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Spiritual Reflections

Mud, Redux

by Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins is the Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community. Other Spiritual Reflections  are available on the Religious Advisor's page.

You can write to Joyce at

Ah, late February. Gray skies and brown grass. A cold wind. Dead branches. No snow, just mud. Yes, mud. Everywhere mud. Only a few days left in the month to think of a theme for my spiritual focus. How about...mud? Oh, clever me! Creative me! I'll write about mud!

But something toggles at the back of my brain. Have I written about mud before? I look back through old files. Oops, yes, just last year I wrote about mud. What's this? I wrote about mud the year before? The year before that, a piece about a clogged toilet, but the preceding year, yes - mud. And here, in the bottom of the pile, a poem I wrote in February when I was only fifteen. Nearly forty years ago. Lo and behold, it is a poem about....mud.

How humbling, I think. Am I so predictable? February, the end of winter,and like everyone else I am longing for color and for new life. It is an annual discouragement from which I have apparently suffered most of my life. Who knew? There is, as the Scriptures say, nothing new under the sun.

In the Christian tradition we are about to embark upon the season of Lent. Being a season, it comes back every year. It comes in late February or early March. In the northern hemisphere, it comes with the end of winter, when spring seems only a remembered dream, too beautiful to be possible. It comes with a cold wind that scours out the soul. It comes with mud.

Running, I slide along the muddy trails in the Crum. My hair, which lacks any shape even on the best of days, whips about my ears like Tibetan prayer flags. The creek is dirt-brown and low, revealing rocks, old tires, half-submerged beer bottles. As I run by, I count them along with my mid-life regrets. And then I slip, my hands shooting out to catch my fall. My face just misses a sharp root in the trail. I lie there, not breathing, and the root looks at me with what appears to be patient fellow-feeling. Both of us with fingers laced in mud. Both of us the same mixture of dead wood and a tiny, tentative pulse of green.

Suddenly, I am laughing. How ridiculous I am, little human, so self-important with my yearly meditations and complaints. It is Lent coming round again, and my sins, many as they are, are not so very interesting. I tell them to the mud. It glistens, and gurgles, and shines dully back at me. It does not reflect my face. Womb and tomb, I think, and then, liking the sound of it, I say it aloud to the root. Womb and tomb. Lent comes every year, as do my February sighs, and then spring. It was so before I began my days on earth. It will continue so when I am gone. How humbling. How liberating. I stand, pushing myself against the mud, and run home.