Yesterday I had the chance to take part in a spiritual formation exercise which focused on a photograph.
This is not the photo. But there are some similarities. If you could pretend the shadowed trees were sunflowers...
I determined to go well before I realized it would be a day of tears riding at the surface; before I knew the hovering darkness would encapsulate me. Grief danced with joy at inopportune times this week -- sometimes beaten back with the stick of hope, sometimes trampling on all my freshly sown seeds. There are less trampling days now, but this snake is not crushed yet, and it had a tail to lash that day.
I entered the room of the spiritual Jedi, formidable souls who reported to move through their days on a sea of grace, focused on the Almighty and saying, "It is well with my soul" around the table. But I knew that this well of sadness couldn't be contained. In that roomful of spiritual mentors, before they even knew my name, they knew it was not well with my soul.
Why couldn't the groping have come the next day? Why did I have to introduce myself with trembling lip before a circle of gentle monks and sisters who could see into my heart? Why couldn't yesterday's strength have lasted?
I managed to tell the briefest story, to lower my eyes, to tuck in my lip, and simply say, "And we're just looking for what God has next for us here."
Thankfully, the speaking stopped and we moved into our morning's exercise. We watched the photos on the screen and asked, "What does God have for me to see?" When they ended we sat in a moment of silence, contemplating and then viewed them again. And silently we left the room and scattered about the sanctuary asking Him not what do you want me to hear, but what do you want me to see?
In the desert, weather-worn treeless bluffs greet the rise of the sun. The light and the warmth hit the peak of the rock, and nothing grows. Not even with all the energy of the sun painted fast upon it. Not even with that. And this happens all the time in a forever pattern. It's not the first sunrise on these rocks and it will see sunsets again and again. The light and the dark are rhythms like truth and grace.
But at the base of the bluffs, where the sun hasn't yet fingered, in the cracks and crevasses grows Asteraceae, the Sunflower. In a cluster of life forms they wait to feel the sun on their faces. Waiting. Waiting. It will arrive, but not in this moment. Never in this photo.
No one comes there to see them. No one sees that they are doing exactly what they're designed to do. They are beautiful enough for a garden, for companions in growth; but they're here between nowhere and anyplace. Yet capable enough to persevere even so. The growing continues even in desolation, even in the middle of nowhere.
What do you want me to see?
Keep doing it. Keep growing. Keep doing what the design says to do. Follow it closely. Do not waiver. Do not believe that the energy is only in other places. Keep crying. Keep asking. Keep leading. Keep pushing into the side of God.
Growth comes up out of the cracks. That hard surface where the sun beats down grows nothing. It's the cracked ones, the ones that walk with a limp, that have the potential to be made new, to absorb the life and give it back again.
Always be ready with beauty. To give it away. Even if no one's around to take it.
You are tucked.
to push, fold or turn so as to hide or make secure.
to draw something together in a small space
to put or keep in a specified place so as to be hidden, secure or comfortable.
I don't want to be tucked. I want to be that plant, even in the shadow doing what it should do, reaching higher toward its Maker. I don't want to be hidden or comfortable. I don't care about secure. But I am so tired of this pushing and turning and folding first inside then outside. I won't give up the hope of the sun.
The women, wrinkled and warm with wisdom and grace, gathered around me and were silent at first. I said it all to them. They knew the picture. They saw the paradoxes: the dry and the green ("It's not about the green, but the Giver of the green."), the dark and the light ("We can have a broken heart AND have joy").
I know. I know.
Because I do. I keep a list. All summer I've tried to make a list of what I love, my gratitudes, and it's been sparsely attended to. But now...now in the midst of the great heartbreak I see the loveliness of the brave husband, the simple gift of flowers, the gatherings of friends, the provisions, the song, the purposeful work, the boys now moved into contentment. My list just keeps growing. My gratitude is great.
Now I see.
The woman near me who's been in the soul business in our city for so many years said to me, "This is how suffering is a friend." And she quoted the end of a story she'd read in a book wherein God said this:
"If there was anything more I could have given you for your good I would have done it."
Hello, Suffering. My friend. Make me new.