That day Father Abbot turned to us with just as much ease and facility as if he had nothing else whatever to do but to give the first words of advice to two postulants leaving the world to become Trappists. ‘Each one of you,’ he said, ‘will make the community either better or worse. Everything you do will have an influence upon others. It can be a good influence or a bad one. It all depends on you1.
Today I want to weave an encouragement together from these profound words and a beautiful metaphor.
The metaphor is also a true story, the story of of knapweed and lupin. Dubbed by some ‘the wicked weed of the west2 knapweed is so troublesome because it essentially conducts chemical warfare on other plant species, it releases a chemical that turns the soil toxic and nothing else can grow. But then there is lupin3, a purple flowers that looks something like lavender that can grow in knapweed’s toxic soil. And! It not only can grow, it transform it by secreting neutralizing chemicals effectively creating a safe zone, a protective space for it and other species of plant to live.
Each one of you in the ground you are planted will either be lupin or knapweed, you will secret good chemicals or bad ones, the choice is yours.
Father Abbot spoke his wise words to Thomas Merton moments before Thomas handed over his wrist watch, lose cash and signed an agreement not to sue the monastery for back wages should he decide to leave and then he was cloistered. It’s likely no one reading will have this dramatic of a moment, though you could if you’d like. Our moments are generally less dramatic but no less important and I think he would agree. It feels more likely to me that we are more akin to these western plains where the battle between toxic weeds and life giving flowers wages, internally. You may currently feel neither heroic flower or wicked weed but more like the little green sprout trying to root in toxic soil. This is precisely how you bring these words ‘leave this place better.’ to life. Exactly where you are, where ever you find yourself, cultivate ‘Lupin’, secrete those neutralizing chemicals of kindness, attention, awareness so that your soil becomes safe protectives zones for all species of plants to live.
1 The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton
Artist Credit: Instagram @ryerordstar (Rebecca Yanovskaya)