Lately, with all of the gray, cold and dreary weather, it’s seemed that when the sun makes an appearance, it’s best to take advantage of it. So, that’s what we did.
When my husband and I woke up to a beautifully clear sky and the staggering brightness of the sun, we decided to head to St. Louis’ Botanical Gardens. Despite the cold, we bundled up and ordered hot chocolates to meander around and view the bulbs just beginning to emerge.
Rounding one of the bends, a volunteer met up with us to remind us that the cherry blossoms were in bloom. “They’re fragile this year,” she warned us. “The winds and the cold have taken a toll, but they’re still in bloom.”
The Botanical Gardens display more than 200 variations of cherry blossoms, with the majority contained within the Japanese Garden, one of the largest Japanese gardens in America. During this time of year, the cherry blossoms lend a delicate beauty, lining the banks of the lake and guiding visitors along the path.
As we looked across the expanse of the lake, we immediately noticed the difference. The trees had taken quite a beating. A few clusters of cherry blossoms were in bloom, but, we noticed that a few other trees were only now beginning to bloom. Even those in full bloom were fragile. The flowers were already fading, and the fragrance was nowhere near as powerful as in previous years. Yet, their majesty was ever present.
Scuttling along with hot chocolates warming our hands, I thought of the message we had heard during the Easter Octave. As the disciples come to terms with Jesus’ resurrection, an overwhelming sense of doubt plagues them. And, we hear the story of “Doubting Thomas.” His doubt is so strong, he must see and feel the physical body of Jesus for himself before he will believe. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” said Jesus in reply (John 20:29).
Doubt is something that we all struggle with as we grow in our faith. As we learn throughout Lent, however, our faith is not without its difficulties. We are called to leave behind ourselves to follow Jesus, to live in his example. Like the cherry blossoms, we too are battered by the demands of the physical world. Doubt – or the struggle to believe – is a means of engaging with our faith.
As our priest pointed out on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Bible provides examples of these struggles: Jacob’s wrestling with the angel before being granted the name Israel and, more prominently, Jesus’ struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane. In these struggles, we see not necessarily doubt, but a difficulty in understanding what we are called to do.
It’s a part of our faith. The road is never easy. As we struggle to seek out answers and find our path, we engage with our faith. And, in the end, we emerge because this engagement emphasizes that we care. Just as the cherry blossoms emerged after their own struggles, we, too, can overcome and be a witness to the transforming power of our faith.
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.