I was talking to a friend the other day. She had a year from hell in which good health utterly left her, leaving her scrambling how to function with even the simplest daily tasks of self-care and work. Come to think of it, several of my friends had a year from hell, along with multitudes in many parts of the world.
And me? I almost feel guilty and embarrassed to say this, but 2017 was truly a year from heaven. So much so, that I can’t think of a single wish for 2018. Nothing on my bucket list, nothing left to aspire to except to live in daily gratitude and joy for the gifts and blessings received in 2017.
How can both these things co-exist – heaven for some, hell for so many, too many, others?
The daily newscast is a stark reminder of our messed up world. This past year saw more innocent civilians killed, friends in palliative care facing death, political leaders sacrificing their own people to safeguard personal power, break-in at a friend’s house, increased global nuclear threats, a friend struggling mightily with his son’s transgender orientation, an alarming opiod crisis claiming way too many lives, efforts of reconciliation with First Nations people thwarted and derailed, massive forest fires in BC and California, millions displaced in war-torn countries. The past twelve months saw an eroding of our collective sense of truth in ways unimaginable only some years ago. Again this past year, families in our own communities were ripped apart by hatred, abuse and violence, poverty and unemployment, and by family strife and disputes.
Yes – the world, and our lives, are packed with thorns, rocky and dry places, weeds, poison, scorching-killing heat, drowning flood-waters, and famished birds of prey …
But that’s not all … In this same messed up world this past year babies were born and children played. Neighbours reached out with heroic deeds to those whose properties were damaged by floods, tornadoes, and fires. Fidelity and honour, truthfulness and integrity showed up in unexpected places. Crime rates and child hunger slowly decreased in some regions, thanks to concerted efforts to give kids basic ingredients of life – love and food, hope and support. Caring families laughed and enjoyed each other. Mountain streams and lush gardens, rolling hills and oases in burning desert sands captivated our hearts and moved our spirits to new heights – what incredible beauty creation offers us … This past year joy and love found rich, fertile soil in ordinary lives, reaping an abundant harvest of grace, mercy and compassion, of peace and justice … thirty-fold, sixty-fold, even a hundredfold …
We live in several worlds at one and the same time – real worlds, good and bad worlds, some filled with wonder, some filled with dread. Blessing and curse, good and evil, have always woven themselves into every corner of our existence. Charles Dickens said it well when he wrote:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way.
~ Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
St. Paul, in his skilled way with words, said it well when he called the one a world of death/flesh and the other the world of life.
What accounts for the difference between these two worlds?
Spirit… The Spirit of God, the human spirit. A spirit that transcends and permeates all things with good. A human spirit that chooses life even in the face of death. Paul calls it “being in the flesh” and “being in the spirit.” (Galatians 5:16-17)
These two worlds – the flesh and the spirit – are constantly intertwined, much like weeds and wheat, like vegetables and thistles, like flowers, dandelions and portulaca. Why are these worlds so intricately woven together? Because in this mixed up world we’re not only sowing “wild oats” – in our gardens, in our lives. What’s more – a Divine Sower goes out to sow along with us … every day.
But let’s face it, a lot of the good seed, God’s seed, gets wasted. I mean, living our faith, reaching out in love, without knowing where it lands or whether it will even sprout can feel pretty discouraging. We try to give our kids the very best of our love, only to see them reject or squander it. We know what it is like to try and try to care in painful situations and to try to make a difference but not get anywhere, or not be noticed, or not succeed, or (perhaps worst of all) not even be appreciated. We know what it is like to reach out a loving hand only to pull back a bloody stump because our hand got bitten in anger or revenge.
Jesus tells the parable of the sower going out to seed (Matthew 13:1-9), focusing on the conditions in which the seeds germinate (or not) and grow (or not). I’ve learnt a lot about that by living with my beloved Jim, the seedman, for the past 38 years. I’ve learnt that a lot depends on external circumstances. The same conditions are necessary in human life; we sow love and trust and forgiveness, but if external and internal conditions are not healthy, those seeds will have real difficulty germinating, let alone coming to full bloom.
The human heart, without exception, is full with thorns and thistles, with rocks and infertile soil, with desert drought and with “birds of prey.” While Jesus’ advice would not put him in the good books of my gardener-husband – suggesting that we allow the weeds to grow along with the wheat in Matthew 13:24-30 – it’s good advice when it comes to the human heart. Because both good and bad growth occur simultaneously, and sometimes we can only do the sorting at the end of our lives.
And so as we begin this new year 2018, I realize there is something on my bucket list. I want to keep spreading seeds of faith, hope and love in our messed up world. Recklessly, and lavishly, without counting the cost. I want to keep spreading the joy and peace of Christ’s redeeming presence, to draw God’s circle wider and wider, spilling over into a world that desperately needs reconciliation and justice, healing and love. Let us help each other to create the conditions necessary for God’s seed to sprout and thrive, so that more of our sisters and brothers can choose life and blessing over death and curse (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Finally, let’s face it: one of these days it will be my turn to have a year from hell. When that time comes, and it will, I pray that I may find the courage and trust to mine the curses for the blessings they conceal, just as my friend is doing right now.
A very BLESSED NEW YEAR to all.
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