Truly, is there anything so beautiful in the whole of non-sentient Creation as the flower?
Maybe it's because it's spring. Maybe it's because I miss the countryside. Maybe it's because my inner vagabond is itching to take off into the mountains yonder (oh wait, this is Steubenville... make that imaginary mountains) and commune with nature for a month or so. At any rate, I just can't seem to get flora off my mind.
I took part in a voice recital this past Saturday, and to my great delight, I received flowers afterward from several people: a red rose from one friend, a yellow rose from another, a card with a paper flower attached to the front (it is so charming!), and, my favorite of all, a bouquet of tulips from my family, fresh from our garden back home. These tulips are the most breathtakingly gorgeous things I've ever seen (although, given my current obsession with flowers, I might be biased). Some are pink, some are yellow, and some are a vibrant red streaked with gold. Both the petals, and the pale, minty-green leaves are lush, matte, and apparently flawless.
Looking at them, I can't help but think of the depiction of Venus in C. S. Lewis' Perelandra. My tulips seem, to me, to be every bit as otherworldly as the strange, exotic vegetation that Ransom discovers on the Eden-like planet.
If you've read Perelandra, you'll remember that, in it, Lewis' celestial paradise is saved from the Fall that the Earth has already experienced. The Satan character (who is grotesquely but insightfully portrayed as one who wants only to harm the physical and spiritual integrity of Perelandra's creatures) is defeated by the self-sacrifice of Elwin Ransom. Perelandra is able to continue on in unbroken communion with Oyarsa, the God character.
But what of us on Earth (and outside of Lewis' beautiful fantasy world), who do live in an undeniably fallen world? What of those of us who have experienced darkness and suffering, and want nothing more than a new beginning? This weekend, I was recommending favorite books to a friend, and The Neverending Story by Michael Ende came up. I started telling him all about my favorite part, where the boy Bastian finally enters into the mysterious book that he's been reading. Bastian is very much like a little Ransom (and therefore a little Christ), in that he saves Fantastica - but not until after it has already been destroyed. Once inside of the story, Bastian is met by utter darkness, nothingness. Fantastica is gone, but the Childlike Empress explains that it is Bastian's mission to rebuild and restore the magical land. At first, he's frightened by the darkness:
“'Moon Child,' he whispered. 'Is this the end?'
'No,' she replied, 'it's the beginning.'”
With the help of AURYN, a magical amulet, Bastian wishes a nocturnal garden into existence...
“...Soon some of the plants were as big as fruit trees. There were fans of long emerald-green leaves, flowers resembling peacock tails with rainbow-colored eyes, pagodas consisting of superimposed umbrellas of violet silk. Thick stems were interwoven like braids. Since they were transparent, they looked like pink glass lit up from within. Some of the blooms looked like clusters of blue and yellow Japanese lanterns. And little by little, as the luminous night growths grew denser, they intertwined to form a tissue of soft light.
'You must give all this a name,' Moon Child whispered.
'Perilin, the Night Forest,' he said.”
In the story, Perilin becomes a constant presence in the new Fantastica: it blooms anew every day, but only at night. How lovely it is to think of beautiful things growing in the darkness after the storm - growing, despite the shadows. Though it is sometimes hard to see, times of waiting, of dryness, can sometimes be the most fruitful of all. This brings to mind a quote from one of Rainer Maria Rilke's letters to Franz Kappus, the “young poet”:
“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don't know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better. In you, dear Mr. Kappus, so much is happening now; you must be patient like someone who is sick, and confident like someone who is recovering; for perhaps you are both. And more: you are also the doctor, who has to watch over himself. But in every sickness there are many days when the doctor can do nothing but wait. And that is what you, insofar as you are your own doctor, must now do, more than anything else.”
Don't discredit the hardships in the your life. A lush, verdant night-forest is blooming within you. The fruit and flora is all the more beautiful for having lived through the darkness.
This is not the end. It is only the beginning.
Also, let's talk about how the Childlike Empress/Moon Child is TOTALLY a Marian figure. Totally (says this currently-enrolled in Mariology theology major).
Thanks for reading, all.