A big part of what my peers at work and I do as chaplain residents is theological reflection. It’s a process of free association meant to help guide our pastoral practice. We make a list of all relationships at play in a given encounter, and write all the things that come to our minds about each one, including scripture and theological themes. Then, we pick the things that stand out to us the most, and work the process until we’ve narrowed to a theological theme that fits the encounter, and scriptures that might be appropriate or helpful if used in this encounter.
On Thursday, our Residents Group had a quiet day of silent retreat at our supervisor’s house and were asked to spend time listening for what God might be saying to us. I heard God asking me to trust God, while I reclined on a wooden swing under a tree.
As I reclined on the wooden swing to relax, I closed my eyes to sleep but as the warm sun bathed my face, I opened them again to see a cloudless heavenly blue sky – a striking backdrop to the bare branches gently cradling delicate white blooms above me.
“Your beauty refreshes me,” I said to the tree, “for this has really been the winter of my discontent. When every call shift threatened to outdo the one before it, and the paperwork and assignments molehill-ed into a mountain, the promise of spring seemed so far off. How do you do it?” I asked the tree.
“How do you stand there so tall, still and strong, after the wintry ice – how do you hold out for the spring that’s to come?”
She was silent for a while as I drank in her beauty, and then… ” you know Deuteronomy 26?” She asked.
“My father was a wandering Aramean,” I replied, “I always thought that passage was about giving to God, but I heard someone once make it more about acknowledging God in our stories.”
“It’s both,” said the tree. ” I survive the winters by remembering the stories of my past – even the painful ones, and remembering that I’m “rooted” – haha, in the love of a creator who made me, who holds me, and who makes me a vessel to hold others.
There’s a reason the ark, the cross and that swing you’re laying on were made of trees.”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s beautiful.”
She went on. “I survive because I trust. I trust my roots to hold me in place and I trust that God’s timing to bring me into bloom is perfect. In the meantime, I stand here, solid like an oak and when God says I’m ready, I turn my blooms into tiny hymns of lament and praise always trusting, again and again.
That’s the secret to good life, my friend,” she concluded. “Ground yourself in God’s love, trust, bloom, lament and praise – always remembering God in your story.”
I thanked her and lay back down, and this time I went to sleep, anchored in trust and shrouded in peace; blanketed by a canopy of beautiful, delicate white blooms.