Tuesday, November 10, 2020


 I want to tell you about a plant friend of mine. It was a little succulent I got last fall and over the winter grew so big and beautiful, that I had to repot it in a bigger pot this summer. When a squirrel knocked it over, I wasn’t too worried. I repotted the biggest part in a fresh new pot with plenty of room, and I took the smaller parts that had broken off and started them fresh in their own pot. I knew that when Succulents break, they have great resilience to start again.

The word resilience means to rebound, to bounce back, like when you bounce a ball. The ball deforms when it hits the ground, absorbing the energy of the drop or throw, but then it releases that energy, and bounces back into its original form. But living, growing things, like my plant friend, change and they don’t change back. The need to find a new form that adapts to changing conditions. When we talk about resilience, we think of something elastic like a ball, like a tree bending and swaying with the force of the wind. But Succulents deal with that force by breaking cleanly and easily, to reduce damage to the main plant. They have evolved to turn that breakage into a form of reproduction and are good at growing new roots wherever the broken pieces fall. 

But the squirrels weren’t done with their mischief yet, just a few weeks later I found this guy had fallen 6 feet and crashed on the ground. It must have lain there for a while, because a slug had found it and had taken big bites out of the leaves. It broke my plant lover’s heart to see a little plant, barely acclimated to it’s new pot, meeting with misfortune after misfortune.

When a plant has been through that much trauma, it seems like they go into shock for a bit. I notice they just stop growing for some period of time, perhaps orienting to their new reality, perhaps waiting to see what fresh mischief the squirrels and slugs may wreck, not wanting to use up precious resources until the coast is clear. It takes some time just to stabilize itself. Sometimes the outer leaves will die back.

This aloe was knocked over by the  the squirrels at my neighbor’s house knocked over. I’m nursing it back to health for her.You can see in this first photo,how these leaves are turning brown, and losing their plumpness. Plants have the power to move resources around, to let a leaf or branch die if there is just too much plant to maintain. When it does start regrowing, many plants put all their resources into regrowing roots, already rebounding before we can see any evidence. But soon enough the leaf closest to the core on a succulent fills in with plump green life, (hopefully you can see that in the second photo) ready to try again, carefully and cautiously, needing to grow without using up all their reserves.

 Other plants are resilient in different ways. Some plants will begin to frantically flower and reproduce when trampled, others will use their reserves to put on rapid growth. All living things are resilient, but not in the same way. Which is good. I wonder if you can remember a time in your own life when you have bounced back, remember what resilience looks like in your own life?

Right now I am hearing from my queer friends that they are exhausted. They are afraid that their marriages will be invalidated. Nonbinary friends are afraid that they will lose protections for their safety, for their jobs. I hear people of color saying they are demoralized that white people keep voting for candidates who actively support racist structures, or more overt racism.

So if you are a person with privilege, it’s time for us to step up. People with marginalized identities are exhausted. Immune compromised people need us. Over the coming days and weeks, look around you for the people who seem deflated, who are scared, who need to pull in their energy to regrow their roots.

Nkem Ndefo, creator of the Resilience Toolkit, has spent much of her career working with “distressed populations including IV drug users and youth in foster care” [i] finding ways to help people be more resilient. She is concerned about the focus on individual resilience. Our society asks too much resilience of individuals; the system puts more and more stress on folks, more stress than a person should have to bear, sometimes more stress than a person can bear. Systemic forces put an unequal amount of pressure on some bodies, some spirits. Resilience must be collective when there are collective problems. It is up to us to change the system so that no one is under more pressure than they can bear, than they can rebound from.

Nkem Ndefo cautions; “We build this reservoir, this big wide lake of flexible strength, this capacity, and we use this capacity to change the conditions of adversity, to a system that doesn’t demand so much resilience. It’s nice to have, but that you shouldn’t always have to be digging into that pot.” (ends 26’23”)

Metaphorically speaking, just as no plant can survive in a squirrel superhighway, especially if they have been inappropriately planted in a pot with a narrow base. A broken and trampled living being needs time and a safe place to grow a new wholeness for themself, to bounce, maybe not back, but forward into fullness.

Life is tremendously resilient. I use my poor little plant as concrete proof that resilience is a great gift of living things. That’s why I talk about plants so often in worship, because when it can be hard to believe in something like resilience, it helps to see with our own eyes these ordinary miracles -- a ball spring back into its fullness, a plant turning broken pieces into a new and growing shape. If plants don’t speak to you, look all around and you will see life’s resilience. Now is the time to nurture our own resilience, as individuals, as a community, restoring our wholeness for the journey ahead.

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