By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published January 22, 2015
The leafless fingers of the grape vines shudder, while the fig tree raises its skeletal hands toward the sky. A listless wind pushes leaves down the street—and a faraway train calls mournfully.
In winter the world seems dead. No stirring symphony from crickets, cicadas and katydids. No clucking sounds from chipmunks, now hunkered down in their underground burrows.
If you look closely, though, you can detect subtle signs of life. Some sturdy green shoots have pushed their way through the earth—and will be crowned in a month or so with dazzling daffodils.
On the tips of blueberry branches you’ll see minute pink nubs, which will become flowers and then sweet orbs of fruit.
Nature is not dead but in a deep sleep. She’s gathering energy for that brilliant show that opens in a few months. The one featuring a blazing palette of tulips, crocuses, flowering trees and so much more.
How closely our own sleep resembles death! Watch a person who is motionless and soundly slumbering, and for a moment you may think they have died.
In the Gospels a little girl was dying, and her father, Jairus, appealed to Jesus to heal her. But before Jesus arrived at the house, the father received word that the girl had perished.
Jesus went to see the girl anyway, and told the people gathered there, “The child is not dead, but asleep.” Then he took her by the hand, whispered “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” and brought her back to life.
Why did he say she was asleep? Perhaps to tell us that if we cling tightly to his hand, death will be no more frightening than slumber. And maybe this is why death is called “falling asleep in Christ.”
We lie down at night, and the world fades away. Outside, in the dead of darkness trees bend to the persistent wind while the moon inches its way through the clouds. Meanwhile we travel through a dream world where we can become children again and speak with family members who died long ago.
Perhaps our dreams give us a glimpse of heaven where believers can be young again, and where they may meet their loved ones who died in a state of grace.
“Don’t be afraid—just believe,” Jesus said to Jairus who thought he’d lost his child forever.
These words are meant for us. If we believe in the Lord, there is no reason to fear death.
A friend was in hospice for two weeks before she died. When I walked into her room, she was so still that at first I thought she was gone. Her eyelids flickered though, and I could see her chest rising and falling.
She couldn’t speak, but she could still hear so I prayed the rosary aloud for her. And before leaving, I suggested a simple prayer that she might say, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
I hope Jesus tenderly clasped my friend’s hand like he did with the little girl. I hope my friend went to a place where the vines are heavy with grapes, fig trees are laden with fruit and the gardens are aglow with a brilliant palette of flowers.
I hope she is in a land where there is no winter, just eternal spring. A realm like our dreams where anything is possible—and where we can walk in the cool of the day holding hands with the Lord God himself.
Artwork is by Jef Murray (www.jefmurray.com). The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More in Decatur. You may email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.