Thirty years ago, I knelt in a circle as hands were laid on my head. I was two weeks shy of giving birth to our first son and the whole thing was a bit overwhelming. I cried as I took in snippets of the ceremony unfolding around me.
I remember the tassels on the priest’s shoes. I remember my mom offering me my father’s prayer book. It’s always been the bits and pieces that stayed with me.
Today, on my 30th anniversary, I am thankful for the small words and deeds that have stayed with me. Like all disciples, I need to take in things simply, like in parables.
I remember the line from Gustavo Gutteriz that our theology is a love letter to God.
I remember Charles Strobel saying, “when you hear ‘the kingdom of God’ you can translate it to ‘life with God’”.
So for my love letter to God on my 30th anniversary, I offer you three tidbits in parables I have picked up along the way. We do well over the course of our ministries to pick up bits of wisdom like bread crumbs to help lead us home.
In our life with God, as we make our way towards our own Jerusalems, we will grieve, celebrate, and find ourselves becoming both lost and found. Jesus keeps us going with parables about mustard seeds and birds of the air. He offers us small natural things that become sacramental that we can pick up and that will carry us through our hard days.
Once there was a woman walking in an alley who found a thistle with prickly thorns. The thistle was a noxious weed, with a history of survival by brutality. It was illegal to grow it in more than 17 states. Other women saw their own thistle from small prison windows as it grew through a chain-link fence.
Women in the hills of Ecuador and the barren lands of refugee centers found that same wildflower and gave thanks that when the land had returned to dust, the thistle grew wild and unruly. It could push through the hard ground and survive drought with its deep taproot. They all marveled that the thistle’s soft center was more beautiful than Solomon in all his glory. The women took the flower and claimed there were no weeds in Eden and grew a movement for women’s freedom.
May our faith be as wild, deep, and resilient as the thistle.
Once there was a man who fled genocide and grew strong in knowledge and faith across the seas. One night he felt called to return to his homeland to work alongside women who lived through the killing fields and wanted to create a village of hope. There he planted geraniums, with small blossoms and huge oily leaves that could stop malaria and grow new visions and dream new dreams among the land of a thousand hills. The field grew a hundredfold and built a school and 40 houses. Geraniums transformed into school uniforms, tile floors and bright colored curtains.
May we be as creative as geranium seeds willing to bloom in troubled fields.
Once there was a city built on the back of slavery in the deep south. There on a thousand acres in the piney woods the longleaf pine grows slowly in silence. After wars ended, fields burned, and ownership changed hands a dozen times, the longleaf pine kept growing. The longleaf pine carries the truth of generational trauma, marked by stunted rings you have to discern through a microscope. The longleaf pine has stood for more than 400 years and is now saving the land around it as the world recognizes it as precious.
May we learn to cultivate such steadfast faith.
So along with the people to whom I offer the deepest bow today, including my family that I raised in these pews and this congregation that has forgiven me a thousand times and grown me as a pastor, I offer my love letter to God filled with sketches of thistles geraniums, longleaf pines, as well as the thousand other herbs and plants that have taught me why the first and last pages of scripture are about the leaves of trees healing the world.