October 29, 2013

Searching the Obvious

I forgot to pray.

* * *

At 7:30 a.m. my colleague and friend Martin stops by my office and places a box on the corner of my desk. It’s a gift from his wife, Tracy. He explains that over the weekend, as they walked through the botanical gardens, they saw this item and thought of me. I barely have a chance to thank Martin as he quickly heads out to teach. I have to get to my 8:00 class.

I look at the box, the heavy lid and thick green bow. What exactly made them think of me? I carefully lift the lid and see the delicate, beautiful gift: a bonsai embedded in a beautiful clay pot. Engraved on the clay pot is the phrase: “Precious Item.”

At the bottom of the box is a pamphlet. There it is, in bold print: Five Simple Steps to Care for Precious Item: Water, Soil, Housing, Pruning, and Light. As I quickly thumb through the “simple steps” (six pages with 10-point font, Arial Narrow), I feel an urgency to return the bonsai to Martin and Tracy with a note that would convey the sentiment “Thank you, but I don’t think so. This is too complicated.” Instead, I place the bonsai back in the box and begin my walk to the classroom.

As I walk across campus I walk past students, colleagues, the janitor that sings every morning while she completes a final walk through of the building, the gardener that calls everyone sir and ma’am, and a few strangers that I cannot identify as visitors or students. Entering the classroom, I realize: I forgot to pray in my office. My day is dependent on constant prayer! I immediately say a silent prayer.

Every morning when I reach my office I take a moment to pray for guidance, for strength to complete tasks I may not know are ahead for that day. I’ve already had a morning devotional at home; still I need the presence of the Holy Spirit in this environment. Working in a secular educational institution is a challenge. On a daily basis I recognize that my witness and ministry are by example. This is not always easy. I am conscious that I must walk these halls accompanied by
heavenly grace.

I glance at my lecture notes and notice I have inadvertently included the bonsai pamphlet in my lecture folder. Water, soil, housing, pruning, and light. Any precious item would thrive with those components. Any precious item would grow and take a beautiful shape with these components. Precious “items” like the students sitting here, like Martin, Tracy, and me. Suddenly my mind is inundated with reminders of Bible verses that speak of these components as necessary: living water, seed that fell on good soil, house built on rock, the vine and the branches, the light and the way. I am amazed at the extraordinary ways in which God reminds me of the ministry I am called to bear witness to.

* * *

Back in my office I consult the pamphlet to find the best housing for the bonsai. I am certain a proper name is in order. As I work, Tracy stops by for a visit. She arrives as I am placing the bonsai near the window to soak in the light. I am grateful to have the opportunity to thank her for the gift in person.

She tells me she is a minister’s daughter. She knows how hard it can be not to have the luxury to speak openly of your faith. “When I read the bonsai steps for care, I thought: This is what I try to do in my Christian life,” says Tracy. “The precious item we share with others is our example, our faith. I wanted you to know that I see you. I see your example.” Her words give me courage and also place a weight on my shoulders that only prayer will take care of.

At the end of the day the bonsai has acquired a proper name: Faith. Because a visual reminder of why I pray every day is not only good to have, it is easy to share with others: water, soil, housing, pruning, and light.