Sister Michelle and I have been challenged in our efforts grow sunflowers this summer. A chipmunk, a cat, and a zealous retreatant who was assisting with weeding have all taken part in upsetting the project in one way or another. A few plants have been rescued, but the larger portion of what was initially planted never made it beyond the 4-leaf or 6-leaf stage. Then one day, across the courtyard, beneath where a birdfeeder was hung during the spring months, a sunflower blossom appeared!
Far from being a miracle since the birdseed did have sunflower seeds mixed in it, the unexpected appearance of the bright yellow bloom happily being itself amidst all of the weed-like grass that had also come up in great abundance was something that just had to make me laugh. It leads me to reflect on the possibility of how often God might laugh at us.
We humans pour endless amounts of energy into tasks and activities that are doomed to fail from the start. While we might achieve our intended goals, rarely do we find the “lasting happiness” or the “true fulfillment” or the “perfect answer” in the end. The words of the prophet Isaiah come to mind: “Why spend your money for what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy?… [L]isten that you may have life.” (55.2-3a NAB) The message of God through the prophet and the unexpected sunflower are similar: blessedness is a gift from God. It is a gift to be received, not an accomplishment to attain. Blessedness can happen in the middle of our failures. Blessedness can appear any time and any place. Joy and delight in God’s life, love and beauty is not limited or controlled by our human efforts.
Sister Michelle and I have not given up on our sunflower hopes or our gardening project. But life challenges us daily to keep our efforts in perspective—to do what we can and let God cause the growth. We contribute what we can—nurture, water, fertilize, etc., but in the end, we are to look and listen and find the presence of God wherever it may be perceived.
By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB