Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Colossians 1:3-20) transports me to the “Belonging Place” on Eagle Lake in Brevard, a wonderful retreat space designed by the late Fay Walker. I was there with a group of friends who gathered to be something of a clearness committee for me, to help me dream and discern and strategize where to go with this In Our Elements idea. One clearness that came out of the weekend was what an amazing set of friends I have! One of these, Jeanine Siler Jones, shared something with the group that resonated deeply with me, and I’ll share it here. It’s from one of her sources of inspiration, Cynthia Bourgeault: Once upon a time, in a not-so-faraway land, there was a kingdom of acorns, nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree. Since the citizens of this kingdom were modern, fully Westernized acorns, they went about their business with purposeful energy; and since they were midlife, baby-boomer acorns, they engaged in a lot of self-help courses. There were seminars called “Getting All You Can out of Your Shell.” There were woundedness and recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their original fall from the tree. There were spas for oiling and polishing those shells and various acornopathic therapies to enhance longevity and well-being. One day in the midst of this kingdom there suddenly appeared a knotty little stranger, apparently dropped “out of the blue” by a passing bird. He was capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns. And couched beneath the oak tree, he stammered out a wild tale. Pointing upward at the tree, he said, “We . . . are . . . that!” Delusional thinking, obviously, the other acorns concluded, but one of them continued to engage him in conversation: “So tell us, how would we become that tree?” “Well,” said he, pointing downward, “it has something to do with going into the ground . . . and cracking open the shell.” “Insane,” they responded. “Totally morbid! Why, then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore.”
It occured to me in reading Paul’s letter to the Colossians, that he was doing some clearness work, some discernment work, with the church there. I imagine this idea of Christianity was fairly new to them, and they were still not sure what to do with it. He encouraged them to bear the fruit of the spirit to which they had been called, fruit of love and hope and truth and grace and joy and patient endurance. Three times here in his introduction he spoke of bearing fruit, and then he gave them a picture of what they were to grow into – Christ. It is as if Paul had landed there among a community of acorns, a bit battered and bruised, but eagerly pointing them up to the tree they were all to become. He pointed up and said, Look up at Jesus – the firstborn, the fullness of God, the creative force behind all there is, the thread that knits everything together, the reconciler, the peacemaker. The whole rest of his letter is an encouragement for the Colossian community to live into their destiny as children of God, to become who they were created to be, to be buried with Christ so that they could break out of their shells and grow into the likeness of Christ.
All this sounds well and good until we really start thinking about the implications of what it would mean to grow into the likeness of Jesus. Here in our fully modern, westernized acorn world, we have grown accustomed to our shells. We like the culture of acorns, with its creature comforts, its illusions of freedom, its addictions, its competitions, even its wars. And there is Jesus, out of the shell Jesus, going deep into the ground with strange and sometimes threatening roots of love, even love for enemies. There is Jesus, growing high with branches waving far and wide, branches of the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, the strange foreigner in our midst. Paul points to these roots and branches and says to the acorn church, We . . . are . . . .that! We could all use a clearness committee from time to time to remind us who we are, as delusional and insane as it might seem.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.