The view from my backyard last fall!
I love Jesus. But, some days, I really, really don’t like following him.
One day, I went for a walk and thought about trees. Specifically, I thought of that verse from the prophet Isaiah, “And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (55:12) Now, how in the world can trees clap their hands? Of course, we could simply explain this verse away, saying that it is just an anthropomorphic representation of nature that is so common in poetry. Trees really can’t clap their hands, we might say. But, what if they can?
What if a tree praises God simply by being a tree, by letting her branches be branches and sings to God by letting the wind blow through her leaves? Perhaps, a tree is much like the heavens, in that that she shows the handiwork of God. (Ps. 19:1) A tree does not work for God, a tree shows the work of God. A tree does not praise, a tree is praise. A tree doesn’t do anything but simply exist because God wants her to and, therefore, she does. By her mere existence, she praises God.
I often think that a life worth living is a life that does. Specifically, the worthwhile Christian life should be a life that does things for God, with God and in God. We think of the great Saints like Mary of Egypt, who lived most of her life in the desert, only eating the Eucharist! Or Constance and her companions, who died a Martyr’s death in Memphis by bravely tending to the dying. Or Mother Teresa who continued to minister to the poor, while her own spiritual life was falling apart. “Wow, what stuff they did!”, we might say to ourselves. And, indeed, they did do great stuff.
We are often tempted to think that the secret of their holiness was that they were doers. Now, I will not argue that they didn’t do things but I think think they could only do these things because they had become something. Perhaps, they did not do work for God but simply showed the work of God. Perhaps, they quit praising and had become praise in their very being. They were only able to do these things because they were becoming one with God. By their mere existence — by simply being — they were praising God.
In many, many ways doing things is easy but becoming something is hard. It is hard because all we can do is show up every morning on the wheel, spin in circles for eight hours and be molded into something we can’t see or understand. It is hard because the illusion that we were in control of our life crumbles, even our spiritual life. It is hard because it is painful. And it is painful because it is hard. It is painfully hard because there is nothing you can do about any of it.
Most days, I agree with the author of Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity! All is chasing after the wind! Everything is meaningless!” Yes, perhaps life is meaningless. Life has no slow, cinematic rise towards some grand lesson whereupon contemplating it we will suddenly understand all things: we will probably never know why terrible things are done to us nor we will know why we do terrible things. In our journey of becoming, perhaps we lose all purposes for our life that once so controlled us. We will probably lose any sense that we are becoming anything. Life will be so meaningless that we will feel like a lost paper boat in a hurricane.
And, when the work of becoming becomes so hard that everything has lost its meaning, we would do well to “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin . . .” (Luke 12:27) The lilies, the trees and the firmament all praise God by simply being lilies, trees and the sky. The starry night calls forth its antiphon of praise, not by doing stars but by being stars. And, even the rocks cry out, “Alleluia” by simply being rocky in their rock-ness. We would do well to follow suit and realize that our job is not to do. Our job is to be.
Yes, life is meaningless. But, it is to be lived.
Don’t tell me what you’re doing. Tell me what you’re becoming.