Sunday, June 16, 2013

Listening to lilac

June 16, 2013

Dear friends,

The old lilac bush that shades the southwest corner of the kitchen patio has blessed my week. I don’t speak lilac fluently— my aging head struggles to maintain competence in English. Nevertheless, last week I sat each day drinking breakfast coffee and savoring the cool shadows and the bright stillness of morning light, and as I did so the old lilac offered wisdom. Here are some parts of the lilac’s story that I thought I caught.

At times winter comes out of season and without warning, and leaves permanent destruction behind.

This year April followed an unseasonably warm March with an abrupt return to winter snow and freezing temperatures. During the warm March days the lilac had already set early blooms. When April rains turned to ice and snow, these fragile early blooms could not endure. In face of the cold and the winter winds, they withered and froze to death.

In May the grim reminder of April’s damage became evident. Early blooms remained only as lifeless brown clusters tipping branches themselves bare of leaves. It was true that some small life showed  at the root of the bush. However, in the context of the general destruction, the three small leaves I could see appeared ridiculously green and an act of foolish denial on the part of the lilac bush.  Great damage had been done, and it did not appear that it could be repaired, three small green shoots to the contrary.

Blessed be nothing (Grandmother Mary’s personal beatitude).

It requires living for a good while to understand the value of neglect, as Grandmother Mary would have phrased it, and to see the advantage in being of little importance.

Given the widespread damage to trees and shrubs, one raggedy lilac bush near an end-unit kitchen patio did not merit the attention of grounds people, or the cost of replacement from the storm-taxed budget of the home owners association. No one came along to try to save the lilac by “cutting it back,” or to remove it since it appeared to have no chance of recovery.

The lilac was left alone, neglected, so to speak, an act of great blessing. It was left to survive the shock, rest from the trauma, and review its remaining resources without interference. Blessed be nothing.

The lilac did, however, have a watcher. From time to time I would make an anxious inspection to see if I could identify signs of life. I suppose I kept what was a kind of Gardner’s Easter vigil. I confess I was not hopeful. I simply waited.

Waiting is not a waste of time.

Those of you who are gardeners have already anticipated what happened. Day by day as hours of sunlight lengthened and the earth gradually warmed around its roots, life came again to the lilac. It came so slowly and so imperceptibly that at first I could not see it. Touching a bare branch one day and wondering if I should prune it away, my finger tip discovered a small but unmistakable swelling at a leafless juncture on the branch. This was a bud!! No leaves visible, no blooms, but I knew—this was a bud, and the beginning of new life. The dead blooms were not returning to life. The wood on which those blooms had formed was indeed dead as well, and would required pruning. But back of the point of destruction, the miracle of the secondary bud system had kicked in. God and the lilac had determined that there would be a new thing, and there was—new tiny stems and leaves bursting out with irreverent energy in the very face of damage and death.

Slow is one of the basic rhythms of life.

The lilac appears to be following its own timetable. By the calendar on my desk, this is now summer. The longest day of the year is approaching soon. I am intrigued each day by the intricate emergence of tiny new leaves and stems from buds in highly unlikely places on branches that continue to appear dead. But while each day there is discernable change, there is no hurry to this growth. Each day there is growth, and each day’s small fragile growth appears to the lilac to be enough. New things require time. Hurry, the lilac says, is not the rhythm of beginning again.

Resilience stems from faith for new life, not power to control the storm.

Resilience is more a matter of faith rather than power to control circumstances. Resilience is the process of relying on God’s willingness to bring new life when, after life’s storm, everything in the soul appears dead. And so far as I can learn from the lilac, small remains the beginning form, slow is the rhythm of this miracle, and, often unlikely is the first place it appears.

Seeking with you to live with resilience, expecting new life after old wounds.

See you next week.


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