"et ascendet sicut virgultum coram eo et sicut radix de terra sitienti non est species ei neque decor et vidimus eum et non erat aspectus et desideravimus eum."
~ Isaiah 53 : 2
It’s easy to accept the concept that we cannot predict the details of future events. We can make our plans, and our places of employment will prudently assemble five-year strategic timetables- most of which will be eventually implemented. But, indeed, our best may be set forth up against numerous variables. Inevitably, it is mutual and wholehearted vigilance that is assured a future, however not all the details can possibly be known by mortals like us. Wrapped up in faithful forward-motion is the essence of confident trust. It’s a looking ahead, even without knowing each length of road.
Almost similarly, we cannot always see our spiritual beginnings. Effects emerge above the surfaces of our complex lives, but causes require a closer look- and the search for how things manifest in our lives may take demanding and expeditionary searching. "How late I came to love you," exclaimed Augustine, in the 4th century. "O beauty so ancient and fresh, how late I came to love you! You were within me, while I had gone outside to seek you... Always you were with me, and I was not with you," he continued in his memoir The Confessions. And so the beginnings, the antecedents of our realized thoughts are the roots which are as captivatingly perplexing to me as they were for the ancient Augustine. Isaiah, from the 8th century B.C., used the marvelous metaphor (in the above quote) of the root sending a tender plant up through the dry and thirsty ground. Of course, Isaiah is pointing to something majestic and eternal, but yet from a most un-spectacular and common beginning, adding there was nothing about an emerging seedling that would cause us to pay special notice.
But truly, how fascinating- especially at this season of life- to notice the ordinary eloquence of those tender green shoots manifesting out of the dormant ground and from embrittled trees. These are resounding signs of hope, of the spark of life whose renewal does not grow weary. The literary character, The Little Prince made the astute remark that "what makes the desert beautiful is that it hides a well." For me it is a wonder, a marvel, to watch the renewal of life- not only from a dormancy, but from brokenness. The desert indeed hides a wellspring, and it is a bottomless fount of creative love, and reveals itself as a delicate seedling that is both barely noticeable and also undergirded by far-reaching networks of perennial roots.
Recent years have been the ground upon which I have learned much about the way our crises can be the ferments that fall to thirsty soil below. Even the word crisis is itself a fascination, implying turning-points that demand regathering and confrontation in order to recover. Of course these analyses are only admissible after the recovery. The nature of crisis is an unknowing beyond the precarious point of immediacy. Similarly, traces of the origins of our ideas become more evident when we begin to bring abstract concepts to solid results like works of art or work projects. Then we can look back- just enough. How well I recall anguished times through which my closest friends would assure me of the future fruits of all my tears. Looking back, the sure but unbeknownst signs of hope came in the forms of listening friends. When my own home was too much to tolerate, there were other welcoming kitchens and sitting-rooms. One friend forced me to sit outdoors and look straight up to the sky, instead of down at the ground. Others would ask me what I ate that day, and still others would share their stories with me, enabling me to recognize the complexities of their lives. But over and again I learn the moment we dwell in at this very instant is what we truly possess, and it is the place of action and change.
Whether or not I saw, but failed to realize, or caught sounds and hadn’t completely listened, indeed when the grain of wheat falls to the ground and does not surrender its life, it remains solitary. But in the cessation of seeking its own advantage, the grain germinates and bears fruit from a place of profound rootedness. The evidence of spring’s reality comes so late in northern New England, and that makes for an abrupt, celebrated arrival. Something new, let alone something both new and good, can take time to embrace into our days. And perhaps along with the tangible signs of encouragement that we all need for the journey, our wonderment itself may be the most assuring of signs.