Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, April 27, 2018

An Emerging Beautiful and Winged Life

In the mid-19th century, Henry David Thoreau recounted a marvelous story that apparently was widely known in New England at the time. The story is recorded in Thoreau's reflections, Walden, written as he lived for two years, two months, and two days at Walden Pond.

The story is about old apple-tree wood. The tree had been cut and trimmed as a farmhouse table, and had been used for over 60 years, first in Connecticut, then in Massachusetts. One day, perhaps because of a hot urn or a coffee pot, strange gnawing sounds began to come from within the table and continued for a long while. Finally after a great many days of the gnawing gnawing gnawing, Thoreau describes a “strong and beautiful bug” that flew out of the table made of apple-tree wood . . . a winged creature that had been hidden within the table for decades.

And then Thoreau asks: What of the beautiful and winged life that dwells within each of us, “buried for ages under many concentric layers of woodenness” within us, hidden by our woodenness, waiting to be born, waiting to be freed to live and fly?

It is amazing to think that this well-hidden life within the tree was not disturbed when the tree was chopped down and trimmed for use as a table. It is amazing that the table could be used for years, for decades, without the inner life of the apple-tree wood being stirred alive.

Thoreau invites us to consider our own lives as tables, with "many concentric layers of woodenness" providing a tomb for the life that lives within us . . . the hardness, the shell, the crust that has only gotten more substantial through the years as we protect ourselves from the painful darts of the world. Within each of us, though, no matter how hard and weathered we are, is a "beautiful and winged life" waiting to be born.

While Thoreau didn't borrow the image from Jesus, he could have. Jesus used the image of a field that had within it a hidden treasure, a treasure so valuable it was worth giving everything to excavate the treasure. Of course, he wasn't merely referring to a field hidden away in some landscape on a map. Jesus was referring to the field of your life and mine, and to the immense and priceless nature of the treasure we each carry within us. The treasure of what it means to be fully YOU, fully ME, fully the people God created us to be, this is the interior treasure the parable points us to.

Jesus also counseled Nicodemus about being born anew or born from above. Some folks see this a being born a second time, a spiritual rebirth called being "born again." What if, however, this inner birthing is ongoing, happening not just once or twice, but over and over and over again. We are constantly and consistently being remade, re-created. In fact, Ignatius of Loyola believed that one of the defining marks of God's work in the world is that God is constantly creating, constantly remaking, constantly rebirthing, bringing to life the "beautiful and winged life" within us over and over again.

If you'll attend to your own life, I'm confident you can find evidence of your own interior "gnawing," the desire or longing that arises from deep within for your own hidden life to emerge.

And I would also guess that from time to time in your own experience, you have seen the emergence of a "beautiful and winged life" that you could hardly imagine was your own. (In fact, some of us, as soon as we see our own beautiful and winged life, subconsciously try to sabotage it . . . but that is material for another day.)

There is treasure beyond price within the field of you.

The life that God created you to live is being born from within you . . . you are constantly being reborn.

Or, if you please, there is within the concentric layers of your own woodenness, a beautiful and winged life waiting to emerge and soar.

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