In Just Spring

It’s a basic tenet of the Calvinist faith by which I was raised that those sinners who haven’t plumbed the depths of their own darkness simply are not capable of comprehending the blinding luminosity of grace itself. I rather like that equation, but then I live on the Great Plains, where the Lord wrote the textbook on winter. Because out here we know winter, I’m willing to lay down hard cash that we know, therefore, more deeply the joy of spring than some softies in more southern climes.

In order to appreciate this story, you have to realize how it is that, in the Upper Midwest, every shimmering spring truly sets the prisoner free. Come late March, we’ve all been oppressed by cabin fever for far too long; in northwest Iowa the dark night of the soul lasts three whole months and often a good deal more.A sweet old friend of mine, a retired librarian, claims we get only ten days per year that can legitimately be called “nice.” A week ago we had two of them. It’s going to be a long hot summer.

No matter. Let’s live for the moment–that’s what we all say on those just-spring days, even the Calvinists. For the first time since last October, I pulled on a tank top and shorts and took my exercise on a local bike trail, an eight-mile trip that, come June, becomes for me a daily regimen. It was too early for spring plowing, so the squared fields outside of town were silent beneath the majesty of an azure sky and the heavenly kingship of a summer sun–and it was gorgeous, gorgeous in a fashion nobody south of here really understands. Trust me.

The bike path goes out to a golf course/campground east of town, where the links, as you might expect, were, that day, overflowing. Two vehicles were parked in the blacktop stalls of the camping area, but nobody around here is muddle-headed enough to camp in late March; so I figured immediately that those two vehicles had to belong to college students. I’m a prof, and I teach in a college town.

The first was a gray Dodge truck, one of those mini-pick-ups. A young woman was sitting in the sun on an adjacent picnic table, her laptop out in front of her. She didn’t even look up when I passed. Typing a paper, I figured. “Good for you,” I thought immediately. She’s smart enough to get her work done but not miss this aberration, this almost sacred mistake God made in weather.

A few stalls down stood an old off-white Ford, its passenger door thrown open, two legs spilling out, a pair of heads, flat as turtles, just above the front seat, at best an inch apart. They weren’t writing papers.

It was the middle of the afternoon. I’m a Christian. I’m a professor in a Christian college. I’ve written books of meditations and devotions. I’m an elder in my church.

But when–on a bike, in my tank top and shorts, on one of the first celestial spring days–this 55-year-old man passed that beat-up old car with its spring lovers, I said to myself, “Good for you, too.” In spring, someone once wrote, all things are made young with young desires.

Today, ten days later, a late winter storm’s dumping is still slowly melting. But this old Calvinist isn’t even asking forgiveness for that whoop I put up on a resplendent March afternoon just for love.

The Lord gave us that resplendent day for a reason, I figure. I stand by my hearty approval of everything I saw at an otherwise vacant campground, God help me–as He did that perfectly gorgeous spring afternoon.

James Calvin Schaap is professor of English at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa and is the author of many books of many kinds.