Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Isaiah 11:1-10:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;

he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.

They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

If you notice in the photo, a little tree is beginning to grow out of an old dead stump. In this particular photo, it's a birch tree growing out of a beech stump.

One of my odd childhood recollections is when the Dutch Elm Disease got so bad, in the mid-to-late 60's. So many little midwestern towns had these lovely canopies of stately, 80-100 year old elms that shaded the main streets of towns, and in just a few years, those streets were bare--devastated by the Dutch Elm Disease.

My grandparents' yard took a terrible hit from the Dutch Elm Disease. They lost several large to medium sized elms. Suddenly the shady backyard my dog Peetee and I played in was stark and bare and hot in the 100 degree/100% humid Augusts that are pretty typical in Missouri. All these bare stumps sat in the yard like grave markers.

Then, the next summer, I was out playing, and I saw it.

It was a little shoot coming out of one of the old dead elm stumps.

But it wasn't an elm. It was a little oak seedling.

I went and showed it to my granny. She told me it was a "stump sucker," and probably a squirrel had hidden an acorn under the bark last winter and had forgotten about it. "Oh, it'll probably die. Sometimes they find a way to take root, but mostly they don't." She told me there wasn't anything I could do to "help" it. It had to either make it on its own, or die. I remember feeling a little sorry for it--like I was looking at something on Death Row.

It was one of the first things I prayed about in earnest that I remember, other than the rote prayers I had learned for bedtime and in Sunday School, and the prayers that were more like wish lists to Santa. What's odd is, I think I remember it because I did something that now seems sort of counter-intuitive to a little kid. I didn't pray for it to live. I prayed for it to not struggle.

I don't remember all my thoughts about it--after all, this was a long time ago--but I remember what bothered me the most about that stump sucker was that I didn't want it to get big enough to "start thinking it could really be a tree, and then starve." I thought about the time one of our dogs had a litter of puppies and one was deformed, and my dad killed it on the spot. Upset, I ran to find my grandpa. "It can't ever live like that," my grandpa told me, "So he had to put it out of its misery. It wouldn't be right for it to just get to start to live, and sicken and die. Dogs don't understand those things the way people do."

So I had this worry--and I never told any of the grownups my worry--that the little shoot would just get to figuring out it was a tree, and die. I had thought about just ripping it out and killing it, but I didn't, because I realized my grandparents sort of enjoyed looking at it, and I would probably be spanked if I did. So I left it alone and worried, and in a roundabout way, prayed it would die.

But it didn't die. It grew--and grew--and grew some more, with each passing year.

If you drive by what used to be my grandparents' house, in that spot is about a 50 foot tall oak tree. It's now wider than the stump from which it came.

I think it was one of my first lessons that "God's plan is not always my plan, and on the whole, God's is better. What I think ought to happen 'for the best,' isn't always what happens, and I'm often wrong about that."

So where's the nipsis in our reading from Isaiah for the second week of Advent?

Some of nipsis, I think, is being aware of opportunity, even opportunity in which we don't quite believe is possible. Sometimes, I think we take the fatalistic approach to shield ourselves from our own pain. When I think back to my childhood story, I have to ask myself: Did I really want the tree not to "die in the knowledge that it could have been a tree," or was I really saying, "I don't want the pain of watching this tree die?" Did I want to kill the stump sucker "to put it out of its misery," or did I want to put myself out of my misery?

Well, probably some of both. I think compassion is a double edged razor blade. We feel for others because we feel things within ourselves.

Within each of us, I believe, is the same stump of Jesse that was in Jesus.

I think each of us finds, as we begin to grow spiritually, the emergence of little stump suckers. They are alike in that they are "trees" but they are different as divinity is to humanity, as oaks are to elms and birches to beeches. Some of them won't make it; they'll die. But some will grow...and grow...and grow some more if we simply don't get impatient with our own pain and rip them out. Stately, rich trees, springing from places where trees are not supposed to grow.

Advent is a time to simply wonder what seeds are hidden within us. Not the seeds we know we planted ourselves, but the acorns that squirrels might have left behind and have forgotten. It's a time to accept things will grow despite lack of care, despite our lack of awareness, and whether we want them to or not. They might even grow when we are secretly praying for them to die.

Really, this isn't any different than the virgin birth, now, is it? Things growing within us when we have never "known" how they got there.

Perhaps that's the greatest miracle of all.


Ah I have been wondering about various things .... you give me a new way to wonder about things going on in my life.

Thank you



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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