LOOK: Magnolias by Stanley Spencer
LISTEN: “Creation Blooms Anew” by Nick Chambers, 2020
Again your Spirit sweeps,
a wind over the deep;
a new creation now arrives
to rouse us from our sleep.
The breath of heaven brings
the long-awaited spring
into the fields and seas and skies
and every barren thing.
Creation blooms anew
in fresh and joyful hue.
In Christ’s arising all things rise
to draw their breath from you.
Awaken by the sound
of forging swords into plows.
Come fill the Garden with your light,
and we will till the ground.
The earth is being cleared
for heaven to come near.
From every depth an eager sigh
is all that we can hear. [Refrain]
Nick Chambers [previously] is the worship pastor at Church of the Incarnation in Atlanta and a singer-songwriter whose debut album, Great Cloud, released last year. “Creation Blooms Anew” is not part of that LP, but he shared it on YouTube in 2020. It was inspired by a hymn of Adam of St. Victor, a major Latin-language poet from twelfth-century France:
Earth blooms afresh in joyous dyes;
In Christ’s arising all things rise;
A solemn joy o’er nature lies;
Now peace the sea, the sky doth fill;
Heav’n’s breath wakes fair each vale and hill;
Spring pours through barren hearts and chill;
Life wins from death the glorious prey;
The cherub’s sword is turned away,
And Eden’s paths are free today;
Trans. A. M. E., 1884
Memories of his family’s first Easter in Atlanta in 2017 also influenced the song. “More than anything I remember the magnolia flowers,” Chambers said, “bright white and big as our baby’s head. The branches bent with the weight of them, swinging like bells welcoming us into a new home, a new season of life.”
Chambers reflects further on the image of flowering:
Norman Wirzba, in one of his many reflections on gardening, writes, “It is significant that the material context for creation and for redemption should be a garden, for it is precisely through gardening that we most experience ourselves as created beings, as beings tied to a magnificent creation and to God. . . . [The writer of Genesis 2] is clear that we become authentic and truly fulfill our vocation as we learn to care for the garden which is creation itself.” He continues, “Gardens have long been a place of spiritual nourishment, because it is here that we can sense the vivifying and gracious power of the creator at work in the creation. Without much help from us, and sometimes in spite of our worst efforts, we can plainly see that we are in the presence of a life- and death-wielding power that overcomes and envelops us all” (The Paradise of God, 117).
In the beginning, God creates humanity to till the ground in a garden. Christ suffers anguish and grief in a garden, then to be resurrected in a garden and even mistaken for its caretaker. The story comes to its endless ending in a garden—steady streams in the shade of trees thick with healing leaves. We live from this past into this future, ourselves like flowers nourished by soil and bending toward the sun. Here and now, Easter invites us into this vision, into the wild surprises of spring to be both gardeners and the garden itself.