Each and every year about this time, I get that same nonsensical quiver of suspicion: okay, this year it's not going to happen. Yes, intellectually I know this is dumb as a sack of hammers. It just looks like Mud Season. Really, it's spring just under the surface: look at those leafbuds starting to thicken, the green blush of grass in the ditch, even the odd dandelion, my best-beloved of flowers. Just be patient, O my soul, my common sense says. Huh, says my suspicious side. Patience. Huh..

A small but significant corner of my head half-believes that there's a time when spring Mud Season has the option to head straight back into late winter instead of going on to its logical seasonal fulfilment: leaves, grass, pollen, lilacs, black flies. (Funny, I never have the same doubts about fall Mud Season; I know we're going to get winter, no question.) This year was no exception, especially because Mud Season hung in there with a tenacity rarely seen even in these parts. It just moved in and settled firmly, like a garrulous old bore who you really don't want to talk to, parking her cart in the supermarket, pinning you up against the frozen french-fry section, and closing in for a long, long chat.

When we crossed to the island (yes, it's technically a peninsula, but it knows it's an island, really) on Sunday afternoon, the season were at that cusp point where we've been hanging for, oh, about a third of an eon, give or take, or maybe it just felt that way. Definitely Mud Season, maybe with the late winter option. It stayed Mud Season all through Monday, a day of cold blowing small rain, while we explored some of the island's further points and reaches. Tuesday was still Mud Season, but the sun was out. Wednesday was almost but not quite warm. Thursday was a mix of tawny and greeny-brown. By Friday, it was green. Spring option chosen. Winter option closed. Alleluia!

I know this is foolish, but it does feel as though the year capriciously tips and tilts its way springward instead of making that determinedly thump-thump methodical progress we see when things start shutting down on the other side of summer. And I know that it's especially foolish to imagine that there's any choice involved. Mud Season gets pulled into spring the way a baby gets pulled into learning to walk and talk, unless something goes gravely amiss. It's all time's doing. Time passes and we get pulled along with it, as Mud Season gets pulled springward, and we have no more real choice in all this than the season does.

There are, on the other hand, non-seasonal stretches in time and space where we do have choice: we don't have to be tugged in this particular direction or that. We can decide for ourselves. In these peculiar pathways, we could, for example, choose to turn back toward late winter instead of rolling inevitably toward summer. We always have that choice, to turn toward God or to head off in some other direction. Or so we say, if we accept and understand the notion of free will.

But if free will is real, we must at any time be able to say NO and not go on with the Journey. Or is there some point at which we really have given over our own wills and can't head back, as we can't now head back into the last X weeks of greyness but must go on deeper into summer? I know that sounds like a Good Thing, but consider: could we be like helpless planets circling and circling a star, eventually falling into its explosive brightness? Could we, our souls, collapse into and be subsumed by the hugeness of God's glory?

The other choice always exists, of course. If we're heading off hellbent for the wintry Dark--the Dark of Self, especially--we always, always, have the option of turning Godward. As C.S. Lewis said, all those who are in hell have chosen to be there, and could walk out any time they wanted, if they wanted--but there's something else they want worse. Maybe there's some cutoff point--the Day of Judgment is the logical one, I suppose--after which the choice is closed and we can no longer knock at the Kingdom door and ask to be let in. I don't know. It's possible. But a corner of me (a different one from the spring-doubting corner) hopes and prays that that door will stay open until every soul who is or was or ever will be has come in. God does have eternity, after all.... And maybe, just maybe, the Day of Judgment is really the clang of the door swinging triumphantly shut as the last rescued soul enters the Kingdom and comes home at last?

But because we can always choose God, however far we've headed in the other direction, does that mean we can make the opposite choice? Reason says yes: if we have the choice to turn towards God on the journey toward the Dark, so we've got the opposite choice, to turn from the path towards God and head off in the other direction. That's all neat and tidy and symmetrical. And maybe some souls really do take that backward choice. Problem is, reason also assumes that God and the Dark have equal gravitational pulls, as it were--that they're the same size, equally choosable. That's the old Manichean belief: that Good and Evil are equal and opposite. But Easter, whatever else it does, proves that that's not true..

Instinct, on the other hand, says it doesn't work that way: once you get to a certain point on the Great Journey, there can be no turning back. But I don't think it's because God's taken our free will away. That doesn't feel like a Godlike thing to do--to give this tremendous gift and to snatch it back. Maybe we can choose to hand that will over, but I don't know if any of us ever really completely makes that gift in this life, without keeping at least one pair of fingers secretly crossed. When the going gets tough, is there one among us who doesn't desperately want to snatch for control again? I think we get to keep the free will. Mine's still charging around, yipping hysterically like an ill-trained beagle, I can assure you.

It could be, though, that we get to some point on the Journey where while we could turn back, we won't, because whatever is ahead simply looks too damned attractive: water in the desert, food if you're starving, love if you're lonely. Abba holds his arms out, laughing in pure joy as you race toward him, both of you wanting nothing more than to tumble into the embrace you always longed for. You thought you'd never get there. Abba knew you could and wanted you only to make the choice to turn in his direction. Once you've really scented that possibility, got some sense that it might be really true, turning back from it might be possible. But who'd want to?

Even if the way between is strewn with broken boulders, days and weeks of Mud-Season swamp, celestial clouds of bloodthirsty bugs (ah, Canada in spring!), tax audits, suburban shopping malls--we're still being pulled Godward. Not because God is yanking us in like a tractor beam in a sci-fi movie, but simply because in the end, we've figured out that the thing we wanted most of all was God, and we'll do whatever it takes to reach him.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit.
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away;
He'll fear not what men say.
He'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

(For +Peter, who saw the same landscape I did on Thursday)

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 6 May 2000
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