A few weeks ago, as winter was winding its way down (or so we thought) in Minnesota, I found myself sitting outside in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the warm sunshine with a couple of days to refocus at a Franciscan retreat center.
And so, with the sun shining through the towering overhead palm trees I sat down next to a gnarly old olive tree. I loved the way this tree looked from every angle. The way its trunk crawled up out of the ground and headed off in so many different directions. The way it was anchored to the earth by hundreds of woody fingers gripping so tightly. The way it had been in this place since before the Franciscans had purchased the property, or so I imagined.
The first day as I began to draw I focused on mostly just the oldness and gnarlyness of the tree. To me it looked and felt tough. It was strong, but oh so weathered. It was tough. It was prickly. It had wrestled whatever life it could, during it’s long and dry years in this unforgiving climate, through the hard and difficult work of being a tree. I admired its long and difficult life.
The second day I sat in a different place and began another drawing. And this day it felt completely different to me. There was a gentle breeze and the sun didn’t fee quite so scorching on my head as I began to draw.
And not too far from me was another retreatant, a lady who had been coming to this retreat center for a number of years. She saw me drawing and began to strike up a conversation. I was so impressed with her graceful curiosity of what I was doing. Of how my quite time that morning communing with my heavenly Father involved drawing and praying—talking with God about what he’d so loving and perfectly created, myself, this tree and the kind lady asking me questions.
After awhile, as she got up to walk away, I noticed how her legs could barely carry her. How she had to walk so slowly because of whatever she had suffered throughout her long life. I noticed how much she was like the tree I was drawing—somewhat gnarly. And I also noticed how incredible full of grace—graceful she was.
Both this lady with her wobbly legs and this old olive tree were deeply graceful. Neither still possessed the grace of a young shoot, a young woman, rather a deep, deep grace that almost defies description. A grace that put others at complete peace in their presence. A grace that doesn’t hesitate to meet other’s needs. A grace that seldom makes itself the focus. A grace the reflects the creator because of all the years and experience that helped to shape it. A deeply imbedded grace.