Back in November, I visited Muir Woods, a natural monument of coastal redwood trees near San Francisco, CA.
The trophy I brought back with me was a giant sequoia tree in a can: a germination kit with starter soil, potting polystyrene, a plastic mini-greenhouse, and about seven seeds.
Two seeds sprouted and grew about two inches by February. Then nothing seemed to be happening and I’d begun to wonder whether I’d killed them.
I am proud to report that they are still alive. One has just grown past the top of the greenhouse, and the other is about an inch behind its sibling. I’ll be transplanting them into larger pots soon.
Stewarding living things is terrifying. It’s absolutely terrifying. I don’t know how parents of human babies stand it.
Here am I, acutely aware of the temperature in the room where the sequoia sprouts live, the light that streams into the window and the clouds that overshadow the space, the guilt I feel when I check the soil and realize I’ve forgotten to water it, the incredible smugness of passing through the room and finding that for yet another day a living thing is still alive despite me.
A few months ago I wrote that beautiful things sometimes take thousands of years to grow, and I still find that true. A small slice of the Church reinforced the lesson for me this weekend.
I felt warmth from those who, though states away from Chicago, followed along by hashtag and stood in solidarity with us. I froze slowly in an auditorium with an air conditioning default based, like most, on the resting metabolic rate of a 155-pound man in a suit. I lit up in the presence of change-makers convicted about the value of 104-year-old Syrians as well as teenage American students; and I watched exclusivism descend on the room, throwing welcome into doubt and threatening furtive attempts to build community.
So many people have watered spaces like The Justice Conference in its first few years: so many nourishing the space with their presence, their gifts, and their time. Unlike me and my tree, if The Justice Conference doesn’t mature, it won’t be through a lack of engaged stewards.
A group of us invited the organizers to pray with us after the morning session on Saturday. We prayed for the healing of our wounds and those who’d wounded us. We affirmed that the breach in fellowship need not be permanent. We prayed that the group would grow to acknowledge and nourish all of the people in its rooms. We held space for the rest of the event and left our circle open-hearted.
What if, when I transplant the tree sprouts into bigger pots, they get too much air and fail to thrive?
What if, as The Justice Conference expands and attracts ever more attention from professional agenda-setters, it stalls at “hosted conversation” and never develops genuine community?
What will be, will be. We’ll become what we are: all of us will.
Today, though, as I recovered from my weekend, two sequoia sprouts coaxed a happy dance out of me. They reminded me that only 30% of walking with precious living things is competent care, and 20% of the journey is being willing to persist despite an uncertain pace.
The rest, I’m learning, is staying in relationship long enough to discover what those living things are made of, what logics took root within them, and how receptive they’ll be to new environments and caretakers.