Theodore Sturgeon is my favorite science fiction author. He died in this century; he wrote during the 1930’s through the 1970’s, the glory days of science fiction. My favorite of his work is a short story called Slow Sculpture.
The story tells of a medical doctor in another time, another planet (of course). He explains to a young visitor that his “other vocation” is working with bonsai. Bonsai plantings are miniature trees grown in small containers. The grower molds them to his vision by controlling their light, water, growing space, pruning, and even wiring. The resulting plant, after many years, may be only 12 inches tall, but will resemble a fully mature tree in exact detail.
The young visitor has terminal cancer. She has come to the doctor for healing. He tells her that healing an individual is much like growing a bonsai planting. The beauty and strength lives in the plant. The grower only encourages and nurtures the tree to its potential. Changes can be slow. Healing takes time.
I often think about the story as I work in ministry with my church, with youth from HomePlate, with the NWYM Board of Local Outreach. Organizations want measurable results, dramatic outcomes, plans, schedules, and programs. Sometimes I also want quick satisfactory results…and I want them now! But our lives seldom unfold cleanly and quickly. Like the bonsai, changes in us occur so slowly, in such tiny increments, that on a dark day it’s easy to doubt that progress is even possible.
But then in the Light we see: a young mom starts a college class, a man homeless for years finally fits a program and will have his own space at last! Someone enters rehab, someone begins to eat healthily, someone begins, tentatively, to trust another person. Someone experiences a more resonant representation of God and their soul begins to open.
I remember that I’m not the Gardener; it’s not I who create. I can be a nurturer and encourager. I can nudge a little one way or another, but the end product, for these beloved of God, is in his hand. And in his time. Sometimes quick and dramatic, but more often a slow sculpture.