the sturdy pine
Updated: Feb 23
There's this old Hebrew story about a man camped out on the bank of a river, on the brink of a struggle. By most accounts he’s been successful, but he’s making some changes in his life. He’s thinking of letting go of some of his old tricks and habits and heartaches. He's entertaining the possibility of laying down his ego and asking for some help, asking for some love. The way I read the story, he's isolated himself for one long night of discernment, before crossing over into a new way of being.
And there in his solitude, at the edge of the wilderness, he's confronted by a figure. It’s some sort of angel or feral deity sent on a universal errand. And the two of them, the human and the divine, they wrestle all through the dark night.
All last week I tried to relax. I tried so hard that I worked myself into a tangle of tension. Funny how you can't really force rejuvenation; how renewal doesn't really respond to effort; how transformation, more often than not, creeps up on you unaware.
One morning last week, trying to relax, I read myself into a tizzy. I took deep breaths. I stared out the window until I just about broke. Nothing. So I put on my boots and rage hiked to a spot in the woods that I call The Hermitage, where a stand of pine trees spread out on the bank of the river and grow up tall and make the ground soft with loose needles from years gone by. I found the biggest pine tree I could, perched right there on the edge of a six foot drop into the river's roll.
I leaned my full weight into that pine, hands splayed against the harsh bark of the trunk, and I pushed. I pressed all of the tension of my soul into every fiber of muscle and I pushed it all against the trunk of that tree. I put every ounce of me into that push.
The pine, of course, didn't budge. It's been standing there two, probably three times longer than I've been drawing breath. Making for itself a slow steadiness from the alchemy of soil and sunshine and the river's flow.
In the old Hebrew tale the human and the divine wrestle until morning, until they're both worn out, until every spasm of muscle and spirit collapses into mutual surrender. The divine walks away, I imagine, with a smile on its face. The human walks away with a limp and a blessing.
After my push I collapsed at the base of the pine and leaned back catching rain drops on my face, feeling like a toddler sufficiently tantrummed.
But feeling also like the grown man that I am, the one with a good heart, who wants to help save the world, who wants to practice care for the long haul, who wants to hold all the tension with grace. The thing I felt the most was: no wonder. There's a lot going on. You have a tender heart. No wonder you get to feeling all bound up from time to time and need to go push against something bigger than you. No wonder. Now walk back home, with your hamstrings cramped from the struggle, and be blessed.