I’m angry this morning.
I can’t really say why. There’s some ministry I’ve been doing that I would really like to talk about, but right now, don’t feel I can. It’s a ministry I’ve stumbled on to, an accident, the result of pure and utter chance. An act of God, something I’ve been led to.
And it feeds me. Deeply.
But I’m also angry. Not at anyone, not really at anything. I’m just … mad. At the circumstances of the world.
When I was at Georgetown University, working on my masters of Arab Studies in the School of Foreign Service, I noticed how well landscaped that little campus was. Gardens everywhere. In fact, after I graduated, I returned one day and noticed some small fish and duck ponds had been put in, and had been well landscaped. They looked so natural, so beautiful, so accidental. Like they’d been made by nature itself.
They hadn’t of course, since those little ponds – with their fish, and their frogs, and their water lillies and cattails – hadn’t been there the year before. I do remember a backhoe digging one of those pond sites out, actually.
Georgetown is a well cared for little campus.
But on a brick bridge leading from the courtyard of Red Square into the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, I noticed something on the shady side – a scrubby little plant growing straight out of the brick. There were several of them, all hanging on for dear life, shooting tendrils out and hanging on hard.
It’s easy to focus on the gardens, where beautiful flowers bloom. Where the plants are arranged artfully and carefully and cared for with love and devotion. But those flowers, they have to be planted and tended and watered and weeded and fertilized. We easily forget, as those flowers open and bloom to the sun, just how much work goes into making and keeping that garden. The planning, labor, and devotion needed.
Yes, blooming flowers may be the work of God, but it takes a lot of human hands to prepare that soil.
But those little plants growing straight out of brick, there’s the true tenacity and persistence of life! No hand tended those little plants. What little nourishment they found they extracted from cold, hard brick. They caught what water they could from the rain.
And they grew. In a place without soil, without care, without love, they grew.
There are people like this. People no one loves. People no one cares for. They struggle to grow in the most inhospitable places, with no direct light, water when it comes, and nothing resembling soil. And they grow. They can even flourish.
When Jesus says in Matthew 5 (and echoing Psalm 37), “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” I think he is referring to the people who aren’t given the kind of care and love and attention that we too often think is necessary to succeed. I think he means a hardscrabble people who struggle, and who frequently fail in their struggles, but struggle all the same.
The earth is theirs. They don’t need to conquer it. Because they grow and flourish almost anywhere without any obvious care.
I remember, long ago, in San Francisco, planting some sunflowers in the very sandy soil in the backyard of the apartment where we lived. One managed to struggle up, grew two who inches tall, and even blossomed – a tiny and pathetic attempt at being a sunflower. But it bloomed. Against all of the odds, it bloomed.
We like flowers. We ooh and ahh over them, impressed with their form, pleased with their beauty. We rip out the weeds. And, I sadly suspect that some maintenance crew was, at some point, ordered to rip out those plants sprouting from of that brick wall. After all, they probably distracted from the aesthetic appeal of clean, straight brick.
And that’s what makes me angry. We don’t look at those those plants and see the gritty, determined, amazing persistence of life. We don’t generally admire that. They are nature’s chaotic intrusion in the otherwise beautiful and well-ordered work of our hands. They are the mess in our well-sculpted and manicured world. So, we pull them out. We’d rather have the flowers, and nothing but flowers, in all their engineered and cared for and costly beauty.
Because flowers are all we seem to value.