When it comes to words of spiritual wisdom, there’s a fine line between cliché and life-giving truth.
I remember the day, back in March, when my son returned from school for the last time. He was due to sit GCSEs this year, but in two days went from full-on revision mode to the shock of finishing school. We stared at the exercise books strewn across his bedroom floor.
‘Nothing is wasted’, I heard myself say, tentatively.
We began thinking about what he’d learned beyond the narrow, transactional focus on exams: perseverance, resilience, creativity, play … We spoke of how to treasure friendships, and the ordinary days we take for granted …
In the walking retreats I sometimes lead, we visit a copse of hazel trees to reflect on the ancient, sustainable practice of coppicing. The trees are harvested every eight years, and every bit is used; if not for charcoal, then for river-bank defences, fencing, all sorts. Nothing – not a twig – is wasted.
And when sunlight floods back into the newly cleared woodland floor, dormant seeds spring to life which have lain there for years, returning colourful carpets of wild flowers and butterflies. Sometimes, life needs a clearing.
The apostle Paul risked cliché, I’m sure, when he said that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him’. It can be hard to believe for those of us with seemingly wasted years, or studies, or talents, or relationships …
Paul was writing, of course, in the decades following the biggest apparent waste of a life ever. What must it have been like for the disciples in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ death? All their hard work, and their master’s, for … nothing? What was the point, as my son had repeatedly asked about school in those initial, breaking, visceral moments.
But the life Jesus brings is an outpouring, not some benchmark of ‘success’. And it’s worth remembering, we don’t access God’s grace transactionally like an exam, anyway; as if we deserve something to show for the hours we put in. The kingdom of God is richer.
This new term will be a start like no other. Perhaps it’s less about what we learn this year, as much as how. (That’s wisdom, isn’t it?) In our Covid clearings, what if nothing were wasted? – and that on the woodland floor of this coming season, a myriad dormant flowers were preparing to bloom.
For details about Brian’s work, visit briandraper.org