(Photo of morel "mushroom" (really not a true mushroom, but another type of fungus) from mushroomobserver.org)
Almighty God, Author of the Universe, you imbued your creation with myriad seasonal joys. Through their brief temporal windows, open our hearts to a like-mindedness towards the fleeting moments when we can see Your heavenly realm on earth. Grant us the same eagerness to embrace these moments in humble service to You, as eagerly as we embrace the beauty of nature. All this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, whose own short temporal window to this world gave us our salvation through the New Covenant. Amen.
--A Prayer for the Seasonal Beauty of Nature, ©Maria L. Evans, 2012
As a longtime resident of northeast Missouri, I have to admit one of my favorite things about my rural lifestyle is the roughly four-week window that the morel mushrooms are in season. (Yeah, I know, for any of you mycology purists out there, they are not a true "mushroom" but another kind of fungus...but "mushroom" is burned in the vernacular, so "mushrooms" they shall be.) In these parts, morel season has at least a rough correlation to Easter season, so the two kind of go hand in hand for me.
I've been hunting morels since I was five years old--first with my dad, then for many years as an adult, and just this year I had the pleasure of going full circle by hunting them with my cousin's youngest child, who is not yet six years old. There's something alluring about tromping around in gum boots around the woods near the river bottoms to find one of the last things on the planet that more or less defies cultivation and, in a world of near-year-round commercial produce, truly remains seasonal. (Oh, I know one can buy those "morel kits" on the Internet, but they are not the same kind of morel we have here, and for whatever reason, they just don't taste the same.)
Morel hunting has an egalitarian aspect to it--a ten year old can be just as successful a morel hunter as an adult--maybe even better as the ten year old is a little closer to the ground. There's definitely an intimacy with sharing a mushroom spot--we don't give our spots away to just anyone--and an intimacy with whom we share our bounty. The people who are not into mushroom hunting think we're stark raving mad, because for those few weeks it's all we think of, and riding in the car with us often results in several stops by the side of the road to peer into ditches and briefly wander around.
I can't think of a better metaphor for the Resurrection than the humble morel.
For starters, one never knows when one will see them. The emergence of morels starts when the overnight ground temperature consistently is over 50 degrees. They are as whimsical as the April weather patterns. The places one expects to see them, don't always yield results, and it changes from year to year, decade to decade. I think back to what used to be one of my best spots in my younger days. After the Great Flood of 1993, I haven't found squat in the way of mushrooms since--and I still try to go back to that spot every year.
Sometimes it involves days and days of faithfully going back to the same spot and looking around and coming up empty, day after day. Sometimes it results in an abundance, filling up several plastic grocery bags full, and sometimes the best we can do is a few handfuls after a couple of hours' worth of tromping around. They emerge out of nowhere, like magic--in the space of an hour, a barren spot can be walked by a second time and sport four or five morels. Even the act of consuming them is a bit of an exercise in acceptance--despite soaking them in salt water to get the hundreds of gnats out of their pores who made the morel their temporary home, a person has to accept that he or she will eat a few gnats along with this delicacy.
The parallels to living a faithful life as a practicing Christian astound me. How many times, once we've been exposed to the initial awe of the resurrected Christ, on a bright and joyful Easter Day, do we find ourselves weeks later in the humdrum of the Long Green Liturgical Season? How many times do we yearningly look for the Resurrection and not even catch a glimpse of it, but the next day when we are totally unaware, see it in all its grand glory? How many times have we insisted in tromping in the muck out of season, "because this is the time of year we've always done it," when in reality we were the ones out of season? How many times have we attempted to "cultivate" the awe-inspired Resurrection Moment, and discover it's just not the same as finding it by accident? How many times has a ten year old gotten the message of the Good News in Christ more fully than an adult?
The seasonal wonder of the lowly morel is a reminder that Resurrection simply is not of our making. We don't control it, we don't manage it, and it defies cultivation. All we can do is be faithful in our search for it, steward the places where we've seen it happen before, and enjoy it when it appears.