The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.


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I walked down the dirt road on which my in-laws’ cabin sits and let the beauty of nature wash over my senses. The sun does not not neglect to generously warm each inch of my skin. The breeze offers a cooling balance and stirs the long grasses to release their sweet scent. The ferns on the forest floor stretch out their fronds in endless configurations of orderly beauty against the rakishly disorderly backdrop of the forest floor.

It is all there, whether I choose to enter into it or not. This feast for the senses, almost an embarrassment of riches in a place like the cabin–the sun, the breeze, the sweet grasses, the fern fronds, the birch forest- it all would have existed even were I not here to experience it. This uncultivated beauty is unlike the more civilized variety that we humans maintain or mold by our own efforts. Natural beauty simply IS. By no effort of mine it exists in glorious splendor, free for me and all the rest of humanity to enjoy.

I walked and I felt the tongue of my soul thirstily lapping up all that was around me, I started to wonder why I am made like this.  Why is natural beauty the food that feeds my particular soul?  In my life as a mother of three young children there are a long list of things I need to do in order to receive the benefits of healthy relationships, a passably hygienic home, meaningful work, even recreational pursuits require a lot of effort at this time of life. For every single arena of my life there is a litany of requirements for maintenance.

Yet the beauty of nature excites and soothes. It inspires and humbles.  It wraps around my senses in endless varieties and provides satiation.  But I do nothing to receive such a lavish feast as is provided by a place where natural beauty prevails.

I do not need to pay nature in order for it to administer these gifts to me. I do not need to feed it. I do not need to work for it. Entertain it. It seems as if it would balk like a strong but good-natured grandfather if I tried to coddle it.

Natural beauty requires nothing of me.  In fact is one of the few things, perhaps the only thing, that I feel no sense of guilt as I enjoy it. It is undoubtedly good, so I feel no shame as I bask in it and I do not accumulate debt as I accept its gifts. I can be free to receive what it gives me with no sense of needing to reciprocate. It takes nothing from me, not even requiring my appreciation of it as sometimes I feel about beauty that has been produced by human hands.

Natural beauty does not require me to maintain it in order for it to be.* It existed before I came along. It will exist after I am gone. It is remarkably persistent, tenacious even. Fire consumes acres and dainty, green tendrils begin to shoot through stricken soil soon after. Disasters occur to wipe out entire landscapes, but natural beauty reappears before humans can even begin to rebuild. Destruction may seem to have overcome, but glitter spills in night skies above and the sun will rise amidst a never-identical show of enigmatic shades of color the next day. Natural life will unfurl its tentacles wherever chaos strikes and slowly but surely begin to re-order itself.

And for a soul as hungry as mine, it is a blessing and a wonder that inherent in the character of natural beauty is that it is perpetually available. There is not a time of day in which it does not exist somewhere around you, most likely within immediate reach of at least one of your senses: loamy soil’s scent, a dancing tree’s shadow play, smooth stone rubbed between finger and thumb. It. Simply. Is. Moment upon eternal moment. Cycles of light and life never ending. The beauty of nature is there to take in.

As I round another curve on that dirt road only to arrive upon another landscape ripe with pleasure for the senses, I realize that I cannot think of any other thing besides natural beauty of which I can say this is true of its relationship to my soul: It requires nothing of me and yet my whole self- mind, body and soul- feel saturated with enjoyment of it. I receive so much without giving a single thing to it but my attention. And even if I do not give it my attention, it still exists within my reach for whenever I do tune myself to it again.

And as I turned back on the path towards the cabin again, the brilliance of the sun’s reflection on Lake Superior dazzled my eyes. In the same sort of flash I realized why this natural beauty is food for my soul. Because the beauty of nature is, to me, as clear a picture of God’s grace as I can seem to experience. And none of us can survive even a moment without grace. Grace is that which is present around me at every turn, whether I call it or not. Whether I recognize it or not. Whether I do anything to deserve it or not. It requires nothing of me and yet exists for me in the tick and tock, hum and drum, press and pull of every moment. This is what grace is: It is the thing which is there for us to receive freely and be filled. 

I may not always be tuned to appreciate it, but as sure as natural beauty IS whether I choose to tune my attention to it or not, so is Grace.

Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. Romans 1:20

What feeds your soul and why?

*Though, of course, if we are not stewards of it we do squander it. But sometimes I question if humans have the ability to completely destroy it. Though our efforts contribute, a hand greater than ours truly holds the power of life and death. And I think we see this common grace and the faithfulness of God in the persistence of natural life despite our best and sometimes worst efforts.

 

 


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My story of being a stony-hearted, brutish beast…

It was one of those days when I felt like a fraud standing in the church pew during worship.  Sunday mornings there’s a special kind of chaos that happens in our household and I frequently find myself arriving to church disheveled and loaded down with over-brimming diaper bags and teary children.  As I walk in, I am certain  that others are disdainfully appraising the bedlam that floats in around us like the perpetual cloud of dust on Charlie Brown’s friend, Pig-Pen.  More often than seems appropriate, we’ve had a fight in the car on the way over and as I sit in the sanctuary my heart slouches inside of me like a petulant teenager facing a parent who expects them to make a good showing at a family reunion.

When we started singing “All Creatures of Our God and King” I was barely tuned in. But despite my inability to focus on worship, the words started breaking through in bits and pieces, washing over me…

Burning sun…..

                        silver moon….

                                                                                            lights of evening…

                                           flowing river….

                                                                                                        flowers and fruits….

…every part of nature being exhorted to praise their Creator God.  Each line of the song like an arrow zinged to crumble the stony wall encapsulating my heart.

This verse came to mind from Luke 19:40: He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

When I’ve heard this passage before, I’ve felt a sense of shame that Jesus would have to make a fallback plan in case humans didn’t burst forth with cheers and praise and rejoicing at the presence of the Lord.  In previous readings, I’d interpreted this statement almost as the declaration of a frustrated king who, when finding his court is full of useless subjects, waves them out of his presence and announces that it doesn’t matter anyway because he can easily replace them, with stones no less.

But then out of nowhere (well, probably out of Somewhere), my understanding of these verses completely changed.  I realized that He who created each and every thing on this planet is fully capable of imbuing every single thing with life, humans and rocks alike!  It’s not a statement of our uselessness to Him, it’s merely of a statement of our need for Him and inextricable link between worship and life.

This brings me great hope because there have been many times in recent years when I have identified too closely with this image from Psalms 73 :

21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

Dulled by the drudgery of long days and deadened by the monotonous work of just plowing the rows and rows of flat field, I could not imagine how I could be used for anything beautiful anymore.  Feeling like a brute beast before the Lord, I had lost the sense to know even how to move forward.  But this Jesus that we follow guides, gently it seems even, a brute beast!  This Psalm goes on,

23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

To think, He doesn’t just pull a brute beast towards more drudgery.  He guides that brute beast towards glory!  Of course, it’s not that he always change our geography or circumstances by taking us out of the dusty field in which we’re working.  But He often changes our experience of our fields by walking beside us, touching us with his presence and whispering guidance in our ear, even giving us glimpses of the glory that we are moving towards.

And this same Creator who guides this brute beast to glory will also inspire stones to cry out.  He can even animate a lifeless rock to use it to sing to Him!

I am sometimes that rock. Lower even than an animal, I am so dead in myself that I cannot conjure up one drop of life on my own. I need that Creator, Source of Life bigger and better and beyond me, to make me viable again.  To make me pliable and usable, something beautiful once more in His potter’s hands.

So as I stood in church that day, those arrows breaking up the stony walls around my heart, by time we got to the verse of the hymn where we sing, “Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, Praise God and on Him cast your care!” I find my whole self lifting upwards, remembering this Creator who is so wonderful that He would inspire even an inanimate object to worship Him!

In that moment and always, I find hope again as I worship Him, turning towards Him to be refreshed by His never-ending flow of  living water. But when I’m even worse off than that, when I’m stony-hearted and don’t even have enough life in me to turn like a senseless animal towards Him, He can still reach into me and revive my deadest places to make me sing again.

Am I the only stony-hearted, brutish beast among us?  If you’ve got a prayer request, message me at weakestreed@gmail.com or put it in the comments below and I’d be happy to pray for you as I pray for myself to be  softened for His use and guided to His glory.