Under the Weather of the World – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Once upon a time there was a young Elm tree, and, sadly, he was miserable most of his days. The weather was so fickle, often just plain awful; one day, too much rain, another snow and hail; ice and cold, burning heat, or terrible winds. Sometimes cloudy days would go on forever with no hint of Sun. And the young Elm would lament bitterly.

Nearby, their lived an old Oak tree, standing silently by as the weather did what it did. Hot or cold, dark or sunny, windy or calm, wet or dry, the old Oak just stood content and still, wearing a smile more often than not.

The young Elm would spy the old Oak, baffled and, increasingly, annoyed. It’s cold and snowing, for God’s sake, what could that old Oak be smiling about? Until one day, the young Elm could stand it no longer, and he said to the old Oak, “Why on earth are you smiling? The weather is horrible… why aren’t you miserable like I am? What do you know that I don’t know?”

You know, trees have so much to teach us. I suppose that’s why they come up so often in scripture. Take, the prophet, Jeremiah, for instance, writing:

“Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” 

I suppose this small saying must have struck a chord, because it was used again as the first psalm in the Book of Psalms. As in many other places in scripture, we’re told “do not fear, do not worry” and this time we’re given a reason. We’re blessed with no fear if our roots drink from this eternal source of life and nourishment. And we bear good fruit for the world even in not-so-good weather, and even if that fruit is something as simple as a smile.

On the other hand, woe to those who trust in mere mortals, and when we trust solely in our own sense of self in the world. Woe to those whose hearts turn away from God, when we insist on taking our strength from mere flesh rather than from God’s Spirit of Truth. Woe to us when we remain enslaved to the whims of the weather, basing our happiness on what the world has to offer rather than on the Peace and Joy of Christ.

Drinking from the river of Christ’s Light as our source of Life is like falling in Love with God, in Love with Love. It’s like waking up one day and recognizing God’s Kingdom all around us, in all things, including the weather, just as it happens to be. 

In the 2017 movie, The Shape of Water, we’re introduced to a woman named Elisa Esposito, who, we’re told, was found as a child abandoned on a riverbank, mute and communicating only with sign language. She works as a cleaner at a government facility, and as the movie opens, we’re given a glimpse of her daily routine. 

She rises from bed and begins a slow, lifeless, shuffle along a well-worn path. Her routine unfolds, sharply defined by a precise schedule, but punctuated by small movements hinting at a deeper longing within. A luxurious bath is cut short as the hands of her wall clock relentlessly tick forward; a still, peaceful, moment before a dark sky interrupted by a reluctant glance at her watch; and her wistful gaze upon red dance shoes in a shop window ends as a city bus arrives, ferrying her to work.

The color in these scenes is muted and dull, as if the life has been drained from each frame, and the palette darkens even further as Elisa enters the bus and finds a seat. Rain beings to fall, and she casts a forlorn look out the window. We’re shown this journey on the bus a few times more throughout the film, always with that dreary darkness, and a miserable, dull, resignation suffusing the scene. 

And then, something happens. Elisa falls in love, and one night, consummating this love, she enters blissful union with her Beloved. The next morning, raining and dark as usual, Elisa catches her bus. She gazes out the window as she normally does, but this time the forlorn expression is gone. Instead, a bemused smile plays on her lips as a sliver of sunlight brightens her face. She becomes transfixed by the movement of raindrops along the glass, and traces the dancing drops with her fingers, watching in amusement and awe as two of the drops briefly spin around each other before merging into one.

Nothing has changed about Elisa’s ride to work. The weather remains rainy and dark, and the scene still seems lifelessly dreary. Nothing has changed, except Elisa’s wondrous attention and contented smile. Another passenger sitting behind her seems weary and miserable as usual, and we might imagine them thinking “What does she know that I don’t know?”

The old Oak paused a moment, mulling over the young Elm’s question. It laughed, and said “I don’t know that I know much at all, really. It’s just, well, the weather is always changing, and we can’t do much about it.  Sometimes there’s a drought, and sometimes there’s plenty of rain. Sometimes it’s windy, other times hardly any breeze at all. Sometimes it’s dark and cold, and sometimes it’s sunny and warm.”

“I know all that,” the young Elm replied, “that’s why I’m so miserable… the weather is always shifting this way and that, and never stays the way I like it.”

“That’s true,” the old Oak replied, “the weather is always changing, but there is one thing that doesn’t change. Deep below there’s a river of Peace and Joy that never dries up. It’s where the Holy One lives, and if we send our roots down far enough, we drink from this eternal water of Light and Life. It feels a bit like falling in love, except, it’s like falling in love with everything, even the weather doing whatever the weather does.”

The prophet, Jeremiah, understood this, and knew that like a tree with roots in nourishing water, we have no reason to fear as long as we send our roots down to drink from God’s Love.  We have no reason to fear when the heat comes, when the drought comes, because when we love our God with all our heart, we fall in love with Love, and we begin to see the world as God sees it. Nourished by the river of Christ’s Light, we let ourselves rest in the Oneness of God’s being. And then we find God’s presence everywhere, whatever the weather of the world happens to be doing. 

We enter a place where raindrops on a bus window become a dance of infinite beauty. The way God looks at us, with awe and wonder and love, is how we see the world when we trust in the Lord, when our trust is the Lord, content simply to abide in the Holy One’s presence. 

As the film ends, and the screen fades to black from its final scene, we’re treated to a small poem. It’s a portion of a larger work titled The Enclosed Garden of the Truth, written by the Sufi poet Hakim Sanai. It reads:

“Unable to perceive the shape of You // I find You all around me. // Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, // It humbles my heart, // For You are everywhere…”

The young Elm tree was puzzled by the old Oak’s answer, but there didn’t seem to be anything more the Oak wanted to say. So, the young Elm said, “Well, I’m not sure if I believe all that, but I suppose I’ll consider it.”

Many, many years later there lived a young Pine tree. Sadly, though, she was miserable most of the time. The weather never seemed quite right. Too wet, too dry, too cold, too hot, too bright, too cloudy. But nearby she noticed an old Elm tree, and that Elm tree would just stand there, still and content whatever the weather would do. One day, when the young Pine could bear it no longer, she said to the old Elm, “This weather is horrible, I hate it, and never stays the way I like. But, through storms, and heat, snow, and wind, you just stand there, pleased as can be. What do you know that I don’t know?”

The old Elm, moved by how the young Pine suffered so, considered how best to answer, and as it did so it turned, and smiled.

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  1. Carolyn Legg on February 19, 2022 at 14:00

    Wonderful illustration of God’s love and care for us if we sink our roots into the well. Thank you

  2. Anne Byrd Godwin on February 17, 2022 at 01:33

    This is so very beautiful, and still so simple. Thank you for your wise words. I will cherish them

  3. Carol V on February 16, 2022 at 13:55

    Thank you so much Brother Bartoli!
    This was life, focus and attitude changing!

  4. Margo on February 16, 2022 at 09:59

    Thank you Br, Nicholas. Two lovely stories beautifully put together. Margo

  5. John B. Fritschner on February 16, 2022 at 07:26

    Thank you for this message. The way you were able to weave the story of the trees, Jeremiah and the film is just beautiful. It will give me something to think about as I go forward today.

  6. Rev. Michael Watson on February 16, 2022 at 05:40

    Brother Bartoli, I read the SSJE emails every day, and I always drink them in. Your commentary on Jeremiah is awesome. I am an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of New York. I would love to communicate with you about a book I am working on entitled Renewal and Hope. I would like to include the story (with attribution to you) of the trees in a chapter of my book, because the story emphatically demonstrates the wisdom of standing firm in God’s love and God’s provision for our lives.

  7. Elizabeth Clifford on February 19, 2019 at 16:32

    Beautifully done, Brother. Blessings as you give your life to Love!

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