Spirited Reflection: Being known under the tree
1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
This cold and blustery January may seem far removed from lush and leafy summer gardens, but the fig tree mentioned in the gospel reading for this week has me thinking about my own backyard. I don’t have a fig tree, but I do have an ever-expanding canopy of lilacs that burst into full bloom at the beginning of June every year. These lilacs provide a fragrant, shady spot in the heat of a Southern Ontario summer, and I can often be found sitting underneath them in my Muskoka chair with a book, or a journal, or my own thoughts and silent prayers.
I believe the Creator knows me in those quiet moments under the tree, as I take in the goodness of flowers budding, and birds chirping, and the wind rustling the branches above me. Many of my deepest fears, hopes, and embarrassingly prideful moments have been wrestled out with God under those lilacs.
When I’m struggling and need to get outside for some fresh air, I end up under that tree, scowling at the ground, grumbling internally as I tell God that enough is enough, and I’m certainly not going to deal with ‘that person’ ever again! Then I lift my eyes to look up at the sun filtering through the branches, and can feel the nudging of the Holy Spirit (who is familiar with my grumbles) say, ”Yes, again, even though you don’t want to, but one more time, extend grace”.
When I worry about the ‘what ifs’ of my life – Did I choose the right career? Are my relationships what they should be? Was that financial decision I made a horrible mistake? – I go out to the garden and sit under those lilacs (that come back faithfully every year without much help from me) and consider how God has been before me and behind me every step of the way, and ordained my days with more than enough for what I need.
Then there are times when I take my journal under that tree and scheme some hopeful, holy mischief. Plans for working with local advocacy groups to bring the justice of affordable housing to my neighbourhood, or diagrams of community garden boxes to build in an empty lot behind my house. In those moments I hope that Creator God sees my plans for ‘good news’ in my neighbourhood and responds saying, “Stick with me kid, and you’ll see greater things than this!”
Just as Jesus knew Nathaniel when he was still far off under the fig tree, or as God knew Samuel when he was called as a small boy, or as our Creator knew each and every one of us while we were fearfully and wonderfully made in our mother’s wombs, God knows me and God knows you. This is such good news!
Sometimes these Bible stories that we tell in Sunday school can seem unremarkable because we’ve heard them so many times, but think of it! Psalm 139 sings out that we are in the thoughts of our Creator from the moment we were knit together, each one of us, in the image of God. Samuel, likely bewildered at his new place serving in the sanctuary, is called by God, even as a child, to speak against corruption in the nation and to prophesy the coming of the Messiah! And then that very Messiah who would redeem the whole world, who Nathaniel and all of Israel had been waiting for, saw and knew Nathaniel from afar, even before he was called to get up from the fig tree where he prayed in anticipation for what was promised!
Such good news! The blessed assurance of being known and beloved in our inmost beings by the Creator of the universe! The delight of divine presence in our lives, loving us and calling us and bursting forth with good news for us and our communities!
So, from my wintery window, I can look out and see the snowy, bare branches of my lilac tree and anticipate it blossoming yet again in the spring. Whatever the season, I can rest in the shelter of a Creator who knows me, in my best and worst moments, and know that this is my good news story!
Cindy Stover is a Justice Mobilizer for the Christian Reformed Church in Canada. Having grown up in Northern Ontario, she’s a country girl at heart, but also loves her close-knit neighbourhood in downtown Hamilton, where she is a part of Eucharist Church, a worshipping community that seeks to find creative ways to practice hospitality in their city. Cindy is interested in seeing people realize God’s call to enact justice and mercy in every area of our lives, from how we shop, to how we talk to our neighbours, to how our churches respond to the most vulnerable.