by Julie Dotterweich Gunby
Hosea 14:5-7 (ESV):
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily;
he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon;
his shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive,
and his fragrance like Lebanon.
They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow;
they shall flourish like the grain;
they shall blossom like the vine;
their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
Beauty like the olive, life, roots, shade, blossoming, flourishing …
Of course this is what I want for my life.
I want to have real, genuine goods.
I want the patient humility of Father Jimmy Boyle, who with his missing fingers and mild manner celebrated mass for 35 years in not only the L’arche community, but also in the penal-like state institution for adults with developmental disabilities.
I want the radical faithfulness of my coworker who now patiently tends the daily needs of her husband with early onset Alzheimer’s- the very husband who, when he was well, was cruel, distant, and emotionally manipulative.
I want the frightful courage of families who willingly adopt children from orphanages, knowing full well what the ravages that reactive attachment disorder will bring, and that love cannot heal their children’s wounds.
But, of course, that’s not true.
I don’t want those things.
I *want* to want those goods.
Patient humility, radical faithfulness, frightful courage — these have a beauty that is like the ancient olive tree, a gnarled, wisened beauty that matures over time, and still puts forth fruit after hundreds, even thousands of years. A tree that makes fruit both bitter and sweet, that is nourishing for food and for oil for anointing.
These kinds of deep, other-worldly goods are not what I actually want.
These are not what I rush through my work to get to.
No, what I want, at the end of the day, is another glass of red wine, a chance to binge watch some Netflix, a gushing word of praise about my own virtue, a clever thrift store find, a donut, a nap, a flash of self-righteous indignation.
The goods that I actually want are the moral equivalents of candy corn. Easy on the tongue, vapid and depleting in the end.
What would it take to cross this chasm, to want the goods I might, on my best days, almost want?
A hint comes a few verses earlier in this prophecy — in that day “we will say no more, ‘our God’ to the work of our hands.” (Hosea 14:3)
In these weeks of Lent, we have a brief chance to deny ourselves some of the trinket goods and vapid pleasures we make for our own enjoyment.
In so doing, we ask that God might give us a taste for olive oil, whole grain, and the fruit of the vine.
Real goods are an acquired taste.
We cannot force ourselves to enjoy them as good any more than a child can come from the womb craving spicy paneer bhurji.
We cannot cultivate a taste for mature beatitude any more than an orphan can force herself to form attachments after years of abandonment.
But here Hosea is right too– the promise of goodness is possible because Israel is known and loved by “the One in whom the orphan finds mercy.” (14:3)
Perhaps I must begin not by imagining myself as the adoptive mother who holds radical space to bring new life, but as the broken child tied to the bed, with knowledge of nothing but her own desire.
Oh God, we ask that you continue to tirelessly mother us,
to set before us a table rich with Your food.
Bear with us when we can do no more than choke down tiny bites
and reach for desserts of our own making.
Love us with patient, radical, frightful courage,
forgive us when we fight you off and spit it back.
May we, in the end, return and “dwell beneath your shadow,
flourish like the grain, and blossom like the vine.”