There is a tree just across the alley from my office window. Right now, it is kind of scraggly. The branches are bare of leaves. It is what my mom might describe as “puny,” one of her all-time favorite words. If I were to judge my tree from this distance and in this moment, I might offer a rather mundane assessment. It is a tree that is sublimely unnoticeable.
But I remember that tree last spring and summer. I remember the bright new growth. I remember the full green vitality. The birds who used that tree for a launching pad to my window bird feeder remember, too. The memory of that other time assures me in this moment that something wonderful is about to happen to the tree across the alley.
And when I walk up to that tree and look very closely, I can see the buds forming on the little twiggly branches. I can see the aspect of what will be already present in the fragile new life. When I get in really close so that I can see what’s truly going on, I know that I am just about to witness a miracle on the tree across the alley.
Over the next few weeks, the tree is going to be transformed. No longer the scraggly, puny specimen it is right now, it will bud, then blossom, then come to full, vibrant health. It won’t happen all at once, but moment by moment, inexorably, gradually. By the time I sit here again next month, writing Andy’s Articulation for May, it will seem to be a different tree altogether.
We need to be careful, don’t we, when we might be tempted to make a judgment based on a momentary glance taken from a distance. Before we do so, we need to remember – remember where we have been, the places from where we have come, the experiences we have shared. We need to remember how God has been at work not only in the moment but also through the years, through the generations, in fact, through all time and even beyond. And we need to remember that God will be at work in this world long after we’ve gone.
Before we offer that judgment, we need to look closely – look closely at the variables in the given situation, the people involved, the relationships forming. We need to be as fully engaged as possible in the situation and know as much about it as we can before we make any kind of judgment, one way or the other. I am sure that God is overlooked vastly more often than noticed in the world around us, and I would guess that most often it happens when we are not truly looking closely enough.
Jesus cautioned, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24, NRSV). If I judge the tree across the alley by “mere appearances,” it’s really not much of a tree. But if I remember and if I look closely, I can make a “right judgment,” knowing that the tree will soon come to life again.
By the way, this works with people, too!