Our sun, like any other star, is held together by the constant push and pull of complementary forces. Without this ongoing tug-of-war, stars wouldn’t be stars at all.
It takes the constant outward push of a star’s inner fires to keep it shining.
And it takes the restraining force of gravity to keep these energetic balls of fire in shape.
If a star gets too pushy, it can blow itself away in a supernova explosion.
If a star caves in to external pressures, gravity crushes it into a lightless space cinder.
Without doubt, we need our inner energies to fire our enthusiasm. But to keep us in creative balance, we also need to accept the restraining pressures of life.
Compared to leaves like the maple or oak, pine needles couldn’t be more unimpressive. Yet these humble creations can keep their green, long after other leaves are becoming compost.
The hearty pine survives where no other trees can, because their needles are designed to stand up to all kinds of privation. Since they’re long and thin, snow can’t weigh them down. Since they contain little sap, they don’t freeze. And the groove along the bottom of each needle insulates the pores through which the pine draws breath.
That’s why, from a mountain’s barren peaks, the first trees we encounter are the pines. In the near drought conditions of high altitudes, pine needles live full and productive lives for as long as seven years. It’s a tough life out there for all of us. But we’ve been designed to take whatever this life throws at us, because we’re destined to outlive it.
When brush fires ravage a tinder-dry landscape, grass is scorched but not destroyed. When droughts kill off other vegetation, grass withers but doesn’t die.
Through the thick and thin of life, grass springs back to life with the next rain, because it grows from ground-level — not from the leaf-tips like other plants.
And rather than branching out at the top like other plants, grass sends out new stems along the ground, sprouting new roots and leaves at every joint. That’s why grass can stand up to grazing cattle and mowing suburbanites.
For grass, and for the rest of us, there’s no better survival strategy than staying close to the Ground of our being.
There’s nothing like a volcanic eruption to transform an idyllic landscape into a barren moonscape.
Yet life quickly launches a comeback. Seeds, riding the winds for hundreds of miles, quickly blanket the wasteland. Before long, life again sprouts from the desolation.
Waist-high triumphal spikes of the fireweed, one of the first plants to rise from the desolation, soon declare that life has made another dramatic comeback.
Comforting news, next time we find ourselves trying to rise from the ashes.
“…this world is so fantastically mysterious,
so challengingly marvelous…
there is more than I see…
there’s endlessly more than I can express
or even conceive.”
This quote from Abraham Heschel, Rabbi, and author, who I consider one of my spiritual fathers, expresses the motivation that drives my continuing search for earthy windows into the deeper reality of the sacred dimension in which we live. We need to be on the alert for surprises that await us everywhere — like “The Bridge Across a Thousand Miles.”
Our car’s odometer clicks off less than two miles as we drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. But geologically, we’ve traveled more than 500 times that distance.
The land that is now Marin County spent millions of years as part of the Pacific Ocean basin, before drifting more than 1,000 miles to its present location across the bay from San Francisco. The hills of Marin Highlands are built from the fossil remains of ocean-life that once made its home at the bottom of the Pacific.
We never really know where life’s many bridges will take us. What we think may be just a routine crossing to a new job or a new relationship, often takes us far farther than we expected, to a whole different way of life.
Relative security and regular meals — there’s something to be said for the fishbowl-life.
But then, isn’t life more than just a bowl-to-bowl existence?
Once we sense that there’s a larger dimension to life, our fishbowl-life can quickly become small and confining.
We’re all called to escape the confines of our ego-bowl to surrender ourselves to the greater flow of a life.
How can a self-respecting butterfly be proud of her caterpillar off-spring? It bears no family resemblance. And it does nothing but gorge itself on milkweed leaves all day?
The mother Monarch doesn’t give up on her caterpillar-child, even when it attaches itself to a milkweed twig, sheds its outer skin, and shape-shifts into an even less-promising pupa.
But then, within a couple weeks, that seemingly lifeless blob begins to move. And before long, a new creation emerges and takes flight — a child that any parent would be proud of.
Can that be why our parent-God never loses hope in us caterpillar-kids?
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