May 29, 2013

The Power of Worms and Wildflowers

Thirty years ago or so, when I was going through a traumatic life transition, an image came to me in prayer that gave me strength to bear the changes of the moment and those to come in later years.  I saw myself meditating in absolute stillness in a summer meadow.  I could feel a lovely breeze brushing the downy hairs on my cheek, and the warmth of a buttery sun.  In the stillness I could hear a bee buzzing about.  I could even hear the earthworms deep in the earth below me doing their earthworm chores.  I noticed that my being was full with a sweet contentment; that I was home.  Meanwhile, in the distant background, the skyline of the city of my life collapsed under its own weight, silently, into great clouds of dust. 

The metaphor was apt to the situation.  My life did, indeed, feel like it was collapsing all about me.  But I did not yet hold the certainty that God was present with me through the collapse.  I was not yet sitting in the stillness, with the tumult at the periphery of  my awareness.  I was living, rather painfully, in the middle of the tumult, vainly attempting to shore up the collapsing walls of my fortress.  The image brought me the hope that I would survive, that my authentic self  was not the top-heavy construction I had created, and that the Spirit of Life was juicily inviting me to shift my attention from that constructed reality to God’s Reality. 

I’ve since had many lopsided life constructions collapse into heaps of dust:  a job, financial security, status, relationships, even health.  At those times I experience, once again, a painful tug at the heart strings for the familiar things that I have used to give structure to my life.  These are the things that I have used to tell who I am, or what I can do, or what I’m worth.  Even after the collapse is complete I have been known to be obliviously busy with the shoring up, unwilling to face the pain of losing what I thought of as myself.

But once I’ve come to my senses, once I begin to accept and feel the loss, I can also begin to remember the buzzing bee, the earthworms, the breeze, and my experience of deep contentment in that meadow of the soul.  Then I can remember to pay attention to what is, what was, and what always will be:  the abiding presence of the One who knows me and sustains me, who abundantly gives me all that I need to be content, and who doesn’t seem to give a hoot for the cityscape. 

Sometime later I was given a related metaphor that taught me something further about the powerful nature of this Reality.  While walking the grounds surrounding the retreat center where I was staying, I found a neglected sidewalk.  It had apparently once led to a building that had been torn down years ago; the sidewalk had been left to crumble.  Sections of the walk were entirely overgrown with lovely wild grasses and colorful wildflowers.  In fact, the only way I could tell that it had once been a sidewalk were the few sections of concrete that had not yet been overgrown, and the “shadow line” of a walk that could yet be seen in the grasses.  Like the city of my life, the sidewalk was being returned to the earth.

Somehow, in spite of the many heaving potholes in the road that we have to contend with each spring, we tend to think of concrete as solid and enduring.  But God knows better and is apparently content, barring human interference, to allow concrete to find its way back to dust in its own time.  God’s power is not the short-lived power of concrete, or even the power of the jackhammer that quickly reduces concrete to rubble.  God’s power is the unhurried and profound power of seedlings which, through the seasons, and with the help of rain, snow, and sun, break up the concrete of the thoroughfare, helping it on its journey home to the earth.  God’s power is the persistent striving to life that endures in the roots of wildflowers and grasses.  And in spite of our propensity to cling to the realities we construct for ourselves, God patiently reminds us again and again where the real power is.