Saturday, August 20, 2011

Full of Sap, But not Sappy

Today's Morning Prayer contains psalm 92, a happy jumble that goes from the goodness of praising God to triumph over enemies to this little meditation on belonging to God and aging:

The just will flourish like the palm-tree *
and grow like a Lebanon cedar.
Planted in the house of the Lord, *
they will flourish in the courts of our God,
still bearing fruit when they are old, *
still full of sap, still green,
to proclaim that the Lord is just. *
In him, my rock, there is no wrong.

These verses make me smile whenever I read them, for several reasons. Notice the words I  italicized words. My sister Christina and I have a private joke about this going back to our childhood. One of us was paging through a Bible, stopped at Psalm 92, and noticed that "of sap" was italicized. We had no idea why this was. (Perhaps there was a commentator's footnote, but what kids bothers with those?)   As far as we knew, italics indicated emphasis in speaking. So we'd read out loud, "still full OF SAP, still green..." and crack up with laughter. And from then on, whenever we were together and we heard anyone say the word "sap", our eyes would meet and we'd mouth the words, "still full OF SAP", while  stifling giggles.

Today I enjoy this verse not just for   nostalgia, but for its actual meaning. With each passing day I head closer to the "old" demographic. From the perspective of many, I'd  arrived   long  ago. Childbearing ability ended several years ago, and almost simultaneously with that milestone some little aches and pains started showing up.  I've had to work hard to reign in a woman's tendency to obsess about wrinkles, bags, and sags. Even had a rare moment of agreement with feminists, resenting that  a little grey hair makes a man look "distinguished", but not so for a woman. (Although  that notion is rapidly becoming quaint, given what one reads  about the increase in men getting dye jobs.)

But from the Eternal view, we ladies (and men too)  of a certain age are  still bearing fruit, still full of sap, still green, despite the ravages.  Why? 

Well, like the psalm says, we were planted in the house of the Lord. That's Baptism. And through the grace that comes with the sacraments, we continue to flourish. That has nothing to do with physical age. In fact, a long sacramental life will only enhance spiritual  fruitfulness. Sure, we can be pretty battle-scarred by all sorts of events, even by  our own  sins. But God takes it all to fashion, prune, fertilize, and shape  that very fruitful tree. I won't bore you by repeating the claptrap about elders being wise mentors to the young. Any given senior may or may not have that gift. I don't think that's what we are talking about here. My utterances might be more sappy (excuse the pun) than sage. But a soul that perseveres in faith for years is, for that reason alone,  ever green.

St. Thomas Aquinas said something  about the little old peasant woman  telling her beads in church possessing more wisdom than the wisest of the pagan philosophers. That's the wisdom I aspire to.

The picture above is an aged apple tree in my yard. It was already leaning when we moved here 7 years ago.There's  lots of wind here in the fall and winter--this tree was obviously shaped by many gales. Then, a few years back, it snapped, the upper half remaining attached by maybe a fifth of its trunk. My husband propped the fallen main limb, but we weren't hoping for much. That was three years ago. As you see the tree has lush foliage. What you can't see is that there's enough apples on it to fill half a dozen  pies next month. The new growth reaches  upward.  Although most of the trunk is broken and rotted, somehow that remaining   sliver of sound  wood has taken over, channeling all the nourishment needed to the branches. And a baby  tree is growing up from base. Despite having been through some very hard times, that tree is full of life.   That old apple tree  comes to mind whenever I read Psalm 92.

almost pie season. can't wait.