Mud season has begun here in New Hampshire right on schedule. The white brilliance of winter has given way first to receding dirty glaciers along roadways and parking lots, to muddy puddles and patches where long ago the grass was once green. Mud season falls after the February doldrums and before spring flowers of April. March Madness may grip NCAA Basketball fans, but for me mud season is a fitting accompaniment to the long season of Lent.
Mud experienced outside this time of year only highlights the muddiness of our time and the messiness of my life. For me, the spring rains and the waters of Easter baptism cannot come soon enough. I know that the days grow longer, the sun will warm and flowers will bloom. But in the literal mud season, I am reminded of the muddy times throughout my life when I have needed the new life of spring and the Easter reminder and promise of the resurrection.
Psalm 51 which is a prayer of forgiveness, speaks of mud as sin and guilt which bog us down and cloud our vision. But even given the magnitude of our muddy lives, God chooses to wash and create us anew. This re-creation and washing is a gift and not the result of anything we can do. Cleanliness is next to godliness as God creates a clean heart in us, turning our March madness to mud season joy.
The late Philip Simmons who wrote Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life, even included a chapter called “Mud Season.” This author who had New Hampshire roots, frames the season and the experience of being in the mud very well:
We live in a between time, neither winter nor spring. No hymns were written in its praise. It’s a time of neither here nor there, a non-season when, as T.S. Eliot wrote, “between melting and freezing / the soul’s sap quivers.” The literal sap quivers in the maples, drawn off in buckets and boiled for syrup, but this is the season’s only sweetness. Mostly it’s the season of mud.
We all, of course, go through personal mud seasons, and these can occur at any time of year. We suffer illness and depression, the loss of loved ones, failed or failing marriages, crises of faith – in ourselves, in others, in our gods. But personal mud seasons need not be brought on by things so great as these. Humans have a peculiar talent for misery, and lacking big reasons for unhappiness, we make ingenious use of small ones, all the bounced-check and runny-nose occasions of woe. We need the mud, it seems, for our mud seasons give us the pleasure of self-pity…
I’ve learned, though, that our need for mud goes much deeper than our need to pity ourselves. We need the mud for what grows from it. Every mud season is a kind of death, with resurrection lying on the other side. In the mud painting my daughter did at school, the great brown swath across the bottom two-thirds of the paper is topped with tiny, bright flowers. The image suggests causality – mud makes flowers – but also necessity: no mud, no flowers. As I enter my various mud seasons, I’ve learned to ask: what death is this? Or what is it within me that needs to die? And out of this death, what resurrection will come?
I am grateful for the reminder that new life does spring from the mud. I am reminded that every mud season is a kind of death and that the waters of baptism wash over us each day, giving us an eternity of second chances from a good and gracious God.