Merton once told me to quit trying so hard in prayer. He said: ‘How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun.’ A small green apple cannot ripen in one night by tightening all its muscles, squinting its eyes and tightening its jaw in order to find itself the next morning miraculously large, red, ripe, and juicy beside its small green counterparts. Like the birth of a baby or the opening of a rose, the birth of true self takes place in God’s time. We must wait for God, we must be awake; we must trust in his hidden action within us.
Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, James Finley
During a discerning prayer time for friends of mine, another friend brought up the “slow work of God” – that is, how God’s timetable is often longer than we hope, takes us on unexpected twists and turns, and leads us to surprising places. My internal response was, “Noooooooooo.” This was one of those moments in which it is instantaneously clear that what has been said is both true and unfortunate. God, microwaves cook food in 4 minutes. A 5 second page load takes forever. A plane can travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours. If friends don’t respond to text messages within a few hours, I get worried that they might not be ok. God, are you ignoring your notifications? You’re getting my calls, yeah? So what is taking so long?
Babies take 40 weeks to gestate. It’s good that the process takes this long to build a living being. Dividing cells at faster rates is called cancer and it doesn’t turn out well, take it from my personal experience. The best alcohol, cheese, and dough starter is aged and cultured before it is considered any good. If good things take a while to develop and unfold, why am I in such a rush?
I am the least patient person I know. After planting seeds, I checked every day for their progress. After a few weeks, it looked like this:
And the little seeds persisted, pushing through to the surface, drawing life from the mostly bad soil. Then my landlord weed-whacked the tall, almost-budding flowers. That is probably a spiritual metaphor but, frankly, I am too sad about that loss to write about it.
Despite the weed-whacking setback, these wildflowers decided to keep on keepin’ on. Cornflowers, mystery rose, lupin, icelandic poppies, and flax emerged. Not much time had passed, but it felt like an eternity to me. I’d been waiting and watching and waiting and willing the plants to rise from the ground. It’s so much better to have flowers than a patch of dirt. But flowers don’t materialize from thin air; they need time.
Pretty for a season, the flowers wilted and died in the heat wave. Some will return next year, having dropped seeds in preparation for their apocalyptic end. I have more seeds for the spring, and have bulbs for the winter ahead. The same renewal and replanting process will happen again: in hope of flowers, I’ll dig up weeds, hack apart damaged soil, add fertilizer, and water. I hope I am able to submit, someday, to the long process of planting and growing without expectation of an instant result.
What would it take to have a spirituality of seasonality? What will it take to teach me to be patient, to trust, to submit to the systems and seasons the Lord has in place to grow things on His earth? When will I submit to His slow work with gratitude, joy, and eager anticipation?