Succulents

Last week I purchased a small succulent to use in our Lenten tabletop garden. (I will post more on that when I’m a bit farther along.) I set it in the kitchen windowsill and see it every time I’m in front of the sink, which is to say, frequently. I worried a little when I purchased it because I am a notorious Neglecter of Plants and the results have been grim. However, I reasoned that succulents thrive on neglect so it might have a chance.

While washing dishes this morning I decided that I really did need to look up some care instructions because it would probably need some water and I wasn’t certain of the proper amount of sun. Given how gray it has been lately I know it has had only minimal sunlight so far, even in a west-facing window.

I remembered, having had biology in school, that the succulent’s design is perfect for drought-prone areas because of the small, thick leaves and relatively small surface area. However, I did my research anyway. Botany is not my area of expertise. One thing I had forgotten is the ability of succulents to take advantage of even trace amounts of water in the environment: “Succulents have the ability to thrive on limited water sources, such as mist and dew, which makes them equipped to survive in an ecosystem which contains scarce water sources.” [source]

You know what? We need to take the humble succulents as models for ourselves. Christ promised He would provide “living water”:

So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” [John 4:5-14]

So we can have this living water just for the asking, but can we hold onto it? I think I can say that most of us live in a spiritual desert. We are surrounded by much heat and light, dry winds, but little spiritual water. If we don’t become spiritual succulents we will eventually dry and wither.

First, like the succulents we must soak up this living water wherever we can. We have to adjust ourselves to be receptive to even trace amounts of water. How do we do this? Obviously we need to avail ourselves of the sacraments and attend church services whenever possible. We can also pray daily at home. Play favorite liturgical music in the car or listen to an Orthodox podcast. Place icons, even small icon cards, in your car, at your workplace (where possible – at the hospital I had them under the clear cover of my 3-ring binder), in your locker at school. Look for small ways to surround yourself with God.

Second, just as the succulents we need to guard ourselves against things that would rob us of this hard-won water. Reduce surface area – in other words, cut down on the amount of time we spend voluntarily entering arid places online or in movies and books. Reduce the influence of people who would suck us dry. Be humble. Who survives a drought best? A flashy hibiscus or a more solid aloe? Simplify your life. The thinner you spread yourself, the more opportunities you are giving living water to evaporate.

As Lent fast approaches, I am mindful of the succulent. I, too, need not only to absorb living water where I can, but also not allow it to escape unnoticed…

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