The story of the Chinese Bamboo Tree: a little seed is taken, planted, and then watered and fertilised for a whole year. Nothing happens. A second year of watering and fertilising, and still nothing happens. The third year of watering and fertilising, and then a fourth year - still nothing happens.
In the fifth year, the seed is still being watered and fertilised. And then sometime during the fifth year, the Chinese Bamboo Tree sprouts and grows eighty to ninety feet (that’s 24-28 metres) in up to six weeks (which is about the height of a six or seven storey building). In the first four years, when nothing seems to happen, the bamboo is busy developing roots underground so that will be strong enough to support it when it grows so rapidly in the fifth season.
I have been sharing this story with the ministry pastoral check-in groups I’m hosting this week, and encouraging those who are in the groups to consider what might be the roots they are growing at the moment that will support them and the Church when we emerge from this particular season. The responses have been as varied as the people in the groups so far. One response spoke of growing the roots in relationship. This person is actively strengthening the relationship with family that they might support each other better in the next season of their life.
I think it made me sit up and pay attention as it was quite different to what I had been thinking around this theme. My thoughts had been about continuing education - learning the skills and things that will nurture the work that I (and others) do in the future. I had also been thinking about the chance in the current environment that we would be able to do further self-reflection (both individually and as a Church), and perhaps even to develop resources that might serve the future ministry and mission of the Church. These continue to be valid directions that need appropriate responses from us, however the idea that we must be watering and fertilising the relationships that will support us, and through which we will support those we most love, has for now eclipsed what I had initially been thinking.
So, in a time when we are still being asked to maintain physical distance from people who do not live with us, how might we grow roots in those relationships? If we are not allowed to visit, to hug, to share a meal or have a coffee, we must be thinking of different ways to connect and strengthen the relationships. We might be even more intentional about having a Zoom or Facebook coffee together, writing a letter - or even a series of letters, making phone calls, and as restrictions start to lift, perhaps arranging to meet for a walk (maintaining the acceptable distancing standard, of course)… I’m sure you will come up with many other ways in which we can grow the roots that will support us into the future.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the world, a point that is highlighted profoundly in our current environment. But this thing I know: God has plans for us and for the Church that is the People of God. And these plans will require us to have a very strong foundation, or roots. I believe that there are two things we need to be ‘watering and fertilising’ now so that we have roots strong enough to support us in that future: the first is our relationship with God, the second is our relationship with each other. And really, when we think of the life and ministry of Jesus - this is what has always mattered most! So may God bless you profoundly as you strengthen your relationships with God and others and find your support and strength in them. And may God bless the growth we will experience as our roots grow ever deeper in the love and grace of God.
Blessings and peace,