In Matthew, Jesus says something like ” do not worry. Look at the lilies of the fields; they do nothing and yet they are beautiful.”
Ok, so it’s a paraphrase. But it has me thinking for a couple of reasons.
I spent the past couple of days in Flagstaff, which is probably my favorite place in the world. And it was wonderful. I went out with a group led by a retired game and fish officer and saw something like 300 elk gathered in Mormon Lake (less like a lake, more like a giant field that sometimes fills up with water). It was wonderful! A giant expanse of grass, and everywhere bright yellow wildflowers!
And so, I started thinking about this passage in the gospel. Sure, Jesus uses “lilies,” but what he really means are wildflower, right? I mean the kind that just grow, not because someone waters them or feeds them, but just because that’s what they do. And they are beautiful, and they do make you feel like the world is probably cared for by some force that cares for creation enough to put those flowers there in the first place. A God that wants our world to be beautiful.
The second reason I thought about this verse was that the few days in Flagstaff came after a couple of really stressful weeks, during which I probably did my fair share of worrying. Looking at the wildflowers, all I could think was that there had to be one, somewhere, that was saying “I know we’re beautiful and all, but WHAT IF we’re not that beautiful?” there’s got to be one in there that just isn’t as sure, that knows the verse, and is still freaking out a little bit about how it looks.
I know things will calm down, I know they’re not as bad as they could be (or not bad at all), and I know I’m supposed to be learning from these stressful times. And all I want to do is scream at people, and go back where I’m comfortable.
I know things are going to be alright, that things can’t always be this stressful, but what if they are? I know the verse, and I know what Jesus says, but what if…?
I’m reading Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke right now, and I think it gets at what I’m saying better than I can. The entire book is a series of letters he writes to a Mr. Kappus, who seems to be going through a period of struggle, which is called both a “solitude” and a “sadness.”
In one of the letters, after he has written extensively in their letters about the need to step into solicitude, to learn from it, he addresses Mr. Kappus’ sadness. He writes: “if only it were possible for us to see farther than our knowledge reaches, and even a little beyond the out works of our presentiment, perhaps we would bear our sadness with greater trust than we have in our joys. For they are the moments when something new has entered us, something unknown; our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, everything in us withdraws, a silence arises, and the new experience, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.”
With worry, or sadness, or anger, or any of the emotions that often get labeled as negative/to be avoided, there is a need to see them first as a place we can learn something new about ourselves, and second as periods that do not last forever, but rather mark the space between what was once known and what will be known.
I’m worried right now because things aren’t like they used to be. Which is a fact. But the worry associated with it comes as I move from what used to be to what is becoming.
What do I learn from it? I don’t know yet. The task, at least as far as I understand it, isn’t to identify the lesson right away, but to live as fully into the worry as possible. To recognize it, or in Rilke’s words, to trust it.
I’m also comforted by the old adage Bible prof’s used to say in my classes: if something is in the bible, chances are it was a problem that needed to be addressed (note: I don’t always agree with this thinking for a lot of complicated reasons we won’t go into here).
If Jesus is telling people “do not worry,” chances are people are worrying. And maybe what we are supposed to learn from the periods of worry is to place our trust in God. Or to recognize how massive creation is. Or to seek out beauty more intentionally.
Whatever the point is, worry leads me to continually seek comfort outside of myself. And that’s probably a lesson to learn.
Just so y’all can get a sense of just how beautiful Flagstaff, Arizona is, here are some pictures from my trip.