Consider the lilies…

The trout lilies (above) are among some of the earliest spring wildflowers to bloom on the forest floor. Short in stature and typically growing in large clumps, they get their name because their leaves resemble small trout. The effect is pronounced because the clumps look like schools of fish. 

As a budding amateur naturalist, I am naturally curious about what grows in the forest. While I still love the stunning mountain vistas and breathtaking waterfalls that can only be reached by journeying, with each passing year, I am more and more fascinated by the rich plant diversity growing in the Appalachian mountain microcosm right under my nose at Wit’s End. Trout lilies are among the earlies spring bloomers. They grow prolifically near cool damp places and near creeks. While they are common, I have very  rarely caught them in bloom. I believe that is, in part, because the conditions they require to bloom are quite specific. Like almost every living thing in the forest they require just the right cocktail of soil, moisture and sun light conditions in order to thrive, bloom and propagate. Imagine my surprise when I found a patch of trout lilies all abloom growing under a massive blanket of kudzu (argh! That’s right I am still battling Kudzu more than 20 years after becoming the owner of this patch of ground). Despite my ongoing hostile relations with Kudzu, I had to appreciate the fact that it was contributing to the happiness of the lilies. This group of trout lilies make me think of the Matthew 6 text, “Consider the lilies. They neither toil nor spin, Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

I love that the lilies in the text and the ones I  discovered all abloom, can not add one day to their lives, nor do they have any real say over how long they live or whether or not they bloom. Their very life and blooming is completely dependent on whether or not they have the right growing conditions, i.e. the right amount of moisture, sunlight, soil & mineral complexion. 

Like the original audience that Jesus was speaking to in the text above, I find that I worry and fret about my financial destiny and that of my wife and our children, but more often than not, I tend to get most anxious about my own fulfillment and happiness in life along with the wellbeing of those who I love. I worry that I’m too removed from things the simple things that feed my soul and the souls of those I care about. I am often restless in my contrived world. It causes me to be frustrated and sullen. As an adult I have tried to isolate the triggers that lead me to these periods of general discontent, and after years of trying to diagnose my periodic failures to thrive, I have traced it, like the lilies, to not having the right growing conditions. Here is a true statement about me – if I get too removed from the natural world of trees, plants, clean air and water, and find my way a little too far into the man made contrived world my entire physical, spiritual, mental and emotional wellbeing suffers.
While I don’t want to project my version of truth on others, I have to wonder if people aren’t a little like the lilies in the referenced text, each requiring just the right conditions to grow and thrive as well. I also happen to wonder if human beings, made of matter, and ultimately returning to dust, don’t all consciously or unconsciously crave a stronger connection to the natural world. Do we need a rootedness in creation that serves to nurture our bodies, souls and minds? I’m not suggesting that we worship nature, nor am I suggesting that it is all that we need. However, I am wondering if the natural world is not a gift from our creator that contributes to our wellbeing, well beyond providing food, water, and oxygen for mere subsistence. As I write, I feel lighter and brighter because I have spent time with loved ones on spring break in a tropical spot where warm breezes, clear waters, lush plant life combined to provide a tonic for my soul. Is it possible that some of our angst and frustration with our very lives can be traced to losing touch with our truly natural roots?

After a long weeks of moving between the concrete and commercial jungles of the city and suburbia, and my constant, seemingly unavoidable tether to the digital world through my handheld device, I often feel numb, anxious, sometimes  even a hint of despair. I fear that a major bridge collapse last week on my route to work in metro Atlanta will contribute to much longer commutes and time spent in my car each day, further robbing me of my zeal for life. Among other simple things, a simple stroll through my yard, or a walk with the dog down the street helps. But I really feel as though I need  a good dousing or better yet a soaking in the natural world in order to recover my spirit and my zeal for life. Quite simply I have learned that my soul flourishes or withers based on whether or not I tend to my connection to the created order and my required growing conditions. 

As a sojourner, and not a master theologian, I can’t tell you that this is truth for all human beings. However, I do believe that there is truth in these thoughts.

If you find yourself feeling similarly I welcome your thoughts and questions on these matters. 

In case you would like to read it, here is the full version of the Matthew text 6 text.

““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:25-34‬ ‭NIV‬‬

http://bible.com/111/mat.6.25-34.niv
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A Hopeful (Wanna be) Gardener’s Prayer

As much as I love the outdoors, plants, flowers, and good food, you would think that I would also be a vegetable gardner. There was a time many years ago that I kept a garden and what a joy it was. It sounds crazy, but I can’t seem to make room in my life, at the moment, for this joy-filled activity. However, I have made a promise to myself that I will get back to it and now I am making that same promise to you. In the meantime I live vicariously through my neighbors in the mountains. At this time of the year I see them returning to their garden plots. The smell of rich earth is back as last year’s tender growth is plowed under and the soil is prepared to receive fresh seed. While not automatic, but like clockwork, the cycle of life that God created on earth continues in perpetual motion with the dawning of a new spring.  I am amazed that the earth and all its complex systems, spring to attention with resilience ready to bear a new season’s worth of life.  I wonder about myself.  Do I share any similarities with this resilient earth?  I think so. Can I too bear a fresh crop of fruit and new life? Maybe. Like the earth, I believe I need a little cultivating by the Master Gardener…

SPIRIT OF THE LIVING GOD, be the gardener of my soul. For so long I have been waiting, silent and still experiencing a winter of the soul. But now, as I anticipate the bud break of spring, I dare to ask:

Clear away the dead growth of the past,

Break up the hard clods of custom and routine,

Stir in the rich compost of vision and challenge,

Bury deep in my soul the implanted Word,

Cultivate and water and tend my heart,

Until new life buds, opens and flowers.

May it be so. Amen.

**** I adapted this prayer, entitled “Be the Gardener of My Soul” that was originally written by Richard Foster.