Saturday, December 13, 2014

reeds and trees

Because a man 
Even if he be wise, feels no disgrace 
In learning many things, in taking care 
Not to be over-rigid. 
You have seen 
Trees on the margin of a stream in winter: 
Those yielding to the flood save every twig, 
And those resisting perish root and branch. 
--Antigone, Sophocles

The other day, my friend reminded me of a sad story from last January. And it caused me to reflect on how full of sadness and difficulty this past year really was. It is so easy to forget that it was a year of hardship, because it was also a year of great joy. And the joy sticks in my mind more permanently than the sorrow.

But as I pondered last winter, I thought of one night as I sat with a crying friend in the beautiful Walsh chapel. In front of us was the beautiful stained glass window of the Visitation: Mary reaching out to embrace Elizabeth, who echoed her cousin's open arms of welcome. We mimicked the image by holding one another: but no one uttered any Magnificats.

He uses such strange material for His purposes, why it is that lives which, judged by our standards, are tragic and frustrated may, in fact, be the most glorious.”--Caryll Houselander

It felt strange and unexpected, to be so at a loss just when we felt so assured of ourselves. Four years of careful growth had formed us into slender stalks of healthy wheat, ready for the harvest, full-grown, standing tall and strong. All of a sudden, the soil that we were planted was broken up by the rough hand of the tiller.
It hurts; it is confusing to find yourself being churned in with the rich loam, the plow dragging your strong stalk down to earth, when you are just beginning to bear fruit.

And yet, what a beautiful gift to be given: to have to start over again, just when you have reached your prime. Just as you are beginning to find your feet, to walk, the rug is pulled out from underneath you, and you find yourself back to crawling. It is a gift most welcome, even if it is a difficult on to bear.

And I think I will hold on to that image for a long time: of being comfortable, secure in myself, my world, my status, my community; and then suddenly feeling myself uprooted and unsure. It is a reminder that there are very few things in life that one can hold onto with the assurance that they will always be there.

But there is an uprooting, a plowing, a razing that occurs naturally in life. A burning of the underbrush that helps a forest grow. All the seasons in life include a season of death. And this season of death leads to a season of renewal.

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