TOBI BENTON

On Flourishing in Shallow Soil

On Flourishing in Shallow Soil

On Flourishing in Shallow Soil

For I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God”  

19 days until 2017 begins. 

In a year that began with January’s daily writings, I have found my voice here only seven other times.

I have wondered at my linear state, my common comfort of measuring life in months and years and moves. At my inward rebellion to living from one assignment peg to another on a timeline which we fasten our family life-stages to.

My surprised discovery that seasons are not measured by the packing and unpacking of boxes, and often the lessons we needed answers to are three States back, and who knew we would be living in grief without you still? 

I’ve come to understand my longing for real community most often reveals the heart of a spiritual orphan. 

My disappointment is with the church for not getting it, when we stand in front of you and honestly – for what do we have to lose – tell you we need holy friendship.

That we need you to see our great loneliness, feel our five moves in seven years, pause for a moment to appreciate we have had no one to gather around the table with, and ask that you simply respond to us. Invite us to lunch. Welcome us in, for you see we might move again next summer. The luxury of your common entry points to relationships are just that for us; precious luxuries. We don’t have time not to be seen and wanted.

It is also difficult to watch your countrymen from afar. We spent six months of this year at the front line of red, white, and blue in Belgium, yet hard-pressed to understand voices on either side of America’s election. The disorientation of moving home a few months before the vote, with all the loud, all the discord, all the anger, all-most made us long for the quiet, wooded bike paths of Belgium.

Sometimes it is easier to serve when you are far removed from the mess. Yet I challenge, too often it is hard to see your own mess up close.

I think my own desire to control and measure the worthiness of time, as though I own it, has been a silencer.

And then, the absence of true friends who will stay with us and walk out what our lives are called to be, the hole in the holy of the air we breathe day to day, has confined my voice to journals and the cluttered, sticky-note-covered white walls of my mind. 

And my dear, sweet America. Your participation in a process that never promised a nation’s salvation, your resolute will to stand against the work of gathering real food, solid information, chewing long and hard and swallowing it down to be digested, putting it to action together so that you will be wise.

This stubborn independence that defines so much of our great American DNA, yes, this non-card holding, history-loving, American has lost her voice in the face of what seems surreal. I am sad, dis-spirited, at times fearful, and voiceless at our country’s table.

This stillness, this quieting of my spirit, this refusal to fill in every space.

I have discovered it to be part of the present season. For as one year ends, it turns out I’m emerging not from the desert, but from the deep silence of winter. 

For I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God.

Just how do olive trees grow?

They flourish best on limestone slopes. 

In crags and crevices.

In shallow soil, even tolerating the poor nutrients of clay without much water.

These trees live for centuries, bear fruit throughout generations, and thrive in harsh, dry, you might say friendless, soil.

Olive trees actually like the heat of adverse conditions.

They prosper in drought because of strong, sturdy, and extensive roots. The only condition they need to flourish is regular and correct pruning.

But placed in rich soils and cool, comfortable temperatures olive trees are predisposed to disease. They produce poor oil in rich soil. How can it be, that rich makes poor? 

Once more I am reminded of the kindness of God. There are lessons and thoughts, and I have a few things to say about being rich in my poverty and poor in my wealth, but I’m learning to embrace this slow arc of life. And that I don’t control time, nor understand the magnitude and power of a moment, and for today this is enough.

In his kindness, God has taught us in stories and images, things profound and yet so simple. I am an olive tree in the house of God, with roots that are extensive yet buried in shallow soil. Often times too dry to feel like I’m alive, yet never forgetting I am sustained. Uncomfortable as much in my poverty and more so in my wealth. Convicted and convinced of the power by the sharp cutting away, the pruning and shaping of my heart and soul. I have flourished, with roots tucked into crags and crevices, the tiny spaces of years planted with others. 

In his faithfulness and love I do trust.

For I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.   Psalm 52:8

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