Like a bush in a lava waste…

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Today’s first reading from Jeremiah brought to mind the surreal landscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument in central Idaho, which I visited on a long road trip through the American West several years ago.  It’s a surreal landscape of lava flows, ash, and shards of rock so sharp they’ll slice through your shoes if you wander off the trail.  

Jeremiah’s image of a “barren bush [that] stands in a lava waste” to describe those who trust in men and not in the Lord brought Craters of the Moon to mind.  I remember rounding a cinder cone, descending onto a river of hard rock, and thinking I’d wandered into Mordor.

Fascinating as it was to examine the different types of stone—smooth and glassy, globby ropes, chunks scattered like popcorn—what most caught my attention was the vegetation that had broken through the two-thousand-year-old lava shell.  It takes a hearty plant to survive in the desert.  The ones that did were not large, but they were all the more striking against the barren background.

Jeremiah says, too, “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord… He is like a tree… that stretches out its roots to the stream.”  And perhaps that’s the image most useful in the landscape of our contemporary culture, increasingly brittle and barren as it moves away from Christianity.  Today’s Christians will only be those with deep roots willing to stretch for the waters of faith, to plunge below the surface, plants that show a hardiness that defies the sharp surrounding surfaces.  

It doesn’t do the desert plant any good to wish he’d been born in a rainforest—or worse yet, to take water for granted, acting as if he had.  Instead, it’s better to recognize the beauty of the desert flower, a sign of contradiction, more striking for being a sign of life against an expanse of empty earth.

Jeremiah 17:5-8

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Author: Anthony Lusvardi, SJ

Anthony R. Lusvardi, S.J., teaches sacramental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He writes on a variety of theological, cultural, and literary topics.

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