Drifting in God’s love
By Andy Willis
There are pieces of driftwood all over the church office right now. In fact, there’s one sitting on the desk in front of me. It’s a small branch, clearly snapped from a larger one, and it’s surprisingly soft to the touch, almost like velvet when you run your fingers along the grain. Maybe most striking is how light it is: this limb that once supported part of a living, growing tree is now thoroughly dried out and practically weightless, barely heavier than a leaf.
The office isn’t normally full of driftwood, but during Lent there are usually piles of something strange cluttering up the room. Last year there were teapots and watering cans and pitchers; the year before there were mismatched platters and dinner plates. This year, it’s wood that washed up on the beach in Prangins.
“Anyone who says he’s never felt like driftwood before probably isn’t telling the truth,” one of our members said when we began this season. I couldn’t agree more. Who hasn’t felt adrift at some point, broken and cracked, tossed about and washed up on some unfamiliar shore? I think we recognize something of ourselves in these strange bits of wood invading our sanctuary with their knots and their frayed ends and their chipped or peeling bark. We usually try to hide those knots and frays and chips, of course, but with the driftwood, it’s all on display. There’s something lovely about that—and also more than a little uncomfortable. “I guess I am a little like that misshapen, battered branch up there on the altar,” I think to myself. “I wonder if anyone knows that.”
Lent is a good time for those sorts of uncomfortable realizations. The traditions of this season—fasting and prayer and self-examination—are there to help us recognize our vulnerability, our humanity, our dependence on God, and to face them with greater honesty than we perhaps normally do.
In the stories of Holy Week, the disciples look a whole lot more like pieces of driftwood than “oaks of righteousness,” to use Isaiah’s poetic words. We recognize something of ourselves in their fearfulness, in their silence before injustice, in their tentative steps toward the Kingdom of God and their much more purposeful fleeing when the going gets tough.
So driftwood is a potent image for Lent, it turns out. But I’m learning that it’s not only a Lenten image. When it’s floating out at sea, driftwood can provide shelter and food for birds and fish. When it washes up on shore, it can become a home for plants and animals. It can end up serving as a foundation for sand dunes in some places. Creation is not actually finished with a branch that breaks and lands in the water—far from it, in fact.
And God is not finished with us, either. That’s where the story of Holy Week finally goes—to a God who becomes chipped and frayed with and for us, who rises with the promise that we can never drift beyond love, and who builds something new and astoundingly beautiful from his driftwood disciples.
For now, it’s Lent, and the driftwood is there, washed up on the shores of the sanctuary and the office. But this is not the end of the story. Through Christ, new life continues to come.