Lent 5 Hanging On

A parable had been unfolding in my front yard as I have been blogging this Lent. My liquid amber tree, never quite in sync with the other trees in the neighborhood, began shedding its leaves right after Christmas in lesser and greater amounts. As of the beginning of Lent, all the old leaves are gone, save this lone one. One can see the new green shoots and foliage begun to cluster farther down and above, but as of today, this leaf is hanging firm!

In my mode of sorting, shredding, recycling and dumping, clearing out spaces one at a time as a Lenten practice, I am reminded that there are some things to which I should hang on. Despite its appearance, the leaf is still alive and life-giving. It has been a gift of beauty, of shelter and shade for this entire season, and it is not finished yet, even for me. As I look at papers and mementos, I ask which of them still has life in them, energy, power to inspire and to move? Some remind me of a earlier time in my life that I can reclaim, put to use again. I love finding and keeping the tangible curios of times of loving, times of grace, times of celebration shared. They are visible reminders of invisible Grace.

As people of faith live together in this liminal time, in this sea change that is cultural and cross-cultural, in which we know something of where we have been, but for the most part have no idea of where we are going, we are engaging  in process of deep discernment about whether or not to hang on to the symbols, words and practices of the communities that formed us. I have who have traveled in my years of spiritual formation from an independent, non-liturgical, fundamentalism to a longing for contemplative and orderly form for worship, still remember the energy and sense of belonging that came from gatherings in which the “old songs” were at my finger tips at the piano, and everyone in the room fell easily into four-part harmony, singing songs from the Wesleys and Fanny Crosby. An evening with an old hymnbook and friends from the same provenance is still life-giving and nourishing for my spirit. I want to hang on to the memories, even the practices, that still bring joy.

Even the theologies of my formation need examination: what to hang on to, or rather more precisely, what to hold as central in my living faith, and what to let fade into the background or into the cloud of the agnostic. Many things I was absolutely sure about as a teen and young adult seem to have faded in heft and substance in the light of the ongoing life experiences with God in Christ. Vocabulary that used to be a sign of being “in or out,” no longer expresses the present reality of the life of the Spirit in me. However, what I want to keep, passionately, is that same sense of belonging to God that I experienced when I was four years old and asked Jesus to come into my heart. I hang on to the trust, born of teaching and practice, that the Holy One longs for my participation in prayer and action in the healing salvation of the world. I keep before me always the belief that God loves the world, expresses that love in Jesus, activates by the Spirit my own talents and gifts and intention to be part of bringing in God’s intended rule.

So for this moment I hang onto those things–in my cleared out spaces and in my spiritual practice and prayers for the Church–those things that are living and bring life in others.

As I went to post this offering, I went to look at my tree, and that last leaf was gone. It’s time of life-giving was over. But it hung on long enough for me love it, to be taught by it, and to remember the Grace it gave me this Lent.

About Elizabeth Nordquist

Elizabeth Nordquist is a Presbyterian pastor, teacher, and spiritual director who pens beautiful reflections on women's issues, spirituality and Scripture. Each day she looks for ways in which the Spirit is moving in and around her.

  • Donald L. Smith

    Beautiful! Thanks.

  • Theodore Bosen

    I have different Christian background and experience as an Orthodox Christian which necessitates a leap to understand how you feel, but I believe I do, at least intellectually. For me, there is no discarding and sorting of the old. The Orthodox view of your metaphor, I believe, would be the focus on the tree as the constant source of life and grace which, despite shedding its leaves each season, renews itself every spring in ever-growing fullness. As Orthodox, nothing is ever totally discarded from our personal experience of the faith, nor from our collective experience and historical memory, but rather it all comes back each season refreshed and more developed than the last, but without any change to its essential roots. This works for us because the leaves are never regarded as fixed constants, but as changing reflections of the essence of that never leaves the trunk and roots.

  • Ginger Johnston

    Thanks for writing also about the life-giving things to be held onto.