It had been years since I’d seen it: the pale gilt and silver of winter milkweed.
Milkweed is a paradoxical plant. It is the only food and childhood home of the monarch. For that alone it should be celebrated and loved. But it lives on the margins, in the marshes, and is mostly ingored. Those who feel passionately about it often hate it — a sticky mess of a plant, that won’t behave, and leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
In summer, I can walk past it — not notice, unless the butterflies are there. But in winter, it is glorious: pods curled back to show their gold heart and the fraying satin of home-body seeds.
It is this that draws me — the paradox of scattering and gathering. The clinging seeds that keep me grounded, while heart soars with all the seed that flew.
Sometimes, my sense of church pulls like that last seed in the winter pod. Should we cling so long, and at such cost, to something so unpromising? Should we hold on, so that the future is rooted in this place?
Church, for me, is not a place, but a yearning. A willingness to be stretched and torn and blown on the wind because this is the only hope there is.
Every year, it seems, the church tears itself apart. We start out, dreaming of justice, longing for beauty, trusting that God calls us to transforming grace — and our mouths go dry crying against the wind, railing against the ever rising injustice, against the cruelties and prejudices that we thought we’d moved passed, that grew stronger as we looked the other way.
Today, too many in the church I love are hurting — we hurt over botched invitations to Lambeth, and the systemic injustice that speaks of ‘women priests’ as something you can choose to believe in. We are worn down by abuse of power, a readiness to blame the victims, and a cultural habit that silences those who speak out. Sometimes, we are simply tired of the tedium and prose, and dream of a church more lovely, wild and free.
The seeds that cling in the winter pod are resilient. The filagree of silk that could so easily be crushed, might even yet break free. Soar. Dance. And if it doesn’t? Well, it will eventually drop to the ground, set another dream in place, create another stubborn weed trying to bring glory out of the mud. It is what we are called to. Some must stay for the butterflies. It is the only food there is.