This summer, I took our kids to the Hurtsville Interpretative Center in Maquoketa, just north of us here in Eastern Iowa. It’s a nature center – full of trails and places to play in tallgrass prairie and wetlands. Our kids looked at flowers, watched the birds, and delighted in the big open space. Inside the nature center, we looked at turtles, snakes, and fish in aquariums, and other taxidermy animals in dioramas.
But I spent most of my time, much to my kids’ confusion, looking at a display of prairie grasses planted in a huge clear plastic container. The grasses and plants native to this corner of the world have remarkable beauty and strength, able to withstand heat and flood, drought and trampling.
But what I didn’t know, until I saw that display at Hurtsville, was the size of their roots. While the tallest of prairie grasses might grow 4 or 5 feet tall – the root systems get as deep as 12 feet below the soil. These plants often have greater biomass below the surface of the earth than there is above it. And this is what allows them to thrive, no matter what the circumstance – and not just thrive, but help to sustain the soil, the water, and the whole ecosystem around them.
While I looked at those roots, I thought of the people around me that have a prairie grass kind of faith. They’ve got this inner sturdiness, a sense of grounding, this inner source of hope and peace that helps them to be, well, rooted, even when life throws all kinds of challenges their way. Like coneflowers or blazing stars, most of their faith is hidden, quietly powerful, but is evident in their resilience and hope. And – like those prairie grasses, their faith brings goodness not only to them but everyone they meet.
Jesus talks about his word, planted in soil, and how the ones with shallow roots cannot grow. The Psalmist talks about the joy of the one who takes delight in the law of God, meditating on God’s word night and day. They “are like trees planted by the water, which yield their fruit in due season and their leaves do not wither” (Psalm 1:3).
But there are many times, especially in recent days, when the grief of my own heart and the weight of loss in the world feel big. It’s like I’m leaning over in weariness like my hydrangeas after a heavy rain. Or when our anxiety and fear pull us in, when we are just overwhelmed and exhausted and feel as dried out like my lawn right now. As this pandemic rages on and violence persists and grief is so real, these are heavy days, like when the prairies are trampled or flooded.
But even now, especially now, we can take some lessons from the compass plant and the switchgrass and dig our roots deep into our trust that God will hold us through whatever we experience. Instead of seeking quick fixes. or numbing tactics, or whatever we do that cannot bring us sustaining joy, we can sink roots into community, prayer, service, generosity. We can take time to ground ourselves in the goodness we know that comes from being loved and showing love to the world, from God’s sustaining grace.
We can be trees planted by the water, or a purple prairie clover blooming in the prairie. And this is how, even in the most challenging of circumstances, we can find strength, hope, and even joy.