested on a branch above my head. And after that first intake of breath at his beauty, I began to smile and then to laugh.
It may have been nothing more than a bird in a tree, but then, perhaps God communicates with us all in the ways we can best understand. I took the whole day off.