In 2003, one of the last Youth Quake gatherings was held in the mountains of Colorado. A nasty flu bug ravaged the crowd of young Friends gathered that week. Along with the sickness, weather at the camp, 7,500 feet above sea level, was bitterly cold — the brutal wind-chill registering a bone-numbing negative 30 degrees for two days. That icy cold penetrated my skin and made it hard for me to do some of the normal outdoor activities I enjoy while in the mountains: walking, seeing, breathing, thinking …
One afternoon, however, it was tolerable enough to venture outside. Along one of the walking trails, I came upon a desolate stretch of hillside. There in the middle, against the gray backdrop, a solitary flower stood in sharp contrast, offering a hint of color among this bed of stones. A single seed had fallen into the ground to die. She gave herself up and, nourished by a little bit of light, a whisper of soil and just enough life-giving water, this little plant had taken root. Against the whipping wind, the shoot stood tall and petals stretched toward the dim sun. Its roots were firm and stable, sinking deeper into what seemed like impenetrable terrain. In a quite unexpected place, life showed up in a stunningly beautiful way. My heart was warmed by that sight and it reminded me that renewal is possible, even in the harshest conditions.
I think of this image when there is talk of revitalization in the church. I have been accused of being a bit of a Pollyanna, but my hopeful optimism is tethered to a sturdy realism about the nature of transformation. I believe in the possibility of a vital, life-changing faith; the necessity of life-giving community; the formation of a band of ministers empowered by Christ to shake the world. I absolutely do.
But I also know this does not come easily. In my little scene from the Rocky Mountains, the landscape was altered when a dying seed broke open and took root. Renewal became visible, however, as a new plant began to sustain itself and learned to thrive despite the challenging circumstances.
Sometimes, as I listen to people talk about revitalization and renewal, it comes with the urgent message that our situation is dire. They say we need to be willing to die — for our cause, our message, our God — if we are serious about change and growth.
This is, of course, true. But we need more than a passionate willingness to die. It must be coupled with an equally passionate tenacity to live in a brand new manner. Roots must carve out space in the rocky terrain. In the face of many challenges and severe conditions, we need creativity and perseverance to find the needed light and water to keep us vital and growing.
And it only takes one to begin the work of renewal … even before conditions are perfect or others are willing.
At the base of the flower in Colorado, a few loose seeds were scattered about. They just lay there, pale and shriveled. I wondered what it would take for one of them — or all of them — to also come to life. Would it be easier for them now that the lone plant had carved up a bit more room into the soil? By now, other flowers may have grown up around her. I expect one day they may even cover the whole mountain.