Time to Live

It was just a photo of grass.  That’s all.

Photo: Jeannean Ryman

Grass.

My friend, the photographer, has a knack for seeing the beauty in the strangest things.  Horned frogs.  Dragonflies.  And now–grass.

I saw the picture a few days ago and was gone.  Instantly.

Gone back fifty years.  As if nothing else that has occurred in the time since had transpired, I was a child again in the fields of the Rio Grande Valley.  No fences, no property lines, no adults existed in that world.  At least that always seemed to be true for the hours we spent roaming freely near our home.

There were stinging red ants and black widow spiders, along with the occasional garter snake and even a bull snake or two, but we gave them space and they didn’t seem to have any animosity toward us.  We ran and crawled with abandon, even lay down in the grass when the notion struck us.

I cannot begin to count the number of hours we spent chewing on the stalks of these picture-perfect grass stems.  I’m sure we thought it made us look suave and debonair.  Or, just really cool.

I gazed, unseeing, at the photo, and life was once more a simple, carefree existence instead of the convoluted, complicated, stressful reality in which I now live.

Some days, I’d like to be back there again.

I can still feel the grass stalk between my teeth.

But, as I contemplated the gorgeous photo and wandered those old paths in my mind, I understood that this was to be only a quick trip, a there-and-back moment that would soon come to an end.  And, as I thought, my mind took a strange turn.

It does that.  Takes strange turns.

I gazed at the photo and, instead of sun shining through the spikes of grass seed, inspiring awe and amazement at the Creator’s artistic gifts, in my mind I saw the grass being struck down by a serrated  blade.  The jagged steel swung, now close, now farther away, slicing through the stalks and felling the once beautiful seed tufts to the ground.

Why would I visualize something as destructive as that, one might ask?  I could offer the excuse that I had to do that very deed many times while growing up, and it would be truthful.  The weed cutter was our weapon of choice for keeping the wild buffel grass at bay, away from the driveways and citrus trees.  It was a crude, but effective tool.

That excuse would also be a smoke screen.  The real reason my brain wants to envision the grass lying on the ground has less to do with my memories than it does my world view.  I know it seems strange, but there it is.

I can’t see beautiful seeds on the stalk without hearing the words in my head.  I have heard them over and over in my journey as a follower of Jesus.  I don’t want to erase them, and I couldn’t even if I did.

Except a seed die, it stands alone.

The words the Teacher spoke to His followers were intended to help them understand why He had to die soon.  They still couldn’t grasp it.

In my arrogance, I have been certain that I comprehended the meaning.

Super-spiritual me has grasped the meaning and made application.  All seeds must die.

All seeds must die.

And, so they must.  But, I wonder if I have fully grasped that the time of their death is in the Creator’s hands?  Do I deign to set the timetable and do the deed myself?  As I consider, I realize that I may, in my head, have misunderstood the Teacher’s words so much more than his friends did.

You see, the words applied to Himself.  While martyrdom would be required of a number of His followers, it is not a given for everyone.

It is even possible that I have mixed up the Savior’s words with those of others who followed and encouraged us to die to self and live to God.  It’s not the same thing.

It’s not.

Funny.  I have spent a lifetime thinking about those words in the wrong way.

Did you know that buffel grass (the species in my friend’s photo) has a life expectancy of ten years?  That’s a long time for grass. It is a hardy grass, with roots that go down deep, most of the time at least six feet below the surface.  It draws the moisture necessary for life from deep underground.

Heat won’t kill it.  Drought affects it only slightly.

Light a fire and it will burn like tinder.  The wildfire will spread in seconds, seemingly killing this hardy vegetation.  The ground will rapidly be seared and blackened.

Now, it’s dead.  Right?

Wrong.

Buffel grass loves fire.  The roots below the ground survive and are working immediately to regrow the stalks, and the leaves, and the seeds.  What comes up will be green, and lush, and tender.

Alive.

Again, I look at the photo, amazing in its simplicity and stark beauty.

The light shines through, doesn’t it?

In a spectacular way, Light has a way of doing that.  Even for us.  While we live, and love, and care in the place and time our Creator has planted us, His light shines through.

Time to live.  Like the grass, stretching up to the heavens, yet covering the earth.  Shimmering in the breeze, reflecting the glory of the One who created and sustains it.

Time to live.

“Do you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”
(A.A.Milne ~ English author ~1882-1956)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17 ~ ESV)

With special thanks once again to my childhood friend, Jeannean Ryman for sharing her amazing talent for finding the beauty in creation through her photographs.

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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