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Archive for June, 2008

Sunday night, five of us were driving back from “Kung Fu Panda.”  Gemma was at the wheel, I was riding shot-gun, and TJ, Wendy, and Lana were piled in the back.  We talked about our favorite parts of the movie … mine was the Peach Tree of Wisdom.  This reminded Lana of a story!

The last time we all went to the movies, Gemma introduced us (via CD) to an inspirational, African-American preacher who told us about his peach tree of wisdom. Lana had been listening, and this is what she recalled.

Basically, when this preacher was young, he ate a peach one afternoon, and his father told him that if he planted the seed, it would grow into a tree.  So he planted it.  The next day, bursting with expectation, the young preacher-to-be ran out into the backyard to see the tree.  But there wasn’t one.  There was nothing. The ground, in which he had planted the seed, gave not even the slightest hint of the promised peach tree.

When he came to check the next day, matters were exactly the same.  So it was the next day and the next day and the next.  On the fifth day, the youngster’s father found him in the backyard crying.

“Why are you crying?”  his father asked him.

The young man explained himself. His father had promised that a peach tree would grow from the seed if he planted it.  He had planted it, but days later there was nothing!

The father might have been tempted to laugh, but he didn’t.  Instead, he got down on his knees and explained to his son that peach trees take four to five years to grow and produce fruit. 

Years later, the disappointed boy who became a preacher had a point to make about that peach tree. His own father had promised that a peach tree would grow from the seed he planted, which was true, but not immediately obvious.

In a similar way, God the Father gives us promises.  They are true promises, and they will come to pass.  But we often expect them in five days instead of five years.  

When I got back home from the movies, meditating on what Lana had recalled, I decided to read a little bit about peach trees. It turns out that, yes, they flourish in Georgia, but otherwise, they can be notoriously difficult to cultivate.  They won’t tolerate excessive moisture; their roots need proper drainage.  They must have “chill hours,” that is, 200-450 hours of 32-45 degree cold weather that somehow helps produce fruit.  To get good fruit, the gardener has to protect the tree from bugs and worms and brown-rot.  To get full fruit, the gardener has to prune diligently, getting rid of tons of tiny peaches when they’re just dime-sized.  Some peach tree varieties produce peaches as early as May 1st while, on the other hand, the MidPeach doesn’t bear until around July 4th.  And like the preacher’s daddy told him, peach trees grown from the seed don’t usually produce at all until they’re about four or five years old. (Questions on Peaches)

All these facts put me in mind of the biblical parable of the fig tree.  According to this parable recorded in the gospel of Luke, a man plants a fig tree, but in the third year, it still hasn’t produced any figs.  He complains to the gardener and orders him to cut it down.  But the gardener asks for one more year to dig and dung: that is, to cultivate the unproductive tree. The gardener says that if, in the fourth year, there is no fruit, he will cut the tree down himself.  The man agrees.

With this parable in mind, I decided to look up some information about fig trees, too.  I concluded that the man who planted the fig had every right to be frustrated.  

Fig trees usually take one year to produce fruit, two at the most.  Certain varieties of fig produce twice a year, in June and September!  Figs need a lot of water in their first year, but the fig is a hardy tree that can survive drought conditions.  It’s roots are shallow, not deep. (Carpe ficus) In other words, the fig tree is nothing like the peach tree.

This prompted a thought in my mind.  When I examine the promises God has made me, I might well ask, “Is this a peachy promise or a figgy one?”

I think figgy promises are the kind that are made and then quickly fulfilled.  Within a year of hearing them, we are already eating the fruit of the figgy promise!  But peachy promises are different.  

Time and even effort may be required to see these latter kind of promises come to pass. Five years would not be a long time to wait for a peachy promise to be fulfilled. No, four or five years would actually be the necessary amount of time for a peach tree to produce fruit.  

I believe this is worth bearing mind.

From “The House Of Dust: Part 02: 07: Two Lovers: Overtones”

“‘I brought you this . . . ‘ the soft words float like stars

Down the smooth heaven of her memory.

She stands again by a garden wall.

The peach tree is in bloom, pink blossoms fall,

Water sings from an opened tap, the bees

Glisten and murmur among the trees.

Someone calls from the house.  She does not answer.

Backward she leans her head,

And dreamily smiles at the peach-tree leaves, wherethrough

She sees an infinite May sky spread

A vault profoundly blue.”

Conrad Aiken

1889-1973

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I recently returned to Ghana, West Africa, for the third time.  One evening during this visit, I went to the home of my dear friend Samuel Tetteh.  His wife Eugenia had a towel in their kitchen that declared:  “Every meal is a story.”  Yes! I thought.  This is very true everywhere, but perhaps especially in Ghana.

For two weeks, in Ghana, I ate stories.

I ate boiled yams, fried plantains, yam balls, abula, a little kenké, spicy tomato stew with chicken or fish, bananas and mangos and the freshest pineapple … I drank pineapple-watermelon juice for days.  Of course, one of the meals most often enjoyed in Ghana is fufu, a dough made from yam, saturated with palm nut soup, and eaten by hand.

To prepare the dough, the yam must be pounded with a mortar and pestle.  The pestle is as tall as a person while the mortar is a tall, rounded wooden bowl with sides that curve upward so the mouth is smaller in diameter than the rest of the interior of the bowl.  (See Ghanaian Cusine for a picture!)  This particular method of preparation proved to have a storied significance, which I learned of when I visited Kakum National Forest.

At a certain point while hiking through the trees, the Ewe tour guide asked her international visitors, “How many types of people are there in the world?”  Without saying anything, I thought to myself: one type (because we are all human).  Alternatively, of course, I thought: there are thousands of types of people!  So imagine my surprise when she said, “Two!”  Guess which two?

“Men and women,” she said.

She then went on to explain how the mortar and pestle used to make fufu symbolize the relationship between men and women.  For two of the exactly three people on this hike who had actually seen fufu made (the two being myself and a Ghanaian friend named Festus), this was inevitably funny, but the third, a Ghanaian professor, gave no sign that he noticed the implications.

Ah, food and stories …

Stories often come after a meal, too (as well as in the middle of long walks in new places), and one evening when I was staying at the home of my dear friend Kate Tetteh in Lartebiokorshie just outside of the city of Accra, my five-year-old goddaughter and I had a story-telling contest.  She would recite a poem, then I would sing a song, and back and forth we went for more than an hour, I all the while amazed at everything Padiki had memorized.

Among other things, Padiki recited the Ghanaian Pledge and then sang the national anthem.  The words seemed so innocent but so powerful in the mouth of a child.

The National Pledge

“I promise on my honour to be faithful and loyal to Ghana my motherland.  I pledge myself to the service of Ghana with all my strength and with all my heart. I promise to hold in high esteem our heritage, won for us through the blood and toil of our fathers; and I pledge myself in all things to uphold and defend the good name of Ghana. So help me God.”

The Ghanaian National Anthem

God Bless our homeland Ghana,
And make our nation great and strong,
Bold to defend for ever the cause of Freedom and of Right.
Fill our hearts with true humility
Make us cherish fearless honesty,
And help us to resist oppressor’s rule
With all our will and might for evermore.

Hail to thy name, O Ghana.
To thee we make our solemn vow;
Steadfast to build together
A nation stong in Unity;
With our gifts of mind and strength of arm,
Whether night or day, in mist or storm,
In every need whate’er the call may be,
To serve thee, Ghana, now and evermore.

Raise high the flag of Ghana,
And one with Africa advance;
Black Star of hope and honour,
To all who thirst for liberty;
Where the banner of Ghana freely flies,
May the way to freedom truly lie
Arise, arise, O sons of Ghanaland.
And under God march on for evermore.

(For a picture of Ghana’s flag and coat of arms, see the Ghanaian Flag, Pledge, Anthem, and Coat of Arms.)

The words of the pledge and the song pierced my heart.  I thought of how noble and how right they were.  I thought of the history hidden within them, and the love of home, and the spiritual strength of endurance.

I wondered what America would be like if our national anthem explicitly remembered the shed-blood of our ancestors and the necessity for deep personal humility.

I wondered what Ghana, a developing nation, would be like in twenty years when Padiki’s generation comes of age in an amazing world.

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