“For lo, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.”
Song of Songs 2:11-12
Today is the official first day of spring. I know what you’re thinking. You’re looking out the window at ten inches of snow and saying, “I don’t care what the calendar says. Until the snow melts, it’s not spring.” You have a point. What we are waiting for after this long, long winter are some signs: the budding of trees, the appearance of a crocus or two, a blink of sunshine. It may not feel like spring today, but just as time always marches on whether or not we are ready, spring will arrive soon enough. Pablo Neruda once wrote, “You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming.”
You cannot stop spring. In Hosea, we read that spring comes upon us sometimes suddenly, even after a long wait. “Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth" (6:3). One set of rains presses upon us and then another, the way that the reality of the divine presence in our lives is not always apparent but then its signs are suddenly everywhere. Spring, in the Bible, also presaged another season: the season of war, as we read in II Samuel: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David…” (11:1). A number of medieval commentators point out that kings declared war in the spring because they did not have to battle other obstacles, like rain and mud. If spring is good for flowers, it is also good for soldiers. These two images do not come together for us organically but highlight the anticipatory nature of the season.
The burgeoning sense of anticipation and excitement that comes with spring is apparent in the verses above from Song of Songs, which are part of a famous passage that, on the surface, describes the sensual release of winter as the earth transitions into another season. The winter rains once pelting us dry up. The small signals that the earth is awakening appear in the form of flowers just coming up, and birdsong can be heard everywhere in the morning light.
The mention of the turtledove is important because the birdsong is not only from birds native to the region, but also from the dove that migrates to Israel in the spring. The dove has returned. In Hebrew the turtledove is similar to its word in English, “tur” – which represents its cooing sound. Thus, we smell, feel and hear spring in the air, with its surround-sound capabilities. Everything breathes with anticipation. The verses continue: “The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines in blossom give forth their fragrance.” Nothing is quite ready in nature, but all is in a state of preparation. It is with this heady sense of an abundant future, that the text closes, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” All of this newness signals romance. It is time for love. Move from the dormancy of winter and welcome possibility in all its forms.
The Israeli botanist Yehuda Feliks, in his commentary on Song of Songs, observes the opening of the world that takes place, “The migrant birds wheel around in the skies and the song of native birds is heard. Within a few weeks, turtledoves throng in from the south. The unripe figs begin to reach out, the vine displays its beguiling blossom.” He makes us aware of a message that all of nature is saying to us: Pay attention to the small ways that possibility surfaces in your universe. It will all grow in intensity and appearance, but don’t forget to have your eyes wide open now so that you can see it at its very beginning. Experience the opening up of nature early on and you will add weeks to your experience of the happiness that it brings.
We can’t rush spring, but we can go outside and look for its signs early on. And when we see that nature anticipates a wonderful transition, perhaps we can internalize its message: What possibilities will open up for you this season if you pay careful attention?