Watering a dry bit of wood for three years

By Michael Goltz

By Michael Goltz

People said that Father John the Dwarf withdrew and lived in the desert with an old man of Thebes. His spiritual guide took a piece of dry wood, planted it, and said to him, "Water it everyday with a bottle of water, until it bears fruit." Now the water was so far away that he had to leave in the evening and return the following morning. At the end of three years the wood came to live and bore fruit. Then the old man took some of the fruit and carried it to the church, saying to the brothers, "Take and eat the fruit of obedience." - The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers by Paraclete Essentials 2010

The desert fathers and mothers elevated the virtue of obedience and, while this is still a laudable virtue, here in The United States obedience is not something that we hang our hat on. Freedom, sure. Liberty, you betcha. Rights of the individual over the whole. U.S.A.! This story is a story told to meditate about the fruits of obedience. I would like to bring to bring something else to the surface.

The Church is constantly in search for the next big thing that will keep people in worship, giving or at least happy. You see sermon series that are like if Weird Al Yankovic and Jesus got together to put a Christian sheen on some pop culture moment (such as iPod to "iPray"). You see theatrics that rival a broadway show or even an off the wall stunt like sitting on the roof of your church in a bed with your spouse (for those who have to click the link, I have done the work for you).

I get it. Traditional churches, like the one I serve, all need money to pay the bills. However, when the business voice of facilitating a community is louder than the Jesus voice that calls that community into existence, then we get some weird stuff. And even more than that, we become focused on the short term and we are quickly fearful when the numbers begin to show a downward slump. So we are quick to change things. Keep things fresh and new. Appeal to the new and abandon that which is not working. 

The above story of John the Dwarf reminds me that there is something to be said for sticking to something. People who study people notice that those with "grit" are those who live fuller and more complete lives. John the Dwarf was many things, perhaps we could say he was gritty.

Would you be willing to water dry wood for years not knowing if there will ever be fruit? Would you be willing to tend to a tedious task of walking all night and into the dawn with a bottle of water and resist the temptation to make the journey more efficient or streamlined?

This metaphor is about more than obedience, grit or faithfulness. It is a metaphor about the spiritual life. It is a life that is full of hope and faith that your teacher knows something that you do not know, which is why you water dry wood.