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Four years ago, at right about this time, I started the blog with T.S. Eliot’s observation that “midwinter spring is its own season.” Four years ago at about this time, I was also part of the team that had the freezing task of postponing Calvin’s Festival of Faith & Writing because of the growing intensification of Covid-19.

Four years on, the weather in Michigan–here at the spring equinox–is again tending towards Eliot’s in-betweenness. Snow is predicted on Friday. But quite delightedly, the first in-person Festival (after a 2022 online version) is now less than a month off. (You have til Friday, March 22 to register at!)

We all know it’s been a long four years. It’s no surprise that these last years have been a challenge, whatever our work, whatever our life. It’s a complete commonplace now that the world continues to look so very different–maybe even for the worst. Always the mucky midwinter and never Easter.

By contrast, working on a big literary party is an exercise in hope: hope that deep conversation about literature and belief are still worth traveling for. Hope that talking together about poems and podcasts, novels and picture books, essays and films still matters to the way we navigate the world, still matters to the ethical and moral lenses we bring to interpreting the daily story that greets us. Hope that building spaces for better conversations is vital to a fracturing, algorithmized world.

Hope is hard, though: every time I host even a small something at the house, I still always have that brief moment when I wonder if people will really show up, even as the house is spotless, the table is groaning with food, the turntable is cranking out the very best tunes.

But what else can we do? Hope demands we do the work of throwing the party. We think of the guest–whether that’s a party-goer, a student in my class, a conference attendee–and we think about how to welcome them into whatever spaces we inhabit. Hope is not just a feeling or an aspiration–it’s a grand investment that says the great banqueting table is the model towards which we strive–because, as Frederick Buechner famously observed, “the party wouldn’t be complete without you.”

I like how Christina Rossetti gives me a way of complicating Eliot. In her “The First Spring Day,” she navigates the complexities of that midwinter season and helps move us to eventually find our place, rejoicing.

The First Spring Day

I wonder if the sap is stirring yet,
If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate,
If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun
And crocus fires are kindling one by one:
Sing, robin, sing;
I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.

I wonder if the springtide of this year
Will bring another Spring both lost and dear;
If heart and spirit will find out their Spring,
Or if the world alone will bud and sing:
Sing, hope, to me;
Sweet notes, my hope, soft notes for memory.

The sap will surely quicken soon or late,
The tardiest bird will twitter to a mate;
So Spring must dawn again with warmth and bloom,
Or in this world, or in the world to come:
Sing, voice of Spring,
Till I too blossom and rejoice and sing.

(PS. If you’re interested in learning more about Christina Rossetti, Brent Siddal at God’s Story podcast has graciously hosted me for a conversation about her that just released. You can check it out here or wherever you listen to your podcasts)

Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.


  • Gloria J McCanna says:

    “Hope demands we do the work of throwing the party.”
    Yes, Yes, Yes!

  • Scott Hoezee says:

    Thanks, Jennifer! It also puts me in mind of Jane Kenyon’s “Mud Season” and its lyric closing line:

    Behind the porch step
    the crocus prepares an exultation
    of purple, but for the moment
    holds its tongue . . .

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    Blessings on the upcoming festival/party! May listening soar… as never before. Here’s a recent Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer poem to aid the process.

    Today’s Sermon

    was a single drop
    of melted snow
    that clung to the tip
    of a tight red bud
    at the end
    of a naked branch.
    It didn’t have to
    shout or sing
    to make me fall in love
    with the way afternoon light
    gathered inside it.
    Such a simple pulpit,
    such humble gospel,
    this radiant preacher,
    this silence in which
    the prayer is made
    of listening.

    —Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

  • Ruth says:

    Thanks to all of you for the poems.
    Jennifer, I hope you caught the Dante films on PBS.

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