precious gems

Every Wednesday morning, I work from the garden. Sometimes, that means lugging wilted greens across the yard to the compost bin. Other times, it means sermon preparation. And sometimes, it just means sitting silently in the sunshine with other people. We call it garden co-working, and it has been a bright spot in my week since it began this fall.

During Advent, we had planned to use resources from A Sanctified Art to incorporate a short time of reflection at the end of our co-working time – specifically practicing visio divina with the liturgical art from the series.

Yesterday, it was gray, damp and 39 degrees. I was the only one who braved the weather to sit out in the garden, and it only took an hour or so for my fingers to go numb at the keyboard. And I was a little bummed not to get to reflect on this week’s particular piece of art with other people, because I love this one so much that I might buy it and frame it and hang it in my house:

“Harvest of Righteousness,” by Rev. Lauren Wright Pittman

So, let’s do visio divina together, here; if you’re up for it.

Settle into your seat. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes and let all the worries and tasks and notifications vying for your attention fall away. Take a minute.

Then, read – silently or aloud – these words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Take another breath. Take another minute. Then let your eyes fall to the image. What do you notice?

Take another, closer look. What did you miss at first glance?

If you can, imagine yourself inside this image. Where would you be? What would you do?

And, finally, how does this image make you *feel*?

If we were together – in the garden or, like the Lenten study I led with art last spring, on Zoom – I’d ask you to take another deep breath, and re-direct your attention back to the group. Then I’d want to hear what it was you noticed, what it was you missed, where you found yourself when you jumped into the image like Bert and Mary Poppins do in that sidewalk chalk art that ferries them into another world.

We’d talk about that a while, and then I would want to know if anything in the image connected with the scripture you read.

And I would share, after giving you a chance to share, that this image feels like someone holding a treasure chest – the pomegranate looks like jewels, and the flowers feel like royal adornments. And I would tell you that this, combined with Paul’s words to the Philippians about how he thanks God every time he remembers them, how he prays for their love to overflow more and more, reminds me of the way I used to think about my friends.

I’m a pretty solitary introvert, and it takes a lot for me to make a real friend. I think science has confirmed that the way we think about “friends” these days is totally corrupted by social media and virtual connections and, in actuality, humans are really only capable of a few intimate relationships. There’s a thing called “Dunbar’s Number” that says we can maintain around 150 stable relationships, and around 5 “close friendships.”

I don’t know whether this image grew out of my personality or that science of human connection, but I do know that for a long time, I imagined my close friendships as jewels in a treasure chest: precious, polished, small enough to be able to see them all at once. I used to imagine taking them out, one by one, and marveling at how beautiful and multi-faceted and unique they were. I spent some real time in my imagination gawking at the jewels.

I haven’t thought about that image in a long time, not until Paul’s words and Rev. Pittman’s image reminded me. I sort of miss thinking of my friends that way. But in reality, friendships aren’t priceless jewels to be taken out and polished once in a while, placed gingerly back in a case to be admired. Friendships are, instead living, changing things that require less polishing-to-a-shine and a lot more jumping in the mud and muck. It’s probably fair to say that at this point in life, the jewels that are still in the chest are dinged, cracked, cloudy – and all the more beloved, for it.

In her Artist’s Statement about this particular piece, Rev. Pittman says “all of the flowers symbolize different kinds of love: Coltsfoot flowers representing maternal love and care, Forget-Me-Nots imaging faithful love and undying memory, and Heliotrope meaning eternal love and devoted attachment. At the center of the piece, the object of the hand’s reaching is a pomegranate, bursting open with seeds. Throughout history, pomegranates have been used as a symbol for royalty because of their richness of color and flavor, and for the crown-like shape on the end of the fruit. At times, this fruit was used
as a symbol for Christ and resurrection as well. The split-open fruit with seeds spilling out represents Christ breaking out of the tomb. The hands are ready to receive the knowledge and full insight of Christ and to be nourished by the harvest of righteousness.”

All the flowers symbolize different kinds of love. As I survey all my precious jewels again this morning, I’m so grateful. Grateful for all the kinds of love that have shown up in my life, all the precious jewels that arrived in the shape of friendships, all the ways that my solitary, introverted self has been tangled up in webs of connection and care. If you’re reading this, you are tangled up somewhere in that web, too.

I thank my God every time I remember you. My prayer is that your love may overflow more and more.

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