Several weeks ago I transplanted four trees. Three of them thrived while one languished. This was my first time moving trees from one spot to another so before I attempted the feat I contacted a friend who has a lot of experience with plants, trees and all things green. He told me to get as much of the roots as possible, give it plenty of water the first couple of weeks and to be patient. “It takes a while for some trees to adjust. The leaves may fall off, it may look dead, but give it time.”
I followed his advice with each tree but one of them was growing out of the side of a hill and I couldn’t get as much of the root system as I would’ve liked. I watered them and waited. The others flourished as expected but the fourth one withered. My wife and I had several conversations about the likelihood of its survival. Each time, however, we ended the discussion by deciding to follow my friend’s advice.
Last weekend we thought the limbs looked greener on our struggling tree than in previous weeks. On Tuesday we spotted what looked like buds on some of the limbs. Over the last couple of days the leaves have begun to emerge and unfurl. That which seemed dead was indeed alive.
I am thankful for my friend’s guidance, the ability to trust someone smarter, the lesson in patience I am continually learning and the wisdom that separates experience from expectation.
Earlier today my wallet disappeared. I had stopped at a restaurant this morning to study for my fathers with addictions group. I took in a jacket, notebook and workbook. After ordering and paying I put my keys and wallet into my jacket pocket so I wouldn’t leave it behind.
When it was time to go I picked up both books, jacket and headed to the truck. I pulled my keys from the jacket pocket unlocked the door, placed the other items inside, reached back into the jacket but my wallet was nowhere to be found. I checked every pocket, in the seats, on the pavement, retraced my steps back into the restaurant, outside again, rechecked pockets, under the truck, floor boards, under the workbook, notebook, between the seats but no luck and no wallet. “Things don’t just disappear!” I said, reinforcing the hope I wasn’t losing what’s left of my mind. “It’s got to be here somewhere!”
As I stood there staring and pondering where it could be, what could’ve happened to it, the brown leather corner of my wallet caught my eye. Somehow, someway, it had come out of my jacket pocket and lodged itself in a hinge of my truck door (see photo above). Breathing a sigh of relief I plucked it from its hiding place, shook my head and was thankful for something valuable found in an unlikely place.
Life has a way of reminding us that it’s unpredictable and mysterious. Whether lost wallets, unexpected blessings, unwanted challenges or finding comfort and contentment in the last place expected we must keep our eyes and spirits open.
My wife bought a new coffee pot yesterday and I don’t like it. It’s fancy. Lots of lights, buttons, dials, even a clock, but I don’t care for it. There’s nothing wrong with it per se but I had a great relationship with the old one. It was a simple coffee pot with only an ON/OFF button. It made wonderful java for many years. It’s brew kept me warm on cold winter nights, awake on mornings when I received early emergency phone calls, helped me stay alert on road trips and made a particular gurgling sound when the coffee was ready. It was perfect, well perfectly suited for me.
However, the last few weeks it stopped cutting on when the switch was flipped. Sometimes it took several tries and a good whack before it began to percolate. Since I am the one who usually makes coffee for the family I didn’t mind the extra effort because of the history we shared but yesterday morning my better half attempted to make our morning brew and wasn’t at all pleased. Sigh, out with the old, in with the new. This morning I fought the urge to pull my old friend from out of the trash and instead, again, accepted the reality of change, transition, dissolution and impermanence.
Change bothers me. I don’t deal well with it even though wisdom teaches me all of existence is in a constant state of flux. So, I breathe deeply, let go of attachments to material things and take a big swig!
“They’re doing what?!?!” This question was asked of me today during a discussion regarding the plight of a family our organization is trying to help. A co-worker shook her head and then made the statement; “Sometimes I wonder if their lives are a result of bad luck or bad decision-making.”
This comment gave me pause and I’ve been reflecting upon it and people’s level of self-awareness and culpability. There are many negative occurrences which happen to us all. There are times when unnecessary, unwanted, and unexpected events are encountered on our journey. We weather the storms and wonder why we’re the recipients of bad luck, karma, insidious plots or sordid conspiracies designed to ruin us. We don’t have to look too far or too deep to find someone or something to blame for our misfortune. Oftentimes, once we’ve found the target(s) of our incrimination, we lay at their feet the responsibility of a life gone wrong.
While “into every life a little rain must fall” is a quaint idiom it’s also true. Life does have its ups and downs, joys and heartaches, triumphs and tragedies. The blessing of being alive carries with it the curse of suffering. There’s no denying that “life isn’t fair” (another quaint saying wrapped in truthfulness). However, we must be careful not to lay all culpability at every doorstep except our own. Our thoughts, words and actions have consequences. Who we are today often dictates, at least in part, what we face tomorrow.
Wisdom reminds us to always choose wisely.
“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you.
I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”
“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.”
-CS Lewis, “The Voyage of the DawnTreader”
The story above is one of my favorites from CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. A spoiled, rotten, obnoxious boy named Eustace attempts to steal a dragon’s gold and is himself turned into a dragon. No matter how hard he tries he cannot free himself from the scaled skin which holds him captive. His monstrous greed, selfishness and arrogance has imprisoned him. Then he meets Aslan, the mystical and powerful lion, who sets him free.
This morning I connected with a friend who, along with her husband, have journeyed a path very similar to the one my wife and I have walked. They are good friends and mentors. We were discussing the hurt and pain that can be inflicted upon us by those who are members of the community of God.
I told my friend that this path has led me to strange and uncomfortable places. It has taken me away from the desire for the wrongs to be righted, the people who hurt me punished and instead to confront my own ego and misplaced trust. I have been forced to face the beasts inside of me and am being stripped of their hold on me.
“I’m reminded of Eustace in CS Lewis’ “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” I said. “When Aslan pierces the dragon hide with his claw and the pain is great but the freedom is greater.”
“Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags.
Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Sit underneath my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism?…
God chose those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith and as heirs of the kingdom. Don’t honor one and dishonor another…Love every neighbor as yourself.” Epistle of James
This selection of writings was read in worship this morning. They are from a letter tradition says was written by James the brother of Jesus. It is a powerful reminder of how quickly we are seduced by outward appearances. Folks that look nice, smell good, wear fashionable clothing with beautiful smiles seem to draw people to them while those without such amenities, too often, are shunned, looked past, avoided or treated as lesser than.
The word “favoritism” or “partiality” literally means “to receive the face.” In other words to look at someone and decide/judge whether or not they are worthy of our time, effort and lives.
True love doesn’t have conditions. Radical grace knows no limits. Sacrificial giving of ourselves is never dictated by the other.
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” #ThomasMerton
We share the breath of the Divine Spirit
The Spirit by which the Church lives is the Spirit of love, of unity. Unity can be preserved or restored only by understanding, acceptance and pardon. The Church is a body of men who know they are forgiven and who forgive repeatedly because they are themselves forgiven repeatedly.
The Church is then not so much a body of men who are pure and never offend, but of men who, in their weakness and frailty, frequently err and offend, but who have received from God the power to forgive one another in His name. They possess the Holy Spirit and they can give the Holy Spirit in some sense, to one another. The Holy Spirit Himself moves them to do this, and acts in them, to save others. (See Acts 8:14-18, 26-39; 10:24-48, etc.)
We, then, who form one body in Christ, share with one another the message of Christ’s divine truth, we share His word, we share His worship, we share His love, we share His Spirit.
The highest adoration we offer to God, “in spirit and in truth” is in this sharing of the breath of the Divine Spirit with one another in pardon and in love. That is why we are told to forgive our brother before we go to offer sacrifice. That is why we exchange the kiss of peace before Communion. The kiss of peace is in some way a part of our Eucharistic communion: it symbolizes the spiritual sharing of the Holy Spirit. With a holy kiss we give the Holy Spirit to our brother, as if the flame of one candle were transferred to enlighten another.
Thomas Merton, OCSO
Seasons of Celebration, p. 227