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Friday, February 24, 2017

Trapped in Normalcy

I ran across a line in one of Richard Rohr’s books that I use for a course I teach.  The book is entitled, Everything Belongs.  I have used the book a number of times in some classes.  I find it challenging, comforting, and encouraging.  It is encouraging when I read that ultimately everything belongs.  Obviously, that is pretty general.  But it is also radical.

It is general and sometimes generalities don’t mean much.  It is tempting to say, “yeah, everything belongs, but belongs to what?”  The first place in Rohr’s book where he addresses this question provides a good, beginning answer.  He says, “In God’s reign, ‘everything belongs,’ even the broken and poor parts; the imperial systems of culture, however, demand ‘in’ and ‘out’ people, victors and victims.”

When Rohr says “everything,” he means every thing.  That includes me and you.  That means all of us and all of our world (and every other world out there).  This is the radicality of his message.  It is such a radical message that many of us recoil in the face of it.  Too often, we are so much a part of what he calls “imperial systems of culture” that we can’t get our minds around a concept like, “everything belongs.”  We seem naturally to think some things belong, but surely other things don’t.  Like the systems of culture, we need victors and victims. 

This is especially true for us who are rather fortunate.  Some of us are so lucky that we are fortunate in many ways.  We are what might called multi-fortunate!  I am one of them.  I am a white male who is very well educated and nicely situated financially.  Of course, I see myself as only “slightly well-off!”  In my normal world, I do not always compare favorably to those around me. 

But all this thinking and comparing and, sometimes, complaining comes from “my reign.”  It comes from my framework of the world where there are “in” people and “out” people.  Rohr is not talking about this “reign,” this self-constructed little world of mine.  Indeed not!  Rohr’s vision that everything belongs comes from the perspective of “God’s reign.”  That is not a term used very much today.  I could substitute the idea of “God’s kingdom” for the phrase.  From God’s kingdom everything belongs.

Put that way surely will call for negative pushback from many different kinds of folks.  Put this way underscores that many of us really do work from a perspective that requires “in” people and “out” people.  “Surely,” we assert, “not everyone can be an ‘in’ person!”  Of course, I assume I am an “in” person.  I can base this claim on any number of factors.  I might religiously be an “in” person.  I belong to the right religious tradition, i.e. normally Christianity in our culture.  I can think of a number of other categories where I consider myself “in.”

That’s surely the trouble with normalcy.  Most of us define it such that we are “normal!”  I know I do.  And if I hang around with other “normal” people, then I am confirmed in my assumption that I am normal.  But that undoubtedly makes some other folks “not normal.”  Of course, they are the “out” people.  And surely, they don’t belong---everything can’t belong according to this logic.  And tragically, if I am an “in” person, I might not really care about the others---those “out” people!  I’m “in;” they’re “out;” that’s life!

This is why Rohr’s sentence so challenged me when I read it.  He says, “We are usually trapped in what we call normalcy, ‘the ways things are.’  Life becomes problem-solving, fixing, explaining, and taking sides with winners and losers.”   Rohr says we will never understand from this perspective that everything belongs.  Rather, he admonishes us to “be drawn into the sacred, often called liminality.”  Liminality is a fancy word meaning “threshold.”  We have to be drawn to the threshold of a different perspective---the sacred---in order to see and understand that everything belongs. 

Probably most of us don’t see things with God’s eyes---from God’s perspective. Indeed, we are trapped in normalcy.  How could we begin to see things from “God’s reign?”  Let me offer a couple small suggestions.  First, we will need a new set of eyes!  This is not a call for a transplant.  But it is a call for transformation.  We will need to begin seeing with eyes of grace and not eyes of judgment.  Of course, judgments will need to be made; it would be na├»ve to assume otherwise.  But judgments should lead to grace and not grief.

Secondly, we begin to see from “God’s reign” when we get eyes of love.  Our culture is pretty good with lust.  It is not always so good with love!  Eyes of love can see what is already good and affirm that.  Eyes of love can see the potential good which often is hidden or, perhaps, trapped.  The eyes of love lead to liberation and freedom. With the eyes of love, we will see that everything belongs.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mortar of Love

It is reassuring to work at a place that is supportive.  I know enough about engagement studies to know that good relationships at work not only are more pleasant, but also it enhances productivity.  While productivity is often measured in economic terms, there are also other measures.  When I think about my own job of teaching spirituality to college-age folks, it is difficult to measure my productivity in economic terms.  While I would like to think I am effective, I doubt there is an economic measurement that would confirm my effectiveness.
           
Part of the joy of my work is having folks help and encourage me.  One of those people happens to be president of my institution.  I was not surprised recently when I received an email from him.  What did surprise me a little was the content of the email.  It is worth noting that, although I do not work at a Catholic institution, my president is Catholic.  And he knows how much I value the Catholic tradition and how much, particularly, the monastic tradition has informed my own faith and spirituality. 
           
The email began with his acknowledgement that the Catholic calendar of that particular day happened to be the feast of St. Peter Damian.  I had to smile.  I am sure he is the first and only president I ever had who would know this particular piece of information.  And perhaps, he is the only president who would have cared!  Although I am not a specialist in medieval spirituality, I know a few things about Peter Damian.
           
I know Peter Damian was an eleventh century Italian.  He was a serious young man---a kind of John the Baptist type.  His approach to religion was pretty rigorous and, some might say, severe.  At one point he became a Benedictine monk.  Peter felt called to reform the Church.  He was strict in what he wanted from people, although he was capable of being merciful to those less fortunate souls.  But there is no doubt, he felt called to help people “shape up.”  I was intrigued that in preparation for his day, my president would be reading this saint.
           
His note indicated that he had come upon a sentence from Peter Damian that he knew connected with my interests and some of my work.  I was touched by this connection and appreciated the fact that he not only thought about me, but actually took the time and made the effort to share this sentence from Peter Damian with me.  Listen to Damian’s words: “Let the entire edifice that you are constructing from the living stones of the virtues be strengthened with the mortar of sincere love.”
           
Without doing extensive research on this passage from Damian, let me offer my own interpretation or commentary.  In the first place I think the “edifice” about which he is talking is his life and our lives.  I believe he is correct to suggest that we construct our edifice.  We make our lives by what we think, feel and act.  There is much choice in the way we build our lives, although obviously there are also things beyond our choice.  But one thing we do have a choice is whether to live life according to the virtues.
           
I am intrigued that Peter Damian describes the construction of the edifice of our life from the living stones of the virtues.  This makes a great deal of sense to me.  I have written on what I call the seven classical virtues: love, justice, faith, prudence, temperance, courage and hope.  As Aristotle well said, virtues “aim at the good.”  If you put together a life of virtue, you have crafted a life of character.  And character-based living is a worthy goal of every living human being.
           
I second Peter Damian in extolling each of us to create just such an edifice with the living stones of virtues.  I appreciate his image of a virtue as a living stone.  Of course, most of us do not think rocks live.  But the virtues are “living” in the sense they form our life but also motivate us to live virtuously.  They are not merely ideas or principles.  They are the motivation to live a worthy life in real ways in our real world. 
           
And Damian concludes this sentence by describing how all this hangs together.  This virtue-based life is integrated---made one---by the mortar of sincere love.  Simply put, Damian says it all works because of love.  I am attracted to the image of love as a mortar.  That mortar surrounds each particular living stone of virtue and unites it to the other, single living stones. This fits very well with the idea that God is love.  Doubtlessly, Damian had this in mind.
           
The last thing I notice is the adjective Damian chooses to modify love.  The adjective is “sincere” love.  We all know the messy situation with our English word, love.  People love their kids, pizza, their cars, etc.  While I like pizza and care about my car, I cannot say either involves “sincere love.”  Sincere love is a virtue and unites all virtues.  It is the love we have for God, ourselves, others and our planet.
           
With sincere love, we are inclined to bring all the other living stones---the virtues---to bear on any situation.  In sincere love we take justice seriously when it comes to dealing with the poor, disadvantaged, etc.  I know my own edifice is still a work in progress.  I am thankful to Peter Damian for helping me think about constructing my virtuous life and for his encouragement to make it the kind of edifice that will be hospitable to all who come to my life as a visitor.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Recreating Through Us

The title for today’s inspirational reflection comes from a sentence from my favorite Quaker saint, Thomas Kelly.  Oh, Quakers don’t actually have saints in the traditional Catholic sense.  But if we did, Kelly would be sanctified.  Clearly he was no more perfect than any other human being.  He was a man with some significant flaws, but who among us does not have significant flaws?

Kelly died in 1948 at a relatively young age.  He had aspirations to be a world-class scholar.  In some ways he was on the path to achieve some of that dream.  And in other ways, he failed and suffered depression and other maladies because of that.  He taught at a couple Quaker colleges and wanted more.  He struggled to get a Harvard degree, but that did not bring him the success he sought.  He also was spending time in pre-war Germany in the 1930s.  There he saw the rise of Nazism and the horrors that would become WWII.

Finally toward the end of the 1930s, Kelly seemed to turn a spiritual corner.  His priorities began to realign and a spiritual wisdom and depth appeared in his thinking and writing.  He delivered some lectures at Germantown Friends Meeting (Church) which were to become the published book, A Testament of Devotion, which went on to be a best-seller in the 20th century.  It is a book I have read a number of times and it still continues to shape my own spirituality.

In one of his chapters entitled, “The Eternal Now and Social Concerns,” Kelly has this sentence.  “For the Eternal is urgently, actively breaking into time, working through those who are willing to be laid hold upon, to surrender self-confidence and self-centered effort, that is, self-originated effort, and let the Eternal by the dynamic guide in recreating, through us, our time-world.”  This is such a pregnant sentence, let’s take time to unpack it and reflect on it.

I like Kelly’s many ways to talk about God.  In this case he calls God the “Eternal Now.”  This suggests to me a Divinity Who is always present and available.  I might or might not be aware of that Divinity, but It is here---eternally now.  And Kelly’s first phrase talks about the activity of that Eternal Now.  The Eternal Now is breaking into time.  Since you and I live in time---we are creatures of the temporal---that is where God breaks in to meet us. 

But there is more.  Pay attention to Kelly’s adverbs.  The Eternal Now is “urgently” and “actively” breaking into time.  That excites me.  God is not a ho-hum Divinity.  God is coming into our presence right now!  There is urgency and activity.  You think God does not care?  Think again!

Kelly is quite clear why God is urgently and actively breaking into time.  That God wants to work through those of us who are willing to be touched, taught, and teamed with each other in an important ministry.  Let’s detail that process.

God seeks out those of us willing to co-operate.  But there are some ground rules.  We need to be willing to be laid upon.  That is an odd phrase, to be sure.  But the key piece is the idea of our “willingness.”  God is not a coercive God.  God is urgent and active, but also waits for each of us to be willing.  It reminds me of that passage from one of the prophets who responds, “Here I am Lord.”  We have to be willing to have God grab hold of us.  This obviously has implications which Kelly points out.

Essentially, Kelly tells us that God who breaks into time asks us to surrender.  Now that is not a popular word in American culture.  But it is what spiritually growing women and men are called to do.  We need to surrender self-confidence and self-centered effort.  In other words, we have to give up our own agendas---our own egotistical aspirations---in order to will what God wills.  And all this is to one point.

We give up our egotistical agendas in order to allow God to recreate us and through us to recreate our world.  I do think this is Kelly’s version of “thy kingdom come.”  I am confident Kelly thinks God breaks into time and touches as many of us as are willing to begin to be co-creators with that Genesis-God the coming kingdom.  That kingdom will not be Eden restored.  It will be more real, more magnificent than Eden.

I find that a compelling call.  I sense a mission beyond my wildest dreams.  Whatever role I imagine for myself cannot compare to this Divine Opportunity.  It literally is a chance to turn the world upside down and inside out.  It is a mission that goes beyond creative or innovative.  It goes to the transformative.  In that transformative mission God urgently and actively needs many of us to say, “Yes.” 

“Here am I Lord.”  Lay hold of me.  I surrender and sign on.  Not my will, but Thy Will.”  I am going to work now---the Divine Work of re-creation.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Keep the Faith

One of the things I try to do in order to maintain some discipline in my spiritual journey is to follow the lectionary of the church.  The lectionary is a set of daily readings.  I choose to follow the lectionary that I know the Benedictine monks follow.  This is a group to which I have some affiliation, so I enjoy knowing that I am doing what they are doing.  Of course, I know they are much more diligent in their discipline.  So I figure there are times their diligence is covering for my lack of diligence!
   
In fact, they are so disciplined, they set aside a number of different periods during the day when they stop whatever they are doing and join together in community for worship.  I cannot do all these, so I try to pay attention to the morning and evening sessions that they do.  I like the fact that every one of these gatherings include some readings from the Psalms.  I never had much to do with the Psalms as I was growing up.  I suppose that is because Quakers I knew did not pay special attention to the Psalms.
   
It was only when I took an Old Testament class in college that I became aware how important the Psalms were in Jewish history and spirituality.  The Psalms were the praise book of the Jewish people.  I try to remember and appreciate that when I am working with the Psalms.  For example, last evening when I turned to the lectionary reading, the first Psalm used was Psalm 86.  I would like to focus on the first two verses of that Psalm.
   
Let’s look at these verses and then I will offer a commentary.  “Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.  Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you; save your servant who trusts in you.”  The first thing to observe is this Psalm actually is a petition to God.  The Psalmist asks God to turn an ear to the words of the Psalmist.  In fact, the Psalmist is explicit: answer me!  The Psalmist is asking the Lord to pay attention to him and give him an answer.
   
The Psalmist is detailed in his request.  Answer me because I am poor and needy he says.  Another translation says the Psalmist is destitute.  This suggests to me more than simply a lack of money.  To be destitute means I have no resources---financial or emotional.  I am at my wits end.  In this situation only God can answer in a way that makes any difference.  The Psalmist is needy.  To be needy often borders being desperate.  I certainly have had needs.  But I am not sure I ever have been so needy I was desperate.  I can learn from the Psalmist.
   
The Psalmist moves to the real request.  He asks God to preserve his life.  This is a much bigger request than for money.  His life is at stake.  No wonder only God can intervene in action.  The Psalmist offers his reason for God to save him.  The Psalmist says that he has been devoted to the Lord.  This is both honorable and laudable.  Devotion is a matter of loyalty.  It is grounded in faith.  I think everyone is devoted to someone or something.  Devotion is how we live out commitment.
   
Finally, the Psalmist asks God to save God’s servant.  That is an interesting way to portray the Psalmist’s relationship to God: a servant.  It is to this end---salvation---then, the Psalmist asks God to act.  Save me is the request.  And the basis for the request is the trust or faith the Psalmist has had in God.  In effect, I hear the Psalmist saying he wants God to save him because he has trusted God.
   
Having covered in some detail these two verses, we can step back and appreciate how the Psalmist models the faith journey.  It begins in faith.  Faith is trust in action.  Faith is a verb, although in English we need to switch to “trust” for the verb.  Faith establishes commitment.  It is our commitment that we live out our fiduciary relationship.  This commitment lived out over time is nothing more than devotion.  Devotion is disciplined commitment. It is more than theology or a set of beliefs.  Devotion is action---it is life poured out to someone else.  This is nothing less than the life of a servant.  The servant is faithful, devoted and dedicated to service.
   
I appreciate seeing how the Psalmist models this journey.  When I see it laid out this way, I understand more how idols work in life.  Idolatry is the displacement of God with something else.  It can be another person or some thing---like money, ego, etc.  We see the same sequence in idolatry: faith, commitment, devotion and action.  As the Jews learned long ago, idolatry, however, is not worthy of your faith and devotion.  While my idolatry may be satisfying in the short run, in the long run, there will be no salvation.  There will be no ultimate healing and wellbeing.
   
I appreciate this lesson.  But I also know a lesson does not mean I have learned it.  And for sure, it does not mean I can live it.  That is up to me and up to you.  But if I have not learned it and begin to live it, I can never legitimately ask what the Psalmist asked in this Psalm 86.  That is now my goal.  Goals are actualized when we begin to act.  Now is the time.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Cultivate Holy Curiosity

Recently I have had the pleasure of returning to one of my favorite books of all time, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  This Pulitzer Prize winning work was initially published in 1974, so it is getting some age on it.  By now it probably can be called a classic.  The first time I read it, I was captivated.  And I experience that every time I read it.  Dillard has an amazing facility with words to express and elaborate a world of nature she sees so much more intricately than I ever have seen.
           
Dillard’s classic is a great example of what I might call, subtle spirituality.  You read her book and God seldom appears clearly and without obstruction.  Rather God dances on the margins of her narrative about experiencing God.  God is behind the scenes.  It seems that God does not reveal as much as peek and peer into our reading of the text.  Dillard teases us with hints of the Divine.  She wants us to read, pause and reflect.  Maybe this is the way the biggest truths of life really come to us.
           
In my recent reading of Dillard, I was in the chapter she entitles, “Spring.”  So much of her writing can seem like some banal description of the stuff in nature.  It is easy to get bored or even dismiss her details as so much stuff about nothing.  I know this tends to be the conclusion of my students.  And in the process, they claim she is hard reading.  They are correct!   But that is where the fun begins.
           
We have to learn to read Annie Dillard.  We have to learn to slow down and soak it in.  I like that word, soak.  It takes time.  It requires a kind of lingering over what we read.  If God is going to peek out from the words we are reading, we cannot go so fast that we will miss the Divine hints.  A trick I have learned over many readings of this book is to pay close attention to the end of the chapter.  There is where Dillard seems to be the most revelatory.  There glimpses of God and of truth seem to be the easiest.
           
In that “Spring” chapter, Dillard finishes with a story with a look at monostyla rotifers!  She made me laugh when she talks about the “tiny career” of these little creatures. (122-3) She gets more serious when she notes, “These are real creatures with real organs leading real lives, one by one.  I can’t pretend they’re not there.  If I have life, sense, energy, will, so does a rotifer.”  And in this moment she sneaks in the Divinity. 
           
She talks about the fact that we humans were created and “set in proud, free motion.”  She assumes the same thing for the rotifer.  Then she asks about the point of it all?  For humans and for rotifers?  And boom, comes a question, which I think is a rhetorical question.  She speculates on the purpose of humans and rotifers: Ad majorem Dei gloriam?  Luckily, I know Latin: “to the greater glory of God?” is how this phrase translates. 
           
Interestingly, she chooses to put this phrase in Latin and to italicize it.  I can guess that to many of our ears (Catholic ears used to hearing much of Mass in Latin) this signifies holy language---the language of the Church.  I suggest this is a rhetorical question because I think she wants us to say, “Of course, we are created to the greater glory of God.”  “And so are rotifers!”  I am ok with that reason for my being.  It certainly is something to live up to.  It is a mighty calling in life.  Sadly, it is too easy to aim much lower and squander life.
           
Dillard is not done with us yet.  She says, “If I did not know about the rotifers and paramecia, and all the bloom of plankton clogging the dying pond, fine; but since I’ve seen it I must somehow deal with it, take it into account.  ‘Never lose a holy curiosity,’ Einstein said…” (123)  I love that short phrase: never lose holy curiosity.  Normally, our culture simply talks about “curiosity.”  I hear this language among innovators and entrepreneurs and, certainly, among scientists in their quest for truth.  But “holy” curiosity?  Holy curiosity is my willingness to join Dillard and Einstein in chasing down new things and new truths. 

It is more.  It is my willingness to be available in those times and places where God may choose to peek out from the normal.  It is to be available when and where God may move from the margins of my world straight into the middle of my awareness so that I may see and claim the truth that I, too, am here ad majorem Dei gloriam---to the greater glory of God. 

If I can come to be clear that I am living my life to that end, I would be humbled and glorified in the same breath.  I hope it’s true.  I want to live into that truth.  And I am grateful for the holy curiosity that propels me to be in quest of that truth for my life. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Human Development---Spiritual Development

Even though I read quite a bit, there is always more to read.  In fact, I am sure I am losing ground on all the new stuff out there.  That is probably true even in the world of religion and spirituality.  I am sure there is more being published---in print and on line---than any one person can read.  Rather than get discouraged, I simply hope to get my hands on some of the good ones.

My memory may be faulty, but I recollect that some person at Harvard in the early 1700s was the last person who had read all the books in Harvard’s library.  I know first-hand the library system there is amazing.  It is (I believe) the third largest in this country, after the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.  Even when I think about my little college, I realize there is no way I could read all the volumes.

However, I occasionally come across a book that I say, “I must read that one.”  This happened just recently when I was reading a review of a new book.  The book is by Edward O. Wilson.  I know Wilson’s name; he is a famous naturalist at Harvard.  Basically, he studies bugs---ants in particular.  But he has developed a phenomenal reputation as a world-class thinker and philosopher.  He is not an easy read and he is a real challenge for those of us who have some kind of religious affiliation.  The new book is entitled, The Social Conquest of Earth.  I must read that one.

Somewhere in the book he writes these sentences:  “We have created a Star Wars civilization, with Stone Age emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology…We thrash about.  We are terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence, and a danger to ourselves and the rest of life.”  This sounds so like E.O. Wilson!  It is a great couple of sentences and engages me to ponder and digest.

Wilson thinks we need to study bugs of various kinds to understand human development.  This is not too surprising, since I know he believes in evolution.  But it is interesting that he wants to go to the bug-level instead of the usual ape.  But then we get his clue.  Allow me to quote from the reviewer of the book, Kristin Ohlson.  She says, “Wilson ascribes the evolutionary success of humans and social insects to their complex social systems, which are rare in nature.”  He coins a word for these ”insect societies,” namely, “eusociality.”  Now since I know Greek, I know the word “eu” is the word for “good or well.”  So eusociality is nothing more than good or well societies. 

That connects to human development in Wilson’s mind.  He charts the usual evolutionary development as humans wander from the sea, develop a larger brain, etc.  But then, according to Wilson, we come to the crucial developmental phase which charts our creation of eusociality.  Through the words of the reviewer, Wilson notes that “what really took humans over the threshold into eusociality was the emergence of traits that favor a strong ‘nest:’ communication, the ability to read the intentions of others, the ability to divide tasks and cooperate.”

I find this fascinating.  It does not bother me to think that we have much in common with bugs!  Eusociality is an attractive idea.  The opposite would be a-sociality or malsociality---bad or awful sociality.  Murderers, Hitler, and others fit into that category.  So I find the idea hopeful that evolutionarily we are bred for goodness.

That seems in line with what the Genesis creation story told us so many aeons ago.  We were created for goodness.  This is where I would add the spiritual dimension to Wilson’s evolutionary tale of human development.  I fear that human development is not sufficient in itself to bring us fully into eusociality.  In fact, I am convinced there is a religious idea of what eusociality would be called.  I think Jesus called it the “kingdom.”  He came to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God.  Spiritually that was a call to religious eusociality!

Jesus knew well how the Genesis story unfolded.  He knew the original couple began in paradise, but they blew it.  They sinned and were kicked out of the blessed place.  There was some atoning and restoring to be done.  That was the message and ministry of Jesus.  I suspect the same will be true for the evolving eusociality of Wilson’s vision.

In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest that world peace will come when “thy kingdom comes.”  I am not sure we can evolve (or devolve back) into paradise without the grace of that creative God who still loves us and will love us into well being.  We will need the grace to discern the intentions of each other and encourage the best.  We will need communal love to cooperate in kingdom-building.

That’s the promise of human development with the graceful assistance of spiritual development.    

Thursday, February 16, 2017

People are Like Trees

One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is a healing story.  In that story Jesus heals a blind man.  If you work some with New Testament scholarship, you soon will learn that healing blind people generally is an analogy to finding faith.  “Seeing” and “faith” make a good analogous pair.  If I can come to “see” something, then I can be said to have “faith.”  So in this healing story, the blind man comes to have “faith” in Jesus and who Jesus really is.

That’s fine, but that is not my focus for the day.  I am more intrigued with a little glitch in that healing story.  Jesus approaches the guy and touches his eyes.  Then when the man is asked if he can see, he basically says that he can see people, but they look like trees.  At that point, Jesus has to do a touch-up, so that people become people in the healed man’s eyes.

What I want to focus on in this inspirational reflection is not the healing story per se, but on the man’s response to Jesus.  In effect, he says trees are like people.  However, in this reflection I want to reverse the analogy and suggest that people are like trees.  Let me elaborate.

One of the obvious things about the spring season is how the world comes alive.  It happens every spring, and every spring I am amazed and delighted.  I love the surge of new life that seems to ebb and flow every place you look.  We are again in the midst of spring and that moves me again.  Let’s focus on the trees.

All winter the trees stand naked of foliage.  They are as good as dead.  I know we call it dormancy, but it looks dead to me!  It is almost as if the trees stand there, brace themselves and take it---take all that winter can blast their way.  But then the seasonal warming that we know as spring breaks onto the scene.  Imperceptively, the trees begin to come alive.  It is always sneaky, because you cannot see it coming.  You know it will happen, but when it is happening, you cannot see it until part way into the process.

And then in the staging of spring, buds begin to appear.  From the bud comes some really nice flowers.  Particularly, some fruit trees bear gorgeous flowers.  Every spring I fall in love again with trees.  I know the beautiful phase of flowers on the trees does not last long, but it is impressive every time.  I know the green leaves will begin to replace the flowers and I am good with that.  But I love the in-between flowering stage. 

And then the green leaves do set onto the trees.  This prepares the trees for the long haul through spring, a hot summer, and on into the fall season.  And then obviously, the cycle is set to deliver the trees back to the dormancy of winter.  The circle will come around one more time.  But in the springtime, one never zooms that far ahead.

Perhaps it is that cycle I see in trees that make them such good analogies for people.  Let’s take a closer look.  The human life-cycle is much like the tree.  The springtime of the human, as I understand it, goes from infancy through childhood.  To me the baby is much like the initial seasonal surge that spring brings to the tree.  Something is happening, but the results are hard to discern.  So it is with an infant.  A great deal is happening, but it is hard to discern.

As the infant grows on into childhood, the beautiful “flowers” appear where once there was just a bud of a baby.  The flowers are pretty; the baby-turning little kid is cute.  And then the “leaves” of the childhood come full force.  There is amazing development, growth, and vibrancy.  So much happens.  So much promise comes to the scene.  The tree and the child are both ready for the summer season of productivity.

Adolescence brims with potency.  That bleeds on into the fullness of a maturing person.  Spring/summer/fall can be a long season for the leafed tree and for the generativity of the human being.  I think about my own life and realize I am like that “mature” tree in the middle of the fall season.  The productivity begins to flag a bit and the greenness of mid-summer and mid-life begins to fade.

If the tree analogy holds, then I am headed for “ripeness.”  Let’s use this as a time to move this analogy into a spiritual direction.  We can imagine the infancy/childhood phase of spring to be that time when the spiritual seeds are sown.  When we are young, we carry the seminal potential for so much good stuff later on.  On into adolescence and early adulthood, the seeds sprout and grow into the spiritual person we potentially can be.  As we move into full adulthood and towards the autumn of our lives, we can accumulate spiritual knowledge and experience in spiritual living that can make us stalwarts of our “forest” (our community).

Many of you are in that phase now.  Do it as well as you can.  And some of us are already in that autumn or late autumn phase.  Like the trees we hopefully can bear the fruit of accumulated wisdom.  I really hope I can become a sage of the Spirit.  For when I begin to lose my leaves, I want them to be spectacularly beautiful.  Then I will be at peace as I fall into God’s ground to make it richer for the new season.