March 12, 2012

The Tides of March

On this most swig and sally day
The brimming sky redoubles praise;
Earth’s juice rejoinder, purling, flows
In hidden, sap-slow undertows.

The most significant reason for even caring about the Mason-Dixon line is that it roughly divides those who understand the mysteries of maple syrup from those who must content themselves with inferior pleasures. When Yankees and Southerners have exhausted their long debate about the merits of their regions, one indisputable fact remains: in the northern tier of states you find the sugar maples, from which we have for centuries extracted the sap that reduces to that golden, heavenly elixir. Take all your grits and sweet potatoes, your baked beans and Indian pudding: there is nothing that cannot be improved with a generous dose of Grade A Light Amber.
So it is that every March on south-facing hillsides from Maine to Minnesota the woods resound with the symphony of sap dripping into metal buckets. For all who attended this concert, it is a movement that makes the heart grow light. Imperceptibly the pulse quickens and the eyes refocus: it is the chorus of life returning. In the ping of dripping sap there is a double pleasure; the anticipation of what will yet be made of it, and the knowledge that the God-made world is being renewed in slow and even invisible ways. If rock-ribbed Yankees are ever philosophical, it’s in those moments when we confront the world we didn’t make—the ocean’s tides, the tide of seasons, the recognition that we come from dust and wait for dust to be reborn. In the breathless warmth of early-spring afternoons, we remember that it is in the very nature of created things that they should be renewed, revived, restored.
##custom1##Which is all the beginning of a meditation about how renewal comes to the cold and weary people of God. Just as beating on the maples and setting buckets in January will never make the sap run, so working hard to “get up a revival”—as nineteenth-century evangelists used to call it—almost never brings about the effect it seeks. Revivals do not happen because fire-eating preachers pitch a tent out near the freeway, or because organists make more frequent use of tremolo. Revivals—at least the ones that heaven counts—are not measured in either tears shed or promises made, nor do they automatically swell the membership rolls of nearby congregations. These are only the visible phenomena sometimes associated with the moving of God’s Spirit, and by no means conclusive proof of His presence. They are, at best, the buckets set upon the tree, the containers for some fraction of the grace that continuously flows through sapwood and through wooden hearts.
Read again these wise words of Ellen White from more than a century ago: “Nothing but divine power can regenerate the human heart and imbue souls with the love of Christ, which will ever manifest itself with love for those for whom He died. . . . When a man is converted to God, a new moral taste is supplied, a new motive power is given, and he loves the things that God loves; for his life is bound up by the golden chain of the immutable promises to the life of Jesus. Love, joy, peace, and inexpressible gratitude will pervade the soul, and the language of him who is blessed will be, ‘Thy gentleness hath made me great’ (Ps. 18:35).”*
At a time when tens of thousands of Adventists are blessedly turning to ponder what it means to be renewed, we do well to remember that revival is a gift of grace with which we may cooperate, but not one we can generate. Jesus decides, with wisdom far greater than all His collected disciples, what His church most needs, and when. In His grace He concludes to cause new life to spring up first here, then there—and only rarely all at once. Spring is no less spring for coming earliest to the maples, then later to the brooks, and finally the ferns. Revival is no less genuine when it happens undramatically—when we quiet our hearts and wait in patience for what only the great Life-giver can provide.
And should you go out looking, you will find me in the sugar orchard, praying that new life will rise in me and all the rest who long for His appearing.
* Ellen G. White, Selected Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1958), book 1, p. 336.
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published March 8, 2012.