After months of lovingly coaxing our adolescent plants toward mature vitality, we have met our match. Jack Frost has come with unexpected fury to Northern California. The mulch pathway is a concrete tundra. Ice crystals encrust leaves like minuscule toxic parasites. Citrus fruit, approaching peak ripeness, is now fit only for the compost pile. Perennials that were grasping for the sun only a week ago are now a black, drooping mess of frozen protoplasm. It's discouraging. It makes me wonder if the divine feels the same way about religious communities around the world. Tended through millennia of revelations, incarnations and evolutionary progress, we still seem frigid and immature. One Christian denomination is even sarcastically referred to as "The Frozen Chosen". It must be quite discouraging.
Part of the reason for this limp spirituality is that we have little depth. (Matthew 13:6) We get just enough spirituality or religion to inoculate us from the real thing. We get a taste of the divine, of the Essence of the Universe, and then we march on with our lives feeling quite content with ourselves, rooted in nothing deeper than our own egos.
We adore the words but don't catch the Spirit underneath them. We luxuriate in the religious rituals, but we never move on to the One to whom they point. We are like small children who are more excited by the wrapping paper than the present itself.
What's needed is a little less religion and a little more spiritual practice. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes:
“The whole purpose of the Bible, it seems to me, is to convince people to set the written word down in order to become living words in the world for God’s sake. For me, this willing conversion of ink back to blood is the full substance of faith.” Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith
The "full substance of faith" is to make the ideas of religion concrete. Less talk. More action. Less piety. More gritty willingness to engage life as it is…with compassion. Only then will sacred ink become living blood and the Word become flesh. (John 1:14).
This cold spell will give way to warmth. Eventually Jack Frost will return north. What will we discover when the ground thaws? Those plants with sufficient depth will revive. May the Sacred Gardener discover that we too have sufficient root, flower and bear delectable fruit.