Roots have been on my mind lately, the deep roots of rose bushes, the roots that stick up on a hiking trail that trip you or help you walk, the roots of weeds in the garden. They are sometimes deep and sometime shallow, some roots are even exposed like the roots around a boulder that holds a tree in the forest.
I decided to move my mother’s rose bushes because they were in the back of my garden and not doing very well. After 17 years in a cold climate, rose roots run very deep, strong, long, seeking protection from the elements. Finally I had to break the root, hopping I had gotten enough for the plant to grow. The roots and the soil are a community of sorts, in relationship with each other, moving the plant with much of the root does not insure that a new relationship will form in new soil.
QUESTION TO PONDER: What are my long term relationships like? Do they nurture me or hold me back?
When we moved to Alaska, we were uprooted from our home and community. The only way to survive was to create a new community, it was easy because many young people were there going to college, trying to explore the arctic frontier, and each of us was looking for community. Sometimes it took time to find the right community, we had to sample and search. I guess most people want community - churches, bars, clubs, community service groups are all forms of community.
QUESTION TO PONDER: Where do I find community?
The shadow side of community is of course, exclusivism. There are so many examples of that throughout history and in our own time.
Kent Ira Groff, in his book Honest to God Prayer says: “Imagine the root system [of the tree] as the hidden life of contemplation, resting beneath conscious awareness.”
There are deep roots and there are roots on the surface. While we were hiking this summer, we noticed so many tree roots exposed because of people walking on the trail, that is good for the people, but how about for the tree? The roots provided stair steps for climbing up a steep hill, they provided something to hold on to when climbing a rock. But then if they are wet, they can be very slippery. Always a shadow side.
Then there are the roots wrapped around a rock holding a tree upright. We think that can’t last long. The tree can be easily toppled with a strong wind. But miraculously enough, there are some large trees living on top of a rock. We don’t know what’s underground after all, many of the trees in the Adirondacks could have their roots wrapped around rocks, buried deep in the soil.
QUESTION TO PONDER: War causes violent uprooting. the devastation of home and community all for what? What is war for? What does it do? What does it really protect?
There are times when uprooting is good and necessary. When a tree is too close to a house, or a tree has a disease. There are times when we are called to be uprooted, like Abraham leaving all he knew to start out on a God adventure. I imagine that my grandparents had a hard time leaving home and family to never see them again, to come here to this country, to put down new roots.
When we are called to change, to follow our bliss, the way sometimes seems hard and we want to turn back, it was better in Egypt, we cry with the Israelites fleeing slavery.
A houseplant that is root bound has to be transplanted or it dies, or just sits there, forlorn and not growing.
In the same book, Kent Ira Groff tells a story of visiting a couple. He knocked on the front door but found they were in the back yard. Walking back there he found ‘the husband holding an uprooted quince tree while the wife was pruning the roots. The next summer that tree was bursting with fruit. “Sometimes the very roots of your spiritual life get pruned; you can’t pray as you once did or don’t know what you believe anymore.” John of the Cross calls this the dark night of the soul. But instead of wallowing in depression we are invited to let it go and go into the darkness, to let the pruning happen, and then come out on the other side as stronger and more fruitful.
QUESTION TO PONDER: Do I need anything uprooted in my life so that I can be more fruitful?
Roots are not good or bad, they just are, they are necessary, to be respected but not bound by, to hold us in place and yet help us move forward. May the right root be with you.