Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hawthorn, Hope and Pentecost

Several years ago my friend who is studying to be an herbal practitioner told me that Hawthorn is an ancient healing tree: the berries, leaves and flowers can be brewed as tea and used as a tonic for heart problems. I have begun drinking a tea of Hawthorn berries and olive leaves and it is quite good. A few weeks ago I decided to search for the meaning of Hawthorn in the language of flowers and was rewarded in my search for it symbolizes hope.

It is so fitting to me that this tree would have this meaning for outside my house in the front patio is a fifty plus year old Hawthorn tree. Shortly after we moved into the house Papa cut the tree back to its stump, because he did not want a tree, which he was sure would become quite large, growing so close to the house. He did not, however, grind out the stump. Next spring a flurry of little saplings sprung up from the mother stump, like baby birds in a nest. He thought the tree would not survive that way, or at the very least, the saplings would not become very tall. Over the years the little forest of treelets has become quite tall and shades the corner of the house in much the same way that the mother tree would have done. It also shades my neighbor's yard, and that is why, I think, her dog likes that spot so well. (The dog "announcement barks" all the guests who come into my patio as well as those who come to her door.)

The tree, cut down once, harbinger of hope has survived to grace my life. She reminds me not to give up.

Here is a picture taken outside

Here is a picture of the flowers.

Hawthorn trees abound in Ireland and bloom with red or white flowers. (The red is really dark pink.) While the pictures here show the red flowers, my tree is neatly divided, with one side blooming in each of the two colors. It has been home to many birds and fed many squirrels through its half century and will have pride of place in my yard for as long as I can remain in this house.

Today is the feast of Pentecost. One of the great feasts of the Christian calendar, Pentecost in its turn is integrally tied to the great theological virtue of hope. For after our Lord's ascension the disciples, forlorn, retired to the upper room and pondered how they were to go on. In a sense, they had lost him, this most beloved teacher, leader and friend twice. The first loss was his death on the Cross and they remembered that he said he would come again but it was not until the stone was rolled away from the empty tomb that they realized he really meant it. It was not until they recognized him on the road to Emmaus that they really knew it. Rejoicing that he had returned, they had only a short while before they would lose him again.

So they waited, forlorn, for the Comforter that Jesus promised to send them. Forlorn, but not without hope. Hope never left them and it was fulfilled on Pentecost.

An eminent British psychiatrist, Frank Lake said in his monumental book something like, Hope delayed too long becomes an illness in itself. (I don't have the exact quote.) Depression, even despair are the other side of hope. Last night as I googled for references to Pentecost and Hope, I found this excellent blog, sacradoctrina in which the author discusses the Thomistic references to hope and Pentecost.

For St. Thomas, hope is eschatological, looking to the future good of the soul's salvation and eternal life in heaven. Hope is not trivial or silly, a goofy smile in all travails, but rather hope is in it for the long haul, recognizing that the road isn't easy but we have to keep walking it. Hope will come along for the journey. The reward will be at the end.

(I think it not unfair, though to comment that along his own journey, like most of us, St. Thomas hoped there would be a good meal and a warm bed and that he was rewarded much of the time.)

Hope, according to sacradoctrina, takes action and that action is communal. I see that it was so for the disciples first in waiting and then in ministry. Perseverance kept hope alive and kept the disciples going. Hope kept the waiting possible and the ministry doable.

Sacradoctrina states it better than I, for it is a longer post. But it is good, I think, to remember this Pentecost Sunday the virtue of hope. That while we live in a depressing era because the very technology that allows us to be "always on" ever ready and to communicate so seamlessly and non-invasively with one another as I am doing right now with this blog post, at the same time we see the ills of all the world before us, not merely those that afflict our little corner.

It is tempting to give up, to shout in anger and then subside into gloom, because not only can we not turn off the oil spilling into the Gulf, but it seems those in charge, who should be able to, can't do it either. Hope requires us to do otherwise and to remember, months from now when the oil flow is turned off, that legislation may still be required to fix how such a thing is handled in the future.

Hope, because it is communal, also requires that we build community face to face as well as online. Church is particularly foundational here, I believe, for it is the community of faith from which our actions spring forth into the larger community around us. It is not enough to meet online, we must meet face to face and break bread together.

I am grateful for my Hawthorn tree, for it's perseverance, for its healing qualities and for leading me to think of hope and not to give up. Grateful too for the feast of Pentecost. even though I cannot go and join in singing, "Lauda Sion salvatorem", I know that it is being sung, and that, too, gives me reason for hope.

The blessings of Pentecost to you. I wish I could send Hawthorn flowers your way or share a cup of Hawthorn tea with you.

(Sorry about the changes that I just made for anyone who might get this twice. I had muddled sacradoctrina and my own reflection, and so want to clarify. Do read that post.)

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