Let Doubting Thomas Learn from the Pea Patch

JAMES J. KILPATRICK

April 17, 1992|By JAMES J. KILPATRICK

SCRABBLE, VIRGINIA — Scrabble, Virginia. -- In the rock garden of my wife, the rue anemones are flowering, bright as toy soldiers on their parapets of stone. The dogwoods float in casual clouds among the hills. Spring nestles in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and our land is wrapped in Easter all around us.

This is the Resurrection time. Long before there was a Christian faith, as such, the humblest peasants recognized divinity in April. That which was dead, or so it must have seemed, had come to life again -- the stiff branch, supple; the brown earth, green. This was the miracle: There is indeed no death; there is in truth eternal life.

These are the simplest concepts of man's existence, and the most mysterious also. We know them as ''the message of Easter,'' but it is a message that transcends the rites of any church or creed or organized religion. Passover, which begins tonight, also celebrates redemption and deliverance. I would, if I could, invite skeptics to inspect our brave anemones; I would challenge doubting Thomas in a pea patch.

In a society surfeited with technological achievement, we are no longer easily amazed. We forget how to marvel; we are much too sophisticated to be struck dumb with wonder. Foolishly we suppose that everything can be explained by ''science,'' and matter-of-factly we set our young biologists to the task of dissecting an earthworm. We instruct them to report upon the nature of a worm. What they might perceive, if only they would look, and marvel, and wonder, is the nature of God instead.

These are lofty themes for a newsman; ontology is off my beat. But it is not required that one be learned in metaphysics to contemplate a pea patch. A rudimentary mastery of a shovel will suffice. A few weeks ago, on a sunny afternoon, we plunged shovels into the earth, turned under the dark compost, raked fine the clods of clay, and pressed the inert seeds into orderly rows. These are millennial routines, known to millions of gardeners from time immemorial. Who could find excitement here?

But, behold. The rain falls, and the sun warms, and something happens. It is the germination process. Germ of what? Germ of life, germ of Easter, germ inexplicable, germ of wonder. The dry seed ruptures and the green leaf uncurls. It is the commonest thing on earth, but the botanist hasn't been born who might explain it wholly.

It is not only the pea patch, of course, that yawns and stirs and nudges toward the sunlight. Down in the rock garden, where the rue anemones stand guard, the tiny things come forth. A year or so ago, succumbing to the seductive allures of the White Flower Farm, we went grandly into heather. Over the winter it looked as if the grand investment had become a grand disaster. Nothing in the garden seemed deader than the heather.

Now the tips are emerald, and the plants are fairy crowns. What master jeweler fashioned them? This is Tiffany's on a hillside. A bee hovers over the showcase, and moves on.

The dogwood's petals are of palest green, burnt umber tipped; the blossoming flower slowly turns to cream. Beneath the dogwood tree the hyacinths are soldier straight, their gaudy shakos on parade. We have a marching band of daffodils, trumpeting the spring from golden horns. Tulips, candytuft and flowering plum! Alas, and dandelions as well.

April is the cruelest month, wrote Eliot, ''breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.'' True enough, in its way. But April is the kindest month also. Here in the mountains, at least, it brings the blessed reassurance that life goes on, that death is no more than a passing season. The plan never falters; the plan survives, and order reigns.

Look at the rue anemones, if you will, or look to the pea patch or to the stubborn weed that thrusts its shoulders through a city street. This is how it was, is now, and ever shall be, the world without end. April is remembering, and Easter is knowing, and in the serene certainty of spring recurring, who can fear the distant winters yet to come?

James J. Kilpatrick wrote this column 16 years ago, when Easter also fell on April 18.

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