Lately I have been astonished that any of us can carry on a civil, or really any, conversation with another person. It seems to me that everyone I know is not only fighting a hard battle but everyone is carrying a heavy burden that takes up just about all our willpower and imagination.
Even on a good day, when I have a window open in my own mind, what I see around me are friends and family walking around the wreckage of what we used to imagine life would be. One friend is consumed by and about cancer. Another by and about divorce. A third is caught up in fears for the children. Then there is the one who everyday faces a void. All those whose parent is lost in the world of dementia. This is just in the neighborhood, not in the big ol’ world. Now. Here. Not world history. So how can it be, and it is, that we actually meet each other and see around or through that burden/battle, to find a kind face, which is sometimes our face, and it tumbles around like a kaleidoscope and beauty breaks through?
I am reading a collection of essays by the late pastor Eugene Peterson. Peterson is remembered as a pastor for pastors. He is already, just weeks after his death, missed by many of us. In one of his essays he comments on this “general environment of wreckage” and has this to say. Somehow I find it comforting.
“We believe that God is not a spectator in turn amused and alarmed at the wreckage of world history but a participant in it. We believe that everything, especially everything that looks like wreckage, is material that God is using to make a praising life. We believe this but we don’t see it…What we see are bones. Dry bones.”
When I read this I remembered my recent trip to visit a dear friend in the scorched hills of California. We took a day trip to the see the redwoods. Tall beyond tall. Wide beyond wide. Some blackened by recent and long ago fires.
Most still standing. Some with wide caves we could walk into and wonder what reason there might be to walk out; the smell of earth and wood were intoxicating. Then we left the tall trees and traveled down the road to something that turned my mind inside out.
More redwood but these trees, millions, yes millions, of years ago, uprooted, felled, wrecked, wrenched from the earth. Tossed about like everyone I know feels tossed about. Time, the kind of time I cannot really imagine, passing over and through these magnificent and very dry bone trees. The trees had been transformed – petrified and transfigured -transformed from the inside out, from wood to rock.
Knock knock on what still looked like wood and we found rock. Beautiful forms, with those circles of life, water no longer racing through their veins and yet still powerfully “alive” in their millions of years new form. Wrecked and shockingly present. I could hardly believe, but I saw, and I was called to praise this life.
Now when I walk through the forest of my own life and I meet up with fellow trees, walking on two feet, consumed by our sorrows and our present forces of change, I consider the standing redwoods who even just a few years ago were so terribly burned in fire and now sprout life. And I remember the petrified forest. I look to my friends and family and the big ol’ world and I am shocked that we can, and do, continue, communicate, love, hope, and are willing to keep our imaginations fresh. Who knows what God is doing now, among us?