A Lesson in Divine Gestation.
Mother’s Day is planting day. Lined up like cadres of marching bands are flats filled with colorful rows of safire-blue lobelia, white alyssum, vibrant pink sunpatiens, and showy red geraniums. Tall, cheery waves of yellow-white jonquils have had their time in the sun and have wilted away. Teacups of orangey-red tulips, like delicate porcelain china, flirting with the breeze have faded into yesterday’s memory. With help from my planting team–my daughter and grandchildren, replacing them will be quick and voila! a summer garden!
Straddling the two growing seasons, in one afternoon, spring blends into summer. In concert with my garden, I am also shifting into new seasons of my life, leaning into tomorrow, tilting on yesterday, while navigating today. I hear my yesterday words recited back to me from my adult daughter. I smile. Time is an elusive teaser.
I recall another time, a yesterday afternoon in November, before December’s frost hardened the ground. Silhouetted across a blue-gray sky were V-formations of Canada Geese, on their transitional flight. That afternoon, under an autumn sun that thinned into yellow-gray clouds, my daughter, grandsons and I carefully placed scores of brown scaly Narcissus bulbs into neatly spaced holes. The boys enjoyed digging the six-inch deep holes. Then, after the bulbs were carefully placed with the stringy fibrous roots down, they delighted in covering them up again with heavy, dark soil, patting them down for their long subterranean gestation. What they did not enjoy or comprehend was the long wait for results. This came up all afternoon: “Why do we have to wait so long?” And “When will we see any flowers?” Planting bulbs in the fall is a great lesson in delayed gratification, a lesson that my own impatient inner child needed.
Soon after the plantings, with Christmas on the horizon, the bulbs were all but forgotten. From November to April, little attention was lent their way. But quiet waiting, even inattention should not be confused with inactivity. Hidden from view is one of Mother Nature’s most remarkable conceptions. For months buried under dark soil, with little warmth from the sun, these scaly knobs, housing enormous forces of life, were incubating flower embryos that would reproduce into delightful spring blooms. And all this without any pollen exchange. This life force, this powerhouse of hidden energy needed time, active time. Active waiting. And waiting for me was a lesson I needed to re-learn. As with many of life’s pivotal lessons, it was not pain free.
My spiritual journey is not an easy hop-skip, humming along a flowery path. After reading my earlier posts, you might think that. But, recently, I found myself adrift, feeling lost and disconnected to nature and the divine creative spirit that I know is within me. A few weeks prior to Mother’s Day, I felt an uneasy restlessness. The morning stillness that would typically slow me down, calm my mind and feed my spirit seemed remote. The air hung heavy. As if to mirror my mood, irritated birds squawked loudly. I turned to nature, my faithful muse, whose soothing energy usually washes over me like a gentle rain. Knowing something was out of order, I asked her for a word, just one word on which I might meditate. Almost immediately I heard, “wait” so I stopped, and I waited. Then, in her calm, lyrical way, I heard, “Think about ‘waiting’.”
Immediately, there was clarity. I understood. I know God has laid out a path for me, and that meditative writing is an important part of this path, but I forgot to trust in His perfect timing. I became impatient and sought outside approval of my writings. Like my grandsons impatient to see spring flowers, I questioned the waiting. I veered off on my own path, disconnected to the workings of the hands of the Creator. Instead of trusting in the God’s divine timetable, I put all my faith into ego-driven prayers, even tacking on a P.S. on how God should answer this prayer. In a sense, I fast-tracked my prayers, then removed myself from its energy, absent from its natural process, and worst of all, closed to divine inspiration. While I do believe there is a time to let-go and let-God, this was not one of them.
An answer did come rather quickly. A letter arrived. My writing was rejected and a door I thought was open to me, was slammed shut. Rejection of any kind hurts, and I was pained. Stunned, and reeling from defeat, I spiraled downward, questioning myself, my motives and my beliefs. But it wasn’t merely the rejection that caused my despair, it was the disconnection I felt to any positive energy, my spirit and to God. Fear and anxiety moved in, and being nocturnal feeders, they began to eat into my soul. I was out of step. Even my own breath felt alien. I was detached from nature, from my inner divine voice, from everything that makes me, me.
Waiting for prayers might be harder in the 21st century than previous generations. I claim the Alexa-defense. I forgot to be present in my own prayers. In a way, in today’s vernacular, I outsourced my prayer. In this speedup world in which we live, it might be easy to lose the perspective of time. That is what happened to me. I left the process. Impatient for instant and outside gratification, I devalued the wondrous works of God. A divine timetable.
Dusting off my bruised ego, I began to focus on how God and his angels have guided me throughout my life. My heart swelled with gratitude recalling the multitude of times that people stepped into my life with seemingly casual, random encounters. Through his grace, they brought healing smiles, new prospective, or a change of direction to pick me up when I have fallen. Cutting all that off, the potential for outgoing and incoming energy seemed to diminish my own life force.
I thought more about waiting, as suggested by my muse. I looked to bible verses and enlightened souls and found more insight. In Galatians 5:22-23 (KJV) we find this about patience: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith. Other bible translations omit the word “longsuffering”. But longsuffering is from two Greek words meaning “long” and “temper”. To be longsuffering, is to be long-tempered, having self-restraint. In other words, patience.
Prayer as Divine Gestation: Planting Powerhouses of Motion
Henri Nouwen, Dutch priest and author seemed to speak directly to me when he wrote the “Spirituality of Waiting”. In his treatise, he elevated our understandings of waiting, leaving behind a preconception of a passive, hands-off approach to prayer and rethinking waiting as movement, action, patient, open-ended and hopeful. I thought of the hidden life force in the gnarly bulbs. He writes:
The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening. A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment; in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.
I believe Nouwen is referring to a process that I will call Divine Gestation. Something is already in motion. Don’t screw it up. Be open to it.
It was an afternoon in 1982, when I joyously learned my husband and I would be having a little girl. Would that day ever come? I decided to think of the next eight months as our engagement. I prepared. I wrote letters to her in my journal. I prepared her room. I kept myself healthy and active. And now, thirty-five years later, that adult child is actively preparing for the birth of her little girl. In the same way, I need to prepare myself to be present in my prayers.
My Lesson In Divine Gestation
Here is the lesson I needed to relearn: God’s hand is leading me in ways I cannot yet see. My Divine Gestation is already in motion. If I am actively waiting, being present in my prayers, trusting that the divine path before me is better than my narrow view, and that ultimately, He will lead me to where I need to be.
Trust in the Slow Work of God
by Pierre Chardin
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
— that is to say, grace —
— acting on your own good will —
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.
For more on waiting: Waiting for God in Mid-Winter: https://teachbelief.blogspot.com/2013/03/waiting-for-god-in-deep-midwinter.html