Dear Friends in Christ,
Howard Thurman (1899-1981) has long been an admired theologian and mystic. His autobiography With Head and Heart is my favorite. In seminary, I wrote a paper about his life and witness to the Gospel. Thurman and his parents lived with his maternal grandmother in Daytona Beach, Florida. This grandmother, formerly enslaved, owned her house which had an oak tree in the yard. As a boy, he melded with the earth, the Atlantic Ocean, and nature. He writes:
“Eventually, I discovered that the oak tree and I had a unique relationship. I could sit my back against its trunk, and feel the same peace that would come to me in my bed at night. I could reach down in the quiet places of my spirit, take out my bruises and my joys, unfold them, and talk about them. I could talk aloud to the oak tree and know that I was understood. It, too, was part of my reality, like the woods, the night, and the pounding surf, my earliest companions, giving me space.”
A few days ago, I was granted an impromptu tour of that house, now part of the National Register of Historic Places. Built around 1888, it remains sturdy and the tree is still there. The tour guide pointed out what she called “New Birth Fern” growing on the side of the tree trunk and said it meant “new beginnings.” Looking up, we saw the fern growing on several branches. I did a bit of research and found it is also called “Resurrection Fern.” The guide spoke about the new life they are working toward by continuing the revelation of Thurman’s legacy which has long been overshadowed by other Civil Rights leaders of his day.
The woman mentioned a few weeks ago that the “New Birth Fern” turned brown and appeared to be near death (something else for me to research). This fern can lose 75 – 97% of its water and appear dead, but when the rain comes is replenished! For some other ferns, as little as 10% water loss can lead to their demise.
The oak tree is adorned with Spanish moss and Resurrection Fern, not taking nutrients from the tree but coexisting. The moss hanging and blowing in the wind casts an eerie pall even on a sunny day. However, this is offset by the fern’s brilliant green. The oak tree is easily over one hundred years old and has weathered many storms. If the bark could talk it would have many a tale to tell. A young Howard Thurman shared his secrets there, safely, within the mystery and beauty of nature.
Today is the feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany. No explanation is needed for a familiar story of two sisters with an either/or, or both/and centuries-old debate. Setting that aside, here is one of the Psalms appointed for today 36:5-10.
5 Your love, O God, reaches to the heavens, *
and your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep; *
you save all your creatures, O God.
7 How priceless is your love, O God; *
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast upon the abundance of your house; *
you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the well of life, *
and in your light we see light.
10 Continue your loving-kindness to those who know you, *
and your favor to those who are true of heart.
The Saint Helena Psalter
Summer continues! Enjoy the beauty and mystery of nature and its enduring tie to humanity.