My mother was a busy lady. As a widow and parent of six, she worked as a nurse, cared for a small hobby farm, and on rare occasions was able to find time to be a Sunday School teacher. As a small girl, I was proud when my mom was the teacher of my little class.
Besides working at the nursing home down the road, I knew how hard she worked at making our home-life wonderful. After a long day of caring for the elderly, a less ambitious woman would have resorted to the then popular “T.V. dinners,” but we always had “home-cooked” meals filled with, among other things, produce from our garden. And we gathered around our table not our T.V.
Not only did she take time to prepare our food, she took time to adorn our supper table, usually with a bouquet of fresh flowers, or maybe a single rose floating in a crystal bowl. She found beauty in the every-day things around her, and whether she knew it or not, she was giving us all a glimpse of Heaven.
I will never forget helping her prepare a little garden for our Sunday School class to enjoy. Using an old blue enamel “roaster” pan for a container, she filled it with potting soil and placed tiny plants from around our yard into it. She chose little “Hen and Chicks,” ( a succulent that produces small replicas of itself,) “Johnny-Jump-Ups,” (taller than, but resembling pansies with cheerful faces,) and I remember her carefully transplanting a strawberry plant, complete with blossoms and berries for all of the children to see and admire. I was astounded not only at my mother’s creativity, but also at the strange feeling I felt inside, when I gazed at what I felt to be a thing of such beauty.
C.S. Lewis described a similar feeling in his book, Surprised by Joy.
As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult or find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to ‘enormous’) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?…Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse… withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased…
The”toy” garden his brother Warnie had shared with him, was created on the lid of a biscuit tin and was crafted from moss, stones, twigs and tiny flowers he had gathered from the garden outside their home. I can only imagine my mother’s garden held for me the same wonder felt in the heart of little Jack, (as Lewis preferred to be called,) when he was first “surprised by joy.”
Friend of Jack, George Sayer, wrote;
It, [the experience of joy,] came again while he was reading a book by Beatrix Potter, his favorite, Squirrel Nutkin. He valued these experiences of joy more than anything else he had known, and he desired, as all who have experienced them desire, to have them again and again. It was this mystical quality that set him apart from other boys. He was surprised by joy. He spent the rest of his life searching for more of it. (Sayer 52)
I am searching for joy, and God surprises me with glimpses of it more and more frequently, (or maybe I am only now more aware of His consistency.)
I was surprised by joy when I crouched with my camera amidst the rubble of the pole shed to capture the picture of burdocks for my last post, Burdocks and Blizzards. After days of gloomy skies and rain, I was waiting for the sun to shine for a good bit of back-lighting I thought necessary. Finally, one evening a sliver of sun was allowed to burst free just before setting, sending its glorious rays across the darkening sky filled with storm clouds. I grabbed my camera, made my way around overgrown weeds and twisted wreckage in search of the ugliest burdock I could find. Feeling cold and wet from the drizzle, and catching the nasty burrs in my sleeves, I framed in the shot. What I saw in my view finder amazed me; from my angle on the ground, looking upwards, there was a perfect rainbow that appeared to be descending as a backdrop for the burdock. (I don’t use photo shop to enhance the pictures, but if you look closely, you may see a faint coloring behind the twisted, dead plant.)
As I stood, I smiled up at my husband who was working to replace rafters. Then with camera in hand, I traipsed through the wet grass, back to the house, warmer than I had been a few minutes earlier. I had captured a glimpse of joy in an unexpected place, and I felt it.
Sayer, George. Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis. Wheaton, Ill : Crossway Books, 1988