Tonight, I walked past a butterfly, dead on the busy sidewalk.
I wanted to stop and draw chalk around it’s yellow and black wings spread open, tattered and dull. I wanted to bring out caution cones and crime scene tape to detour the distracted commuters. I wanted to stop the nearby busses, opening and closing doors, moving passengers between work and home. I wanted to question witnesses, find security footage, rewind the day to discover if the butterfly’s last moments were filled with dread as feet stepped closer and closer or if it died in a sudden flash of sun reflecting off the windshield of a nearby bus. What was the last flower it visited? Where was it headed? Are there friends waiting?
I didn’t do any of these things. I just kept walking, my arms full carrying groceries and my mind already racing ahead to what I would eat for dinner. Instead, I let it’s frail body disappear behind me without even a prayer.
If I had stopped would anyone pause with me?
Would we create a tiny gurney out of old business cards, perhaps folding in the edges to create a box? Maybe we would form a procession as we turned the corner to find a quiet side garden. Maybe we’d create a funeral pyre out of some twigs, sending the butterfly’s ashes to Valhalla.
I’d want to say a few words, but what could we say for something we didn’t even know existed five minutes ago.
So tonight was just the opening of a 1.5 day orientation for seminary. I’ve started my Master’s of Divinity at Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC. Associate Dean of community life Rev Dr Asa J. Lee, started by reading John 15:2
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
The dean then pointed out that if you bear fruit you will be noticed by the master pruner and you will be cut. The Dean posited that we had, along our individual paths, born fruit of the spirit and that is likely part of why we were starting seminary. He went on to warn that we will feel the pruning that happens in school as we grow and learn to focus our gifts, our prayers, and our studies. I instantly recalled a favorite quote I used to have on my wall by Kahlil Gibran:
Shall my heart become a tree heavy laden with fruit that I may gather and give unto them?
I hadn’t thought about how a garden works and how orchards work. There is a delicate balance of pruning a tree to increase the fruit without overburdening the tree. I hadn’t thought of the pruning I’ve had in life as part of the master gardener’s plan to cultivate a fruitful garden. Her hands knowing which branches to let go and which ones to shore up. Knowing what fruit will come even before the first blossoms appear. She knows there will be many seasons and that every tree will grow and fruit in their time.
Over the summer I visited a friends peach orchard and noticed large clumps of peaches and other peaches hanging along a branch like sweet garlands. I wandered like a little kid through the orchard giddy when I found a a group of peaches untouched by the eager birds. I would pluck the ripe fruit and immediately sink my teeth into the slightly warm fruit, filling my basket with what I couldn’t eat for the week ahead.
Here is the longer Gibran poem entitled Part 2 Johannesburg:
And he said to himself: Shall the day of parting be the day of gathering? And shall it be said that my eye was in truth my dawn? And what shall I give unto him who has left his plough in mid furrow, or to him who has stopped the wheel of his winepress?
Shall my heart become a tree heavy laden with fruit that I may gather and give unto them? And shall my desires flow like a fountain that I may fill their cups? Am I a harp that the hand of the mighty may touch me, or a flute that his breath may pass through me?
A seeker of silences am I, and what treasure have a found in silences that I may dispense with confidence?