Still it Lives

They planted new trees on the trail last year. Some of them died, their leaves fell off and they stood there, silent bare branches, witnesses to the difficulty of horticulture. In due course they were dug up and replaced.
    Then came winter, and all the leaves fell—not for long, this is Dallas after all—and then the budding came, tiny pouches at the end with the slight hint of color, and soon leaves again.
    A bare tree reveals its beauty in organic geometry. One of those new ones—it’s at least twice my height, and its branches, being still young, all slope upwards with delicate, unscarred strokes, perfectly spaced one from the other, like a cluster of ballerinas with slender lifting arms. This tree has not lost branches due to storm, and is too young to have suffered infestation.
    And yet life is delicate, poised at any moment to slip off balance into death.
    When the other trees budded, this tree remained bare. Passing its way, I looked for it in the morning dark: its stark white limbs, unmuted by color of leaf, were an ethereal presence. It did not change. Its presence was almost unnatural. The other trees were changing daily, as leaf grew to cover other leaf, filling in the spaces, obscuring the structure underneath. But this tree was fixed.
    I wondered if it was dead. I hoped it wasn’t. I hated to think of it being dug up and replaced.
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    Just a couple of weeks ago, the buds were there. Now they are little leaves.
    It lives.
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    The patience of the vinedresser: Don’t have me cut it down yet. Let me try another season of care, with fertilizer and so forth. Wouldn’t we be pleased if it bore fruit again?
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    Yet even a dead tree can come back to life—dead tree, dry bones, stony heart. None are beyond hope.
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    Out & About. On Maundy Thursday at 7 p.m., and at the Easter Vigil, Saturday at 8 p.m., I will preach at the traditional services at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas.
    On April 28, the second Sunday of Easter, I give a talk on True Friendship—David and Jonathan, or Job?—at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, at 9:30 a.m.
    Have you discovered the joy of reading Muriel Spark, the Scottish Catholic novelist? The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is worth reading—and has religious depths edited out of the film. I’ll lead a discussion on it at Incarnation at 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 19, and if you read it, I hope you can join us.
    My friend Heather Cross has just published (with Farrar, Straus and Giroux) her second novel, Grievous. It is good beyond measure, set in an English country boarding school in the 1930s, and has themes of music, sport, punishment, and second chances. I’ll probably write about it later, but in the meantime, I commend it to your reading.

Palm Reading

When I joined the staff of Saint Thomas Church in New York City back in the last decade, I was bemused by some of the neighboring businesses. Right next to us was a store called “Love”: it was related to the Gap, but one didn’t find “Gap” in its name, just “Love,” in sedate letters carved into stone. Across the avenue and down the street was a hangout called “Burger Heaven.” The best tables were up the stairs, but other than that it didn’t live up to its name.
    So here we were, a church somewhere between Love and Burger Heaven. We offered, one might say, both an alternative to the love you could buy next door and a taste of heaven that had no onions or mustard.
    Also down that street, across from the celestial burgers, was a storefront that said Palm Reading. It still catches me short—I came of age during the time of Gemini space launches—to realize that people resort to palm readers to try to find out things that are true. It seems to me that the one true thing to be read in your palm, if you went there, was that you had just wasted your money.
    Better to go across the street and buy a bovine sandwich.
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    But we Christians do our own palm reading.
    He is entering the holy city, and we want to honor him. We have no red carpet to roll out, but we can cut off some tree branches and spread them on the road in front of him. And we can put our own cloaks and coats down there too.
    Those branches were, of course, palms. Can you read them? Those palms say: we want to honor this person.
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    We also give voice to our joy. He comes in the Lord’s name. We know that he comes to save us.
    But another aspect of this palm reading is that we don’t really get it. We’re delighted to welcome him, but within a few days some of us will be caught up in the social mob of opposition. We won’t stick with him, and we won’t stick together. Our palms say that, too.
    Our palms get read and we see we don’t really know what heaven us, we don’t really know about love. Our palms tell us this is a lot more serious than we thought.
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    Out & About. I am to preach at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas on Maundy Thursday (April 18, 7 p.m.) and at the Easter Vigil (Sat., April 20, 8 p.m.)—both of these are traditional services.
    Recently my blog posts were on the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer, and some of you have asked me if I intend to continue. Yes, I do, and in due course I hope to write on each line.
    My lecture on the theology of suffering has been posted here: https://incarnation.org/classes/theology-of-suffering/
    My sermon on the prodigal son, “Who Says I Have Sinned?” is here: https://incarnation.org/sermons/traditional-service-who-says-i-have-sinned/
    Muriel Spark’s novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, will be discussed at the next Good Books & Good Talk seminar, Sunday, May 19.

 

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."