“In every religious tradition there is a practice of devotion and a practice of transformation . . .Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ
Devotion means trusting more in ourselves and in the path we follow. Transformation means to practice the things this path imposes on us.”
When my husband and I strolled through St. James’ Park during our recent vacation to London, England, we passed this tree. Its harshly pruned branches made a sorry silhouette against the dusky skies of London.
We slowed our steps and looked up at the denuded tree. “Maybe it will come back,” my husband said, sardonically.
Then we looked more closely. One determined twig of new growth sprouted from the side of an upper branch. This tree, that to our eyes appeared cruelly pruned past the point of rejuvenation, prevailed.
We continued our walk feeling a little lighter.
Even when life prunes us down to bare essentials, new growth and rebirth is possible. It’s a matter of faith.
I’m going to show you three blankets.
When my children were born—first my daughter, then my son—I made them each a blanket. Here is my daughter’s blanket now:
Do you think she used this blanket a lot? Do you think it’s been washed a few times? Yep.
My daughter loved her blankie. It went with her everywhere. She slept holding it and dragged it around when she walked. When she started to kindergarten, she tucked into the bottom of her backpack everyday. When she got older and started going on Brownie and Girl Guide camping trips, she didn’t want the other girls to make fun of her for wanting a blankie, so she tucked it into the bottom of her sleeping bag. She felt it as she slept, but her friends didn’t know it was there.
Eventually she stopped sleeping with it. It didn’t go to school anymore. It stayed at home during camping trips.
One day years later when I was leading children’s time at my church I decided to tell this story to the kids. I wanted to take my daughter’s blanket with me to show everyone. When I asked her where it was, she didn’t have to think for a second. “It’s right beside my bed,” she said. She didn’t use it every day anymore, but she knew exactly where it was.
Now I’m going to show you my son’s blanket:
Do you think he used his blanket much? Nope.
My son barely glanced at his blanket. He never slept with it. He rarely picked it up. It never went to school or on any camping trips.
I had made this blanket for my son, and I was a little hurt that he had no interest in it. I wanted him to love it. Why didn’t he need a blanket in the same way his sister did? Sometimes I even tried to push him to use it. When he couldn’t sleep, I’d tuck it in beside him, sure that it would help. He tossed it on the floor. If he fell and scraped a knee, I wrapped him up in it. He shrugged it off. Eventually I was the one who had to adapt. I had to accept that he was going to have his own kind of relationship with his blanket.
But you know what’s really interesting? When I asked him where it was, he didn’t have to think for a second. “It’s right beside my bed,” he said. He never needed it, but it was a gift of love from me, so he kept it close.
Now, let me show you a third blanket:
This one I made for my daughter when she was about 7 years old when it became clear that the original one was disintegrating. It’s a new and improved version of the first. I thought she would love it.
She would have nothing to do with it. She wanted the comfort of the original, thank you very much, even if it was battered and torn and no longer serve a real function.
I shared this story with the kids at church because I think my kids’ blankets give us an insight into how we need to accept different approaches to faith.
- Some people need to hold their faith close, sleep with it and touch it daily.
- Some people’s needs change over time. When they are younger, they need a strong faith relationship, but when they get older they let it go. Or, some people don’t want faith in their youth, but when they get older or suffer a crisis, they seek it more.
- Some people know right where it’s kept but don’t need it very often.
- If we make fun of other people’s needs, they’ll tuck them away, but it won’t change anything.
- We can’t make people let go of something until they are ready.
- Just because something is new, doesn’t mean it’s better.
- Just because something is old, doesn’t make it right for everyone.
- If something is given with love, people will value it even if they don’t need it every day
- We give our children a gift if they never have to think for a second to know where to find their faith.
- One thing is for sure, we can’t force other people to have the kind of relationship with faith that we want them to have. It’s very personal. Even if we hand-make it for them or hand it down generation to generation, people have to forge their own relationships with faith.