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The holiness of mud season


Lenten lessons are revealed in the muck

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson | Presbyterians Today

I thought I was prepared for my first mud season in Vermont. I wasn’t. The pastor nominating committee tried explaining that New England’s unofficial fifth season wasn’t for the weak. (Or for a former Manhattanite, is what I think they were really getting at.) Was I ready for melting snow that turned dirt roads into Slip ‘n Slide? I was. Did I have good tires on my car? I did. What about boots? Did I own a sturdy pair? I didn’t.

So, before moving to rural America, I hit the suburban malls — for the last time — in search of boots. I was pleased with the ones I purchased — designer wellies with blue and sage green plaid on the shank. But it was the grosgrain ribbons adorning the wellies that had me sold. They were the prettiest shade of robin’s egg blue. I was going to conquer mud season in style.

I soon discovered that my cute boots were no match for the mud. The thick goo pulled at the flimsy rubber soles, leaving gaps that allowed cold mud to squish between my toes. I tried persevering, but each squishing step made my spirits sink a bit more. There was nothing but gloom all around. Everything was brown, bare and dead. I tried to find signs of new life, but I couldn’t even find one little green shoot in the mud. And to make matters worse, even the grosgrain ribbons fell off the boots and were gobbled up by the mud. As I went about my life as a naïve country pastor squishing hopelessly in mud while wearing boots better suited for city streets, I wondered: “When stuck in the muck, where is God?”

The answer came unexpectedly, as God’s answers tend to do. I was sitting with a cup of coffee in a local gas station/convenience store, looking down at the sad shape of my wellies, when a woman joined me to tell me the good news. The sap from the trees was flowing. Maple sugaring season was here. I had wanted to ask if this was yet another unofficial season in this neck of the woods, but I didn’t. She continued telling me about how the sap was tapped and how syrup and sugar were made. As she talked, I noticed her glancing at my boots. She didn’t chide me, though, for my lack of rural fashion sense. Rather, she delivered a beautiful homily on the holiness of mud season: “There is always something beautiful, something sweet, waiting beneath the messes of life.”

She then took a bottle of maple syrup from her bag and gave it to me. On the bottle was a handwritten label that read, “Bottled with love from Mud Valley Farm.”

Mud season isn’t bad at all, I’ve come to learn. It’s a holy season that dovetails nicely with the season of Lent, which is a time to enter into the wilderness — or wade in the mud —  with Christ. And with each squish and each slosh, I’m reminded, my tears are tears Christ has cried. My fears are fears Christ has felt. My mud season, your mud season — those times of sorrow, challenges and dashed dreams — is a redemptive time to slow down, grab tighter to Christ’s hand and remember that God will always get us through. We need to slosh through the mess, knowing that something beautiful, something sweet, awaits.

Like the day I thought I found my robin’s egg blue ribbons. It was Holy Week and I was on my way to a Bible study. I had given up my wellies for a pair of practical barn boots. As I squished in the mud, a speck of blue caught my eye. I went to pick up what I thought were the ribbons that had fallen off of my wellies. But it wasn’t a piece of grosgrain that my fingers touched. It was crocus shooting up from the mud. Just then, my mud season questioning of where God is in the muck was turned into an Easter “Alleluia!” For I saw that God was always there, preparing new life beneath the mud.

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is editor of Presbyterians Today. She has grown fond of her barn boots, mud season and all of the challenges rural ministry brings.

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