LISTENING TO THE ALMOND TREE
My morning meditation was provoked by the reading for today (Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent) in my book Pilgrim Road. Here are the excerpt I’m referring to and the reflection question from the end of the chapter.
I smile as I remember the story from the Fioretti, a collection of edifying legends about the deeds of the wonder-worker Francis. On a cold winter’s day not unlike this one, the tale goes, Francis stopped in front of a bare almond tree and said, “Sister almond tree, speak to me of God!” And with that, the almond tree burst into a mass of lovely blossoms.
......Francis was already in the habit of letting the creatures of nature or the events of daily life speak to him about God. This was his way of praying constantly, of staying in touch with God in every waking moment. So when the saint saw a bleak bare tree shivering in the drizzle, he just naturally asked it to say something to him about God. And in response, the Lord let the tree speak eloquently to Francis about the Lord’s fruitful, joyous, and overflowing love for the world.
......The practice of lectio divina teaches you to say, "Speak to me of God." As you read the sacred text, you keep asking yourself, "What does this word, phrase or story say to my life here and now? What is God trying to say to me through this word?” As you get in the habit of asking that question about scripture passages, you start asking it about events in your life: what is this particular experience saying to me? What is God telling me through this particular emotion?
......It's not easy to look at a bleak situation or a deep disappointment the way Francis would have, or to invite a piece of bad news to “speak to me of God.” When my carefully laid plans go awry, I don’t always remember right away to ask the calamity to speak a word to me about God’s care and concern."
For Reflection: Think of a recent event in your life and ask it to speak to you of God. See what it might teach you about the Lord's love for you or about your relationship with God.”
As I sat there in church in front of the Blessed Sacrament I decided to look for things in my life that might be considered negative so that I could ask them to “speak to me of God.” The question had barely formed itself in my mind when one answer burst on me like a whale breaching out of a calm sea: My back! My stupid lumbar vertebrae have been bothering me so much lately that two days ago I went to the doctor to find out what I could do about it. (He’s sending me for some tests.)
"Okay, then, stupid back, speak to me of God," I challenged. "Go ahead, I dare you!"
The response wasn't long in coming, and was both good news and bad news. My eyes wandered to the crucifix near the altar. There was the good news: I'd started to find a connection between my suffering and Jesus on the cross. Then Ouch! I got this nasty twinge in my back to remind me of the reality of His pain and my own. I don’t care what you say, back pain is bad news.
......Then before I got any further into exploring the connection between Jesus’s suffering and my own I started seeing these faces. The sad face of one of my favorite kids who is a “cutter” (“I did it again!” he wept recently). The blank-mask-faces of a couple of other students who are so full of rage that sometimes they can barely function. The hardened face of a young woman who roams the streets downtown asking passers-by for their spare change. It was a parade of faces of fear, of despair, of giving up -- all of them faces of pain.
......Then each of the Faces started speaking from the cross; it was always the same message, which was Jesus’ promise: “I will walk with you as you carry your cross. We will share each other’s pain on the cross. I’ll be with you through the very worst of times. But I promise you that through our pain, yours and mine, will come joy. Through our defeats will come victory, and I will even turn death itself in abundant, joyful Eternal Life.”
By then it was time for Morning Prayer to begin. As I slowly stood up I found that my back pain had not gone away. But as I walked gingerly toward my choir stall at least I felt I was bringing along with me a lot of people who knew suffering that was much worse than my discomfort. Yes, I was in good company. Great company in fact.
......The next step is scary, though, and may have to wait for the special graces of Good Friday. Namely, finding the courage to see MY face up there on that cross. .