Sunday, May 1, 2011

The text from a landscaping project

May 1, 2011

Dear friends,

Some good folk in the church where I worship are in the process of a major landscaping project. As things have developed, the project has also required structural renovation of portions of their house, only a part of which were anticipated in the initial plan. These changes have resulted in a sharp upward trajectory in the bottom line of the budget. This has not provided moments of joy for my friends. They are experienced householders, however, and so, while not joyful at the increased cost, they are neither totally surprised nor anxious. They have years of relationship with God; it takes more than a landscape project to unsettle their dependence upon God’s faithfulness.

Happily, the project is nearing completion. The results are astonishing and truly beautiful. Visually, I could never have guessed that the house I now see as we come around the curve is a renovated version of the house I entered when first welcomed by my friends into their family life. This house, skirted with natural stone, sits now above the flowing shapes of walls and gardens that move with casual elegance down the hill where anchoring pines mark the curving edge of the lower street. Graceful stone-faced pillars support the deck that extends from the windowed living room. At night those who shelter in this beautiful space can look down into the pines and out over the roofs and trees of the neighborhood below. House and walls and trees have been melded into the essential shape of the hill on which they rest, and at night the city lights below scatter diamonds at its feet.

The project has led to a number of thoughtful moments for me as interested observer.

As a prairie born individual, I experience the need to remove living trees with serious concern. The landscaper experienced no such reluctance. While the task attracted considerable neighborhood “supervision,” and provided a good bit of drama, he arranged for a large shade tree to be cut down and its huge root system removed. On the initial “drive-by” after the tree was gone, I felt sad—it was a great flourishing tree, a source of shade and beauty; I had enjoyed tea and wonderful conversation with friends under its summer shade. It seemed an unwelcome change, and a high price to pay for an as yet unrealized beauty.

My sense of meaning changed, however, when on the next “drive-by inspection” I could see the damage—serious, structural damage—that the roots of that flourishing tree had done to the house.

“The world is text,” to borrow Benjamin Meyers’s wonderful line. I am now reading the text of my friends’ landscaping project with new eyes.

I can see that it is possible to shelter comfortably under some great flourishing tree of which I am quite fond while outside the range of my awareness serious damage to the foundation stones of my life is taking place. It is true, I think, that whether in therapy or in spiritual formation, comfort or even affection is not a necessarily reliable indication of needed change.

Thinking with you this week about the necessity for seeking a God-shaped view of change and loss. This view can alter our sense of the budget bottom line.

See you next week.


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