Green growth in the desert

Many of you who connect with me on Facebook know that this week I am off on one of my "adventures in the blogosphere." I had no firm plans for my week off, so I used the time to connect with blog friends Kathy and Fran, and as an added bonus, met up once again with Laura, the first blog friend who came to life for me.

Many of you know Fran works as a parish secretary, and I got the opportunity to visit her "office" yesterday. I had arrived early and she still had stuff to do before work was over, so I simply "hung around the office"--spent some time in their lovely sanctuary. I was drawn to the display in the photo above. This was the creation of her boss, Fr. Jerry, and when Fran explained his conceptual idea of the display, I must say it was so cool I wished I would have thought of it!

The display started out on Ash Wednesday as a virtual "desert"--dry, arid, and unforgiving. I wonder if his parishioners looked at the pile of sand and rock and wondered if he hadn't flipped a cog, dumping it all on the chancel floor. (He did, however, put two layers of black plastic sheeting under it and girded it with the rocks to sort of keep it all in one place.)

But each week during Lent, he's changed the display a little. He has added a hint of greenery each week. This week he added the ivy. I got a heads up that next week he plans on removing the broken pot in the center. Without giving all the secrets away, his plan is that by Easter, the display will be transformed from a desert to a scene of greenery, color, and active growth--it will have been resurrected.

I sat for a long time yesterday, simply meditating next to the scene, while the life of the parish revolved around me. Some ladies were praying near the tabernacle and I could hear bits and pieces of their quiet prayers. Some schoolchildren were being taken round the sanctuary for the Stations of the Cross. I just sort of melted in with this intriguing display.

It's interesting. As an Episcopalian, I realize that as a part of the "Anglo-catholic" church world, I am "Fully anglo and fully catholic." There is this interesting ease in which I can become contemplative in the houses of my Roman cousins. I just sat quietly, for the longest time, studying the little details of the display, while the church day-to-day revolved around me, neither of us hardly noticing the other.

I thought about all the things in my life that have been spiritual deserts and the deserts I've yet to encounter. Honestly, I'm still a spiritual intermediate when it comes to taking in the desert journeys in my life. I am still not terribly accepting of them, and do still tend to fight my entry into those desert places. But over the years, I have learned to take a willing trip through them in the Lenten season, maybe because the time of the trip is predefined at 40 days. I know there will be an endpoint to it.

It's interesting that the number 40 has a lot of face time in the Bible, from the time Noah, et. al. were shut away on the ark, onward. We preserve that reverence for the number 40 in our Lenten season. I've read Kabbalistic theory on why 40 was significant to the Hebrews, I've analyzed the numerology of the number40, but I always fall back on a very non-scientific and intuitive notion--40 days resonates with people b/c 40 is just long enough to notice something, and just long enough to see a pattern of change, if there is one.

But as I pondered each and every detail of the display, I realized I have learned one thing about the spiritual desert. I've learned to search for signs of life--to constantly scan for a single speck or hint of green--rather than run around looking for water and wearing myself out and dehydrating myself. I've learned those specks of green will lead me to water. I've learned if green exists, that at some point rain will come and water the earth and me in the process. But it involves discipline and diligence. It also involves being open to what the Divine has to say about things. It's an odd mix of "searching and waiting."

I thought about how I am seeing this display frozen in a single moment, but the reality is that it is a spectrum. It was more arid last week, but I did not see how more or less arid it was. It will be greener next week, when I'm no longer there to see it, and the broken pot in the center will be gone. Next week it will be more whole than I'm seeing it now.

That's how it is, when we encounter the lives of others. We are seeing them at a single moment in a spectrum. They are seeing us in a likewise fashion. We don't know all of their past, and we may not get a glimpse into their future. I thought about all the people in my life who at times are "difficult people," and I thought about the things about me that make me, at times, difficult, and, at times, "downright intolerable" to others. Likewise, I thought about the people who are dear to me, and the things where others have found me endearing.

We only see each other at one point on the spectrum. We never saw what happened before we crossed paths, and we don't know what will happen to them after our paths diverge. It's a human notion to always think we have influence over the paths of others. We all spend a lot of energy consciously influencing, but in reality we are not allowed to pick and choose the influence we have on others, nor whether the part that "sticks" in our encounters is positively or negatively charged.

There's a wonderful impermanence to life, yet we get so hung up on always wanting things to stay the same. We are all creatures of habit, and I am very very much one of those. Yet, I've discovered, it is when I become brave enough to break the bonds of "habit" it is when I become green and grow. Too much breaking habit, though, puts me in an arid place, a confusing place, with no solid landmarks. It's all about pace, isn't it? Yet even the desert has pace. We are composed of our own ecosystems that are simultaneously fragile and tough. To journey through the desert teaches us lessons in balance, and in that lesson alone, we all have so much that can become green, growing--and resurrected.