Monday, April 24, 2017

ROOTED: A guest post by Elliott Blackwell

 A few months ago I made a new online friend, Elliott Blackwell. On his blog, Begin With Wonder, he writes prolifically and profoundly about faith, doubt, questions, family, books, prayer, and many other things. I am always both challenged and encouraged by his reflections.

I asked Elliott a while back if he might write a guest post for me, and he suggested we do guest posts for one another on the same day, on the same theme -- so that is what we are doing today. He offered this quote from Simone Weil as a prompt:

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”

I love what Elliott has written about roots and the need to go further on the inward journey to discover our identity in God.  I'm honoured to feature his piece here today as a guest post. 



"To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul." 
- Simone Weil

We have lived in our house for nearly twenty-one years. That's the longest I have lived in any one place. It's the home we brought our older son home from the hospital after he was born and the same one we brought our younger son home to after we adopted him from Ukraine. The house is filled with memories of holidays and birthdays and all the ups and downs that come with marriage and having a family. We have become rooted not only to this house, but our church and community in the small town where we live.

How many people feel uprooted because they don't have a sense of community? Of communion with something larger in vision than themselves? Who don't have the immense fulfillment that comes with the fellowship of close and dear friends?

But how many in this day and age choose to do that? How many still long to devote themselves to a place and learn about it and oneself within that environment? Certainly, it is rare that anyone devotes their entire lives to a place.

Whenever I think of someone who is deeply rooted to a place, my mind immediately goes to the author and activist Wendell Berry, who’s lived most of his life on his farm, Lane's Landing, in central Kentucky.  He writes in his book Roots to the Earth:

Having once put his hand into the ground,
seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,
a man has made a marriage with his place,
and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.

Some of my favorite authors are all known for their rootedness to a place: Eudora Welty, Marilynne Robinson, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck to name just a few.

Rootedness requires time and patience, which is something many do not have in this frantic, frenetic paced world. We don't stand still long enough to set down any depths of roots. Too many of us are under the misconception that happiness is always somewhere else. If I just lived here then everything would be great. Think of the French Impressionist Claude Monet who spent 20 years of his life simply painting the water lilies from his own garden that became the masterpieces he was most known for. Monet discovered that simply by observing where he was, he could find inspiration. As he said, "Every day I discover more and more beautiful things. It's enough to drive one mad. I have a desire to do everything. my head is bursting with it." How much beauty would be missing from the world if he had not been there to paint his very own garden and those water lilies? What masterpieces might we not have?

Since it's Spring, that means I become once again busy in our garden: weeding, planting, feeding, watering. A friend of mine who runs his own nursery told me that, when picking out plants to buy, people go about it the wrong way. "They shouldn't look at the flowers," he said, "they should be looking at the roots. The roots tell you if it's a good, healthy plant or not." But isn't that so like us? We are distracted by the superficial, but don't focus on the roots of something. It reminded me of a line by the Sufi poet Rumi, "Maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots."

Scientists studying a single rye grass plant were amazed to discover that, after only four months, it had set down 387 miles of roots. A Pando or quaking aspen that's found in Utah has roots that cover 106 acres. The Wild Fig tree in South Africa has roots that go downwards 400 feet.

How much depth do we find in ourselves?

In his Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke advised the novice to go deep within himself if he wanted to truly write poetry. How many of us are willing to do this? In his Duino Elegies, Rilke wrote:

Yet no matter how deeply I go down into myself, my God is dark,
and like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence.

To be rooted is to be connected. Only in the silence, only in the depths do we begin to encounter God. That's why the Apostle Paul wrote for followers of Christ to become rooted and grounded in love, that they may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and depth and height. But this takes work and patience and waiting: none of which are cultivated in our society that prizes speed and effectiveness over time and lastingness. To become firmly planted, we must be rooted in Christ, and to become rooted in him, we must go further than our outward journeys take us and go deeper into an inward journey because it's only there that one's roots can grow deep and then, after that, our fruits can grow abundantly. But this requires letting go of our egos and our false selves to confront just who we really are in Christ.

Rooted in Greek is rhizoo and it means "to take root, to fix firmly, to be thoroughly grounded." Thoroughly grounded. We have great, huge oak trees in our yard. They are older than our hundred-year-old house, and yet their root system is not deep. In our neighborhood, we have seen, after bad storms, oaks that have been uprooted by heavy wind and rain. There is no depth to their root systems. 

How many of us are this way?

What is keeping us from growing deeper roots?

To be rooted means to "Be still" as the Psalmist reminds us. It means we must stop in quiet attentiveness and listen. It means we must begin with emptiness. It means we must abide and wait. How many of us get anxious when we aren't doing something? I know many people who cannot stand to be still. Many are like Martha who is running herself ragged in preparations. They are frustrated with what they view as inactivity in Mary, who sits at the feet of Christ listening to his voice. Is it any wonder that Jesus tells Martha, "You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed - or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her."

Mary is being still and she will know God.

There is a time for being practical and efficient, but not at the expense of being rooted spiritually. The beginning of this story tells us that Martha was "distracted with much serving." How many of us prefer our distractions? How often do we use them to avoid communion with Christ?  We don't want to be like the ones the prophet Jeremiah spoke of when he said they were planted but, while their lips spoke of God, their hearts were far from Him.

We need not fear going deeper. As Simone Weil wrote, "If we go down into ourselves, we find that we possess exactly what we desire." Thomas Merton expressed it as, ". . .if you delve deeply into yourself, you will discover holiness there."

If we are to have rootedness, we must delve deeper. We must be still and quiet enough to listen, to be in communion.  As Colossians 2:6-7 reminds us, "Therefore, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."


Be sure to check out more of Elliott's thoughtful writing at Begin With Wonder. 

(My post, "A Reflection on Roots," appears on his blog today as well.)


  1. I love reading your posts and how you share your life and insights so beautifully with each one. It has certainly been an honor and a privilege to be allowed to guest blog for you today and for having your grace-filled words on my own. Thank you again for the opportunity.

    1. The pleasure is mine! This has been really enjoyable.

  2. I like your examination of 'roots'.
    The most common metaphor for our life, and our spiritual life is as a 'journey'. But this always disappointed me because,
    1) It implies there is something wrong with where we are and there is some value in going somewhere else, somewhere better
    2) For people with jobs and families, we need to stay 'rooted', and we need metaphors to help us live richly in one place.
    I do think a big problem is not that we choose to move around frantically, but that our mobile economy forces us to relocate frequently.

    1. Such a great comment, Jeff - thanks! I will make sure Elliott sees it.


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