Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Shagbark Hickory ~ Symbol of Persistence

There are two tall hickory trees standing side by side at the head of the driveway here at the edge of the woods. A hickory can reach 100 feet. Native Americans used the hickory as an important food source. When the nuts mature and fall to the driveway I rake them into piles to avoid crushing them with the truck. Turkeys, squirrels and chipmunks have a feast. 

There's a woodsman around here who tells me that hickory is probably the strongest wood - that trying to chop or saw into it is like sawing into nails. That's why hickory is used to make excellent furniture. East-of-the-Mississippi Native Americans would say hickory makes the best drumsticks. 

Where there's forest damage or devastation due to fire, drought or insect invasion, hickories are more likely to be the first trees to re-appear. Because of this capacity for survival it's become a symbol of persistence prompting me to ask myself: Do I quit or give up too soon before challenges? Or am I persistent in what needs to be done?

The Gospels are filled with images of both divine and human perseverance: 
  • God as an un-relenting  shepherd who went out to find the lost sheep or the woman who turned the house upside down to find the little coin. 
  • The friends who were so insistent in getting their friend to see Jesus that they hoisted him up to the top of the house and lowered him down through a hole they'd torn open in the roof. 
  • The long journey of Jesus to Jerusalem going through towns and villages, encountering acceptance and rejection, faith and disbelief along the way.
  • The three-day persistence of Joseph and Mary searching for the twelve year old Jesus lost in Jerusalem. 
  • The woman who had been bleeding for twelve years and who pushed through the crowd: "If only I can touch him."

But there's more! A hundred year old hickory can still produce bushels of nuts each fall, posing questions about realizing or wasting my potential? We're humans so we're not perfect, but we can be whole. Individuated is the term used by psychology.

The process by which the individual in the course of his/her life is pressed to realize his innate capacities to the full and become what he has it in him to become.

Many people never realize their capacities. Sometimes it starts when we're very young: "Stephen isn't living up to his potential," the teacher said. Ugh! Many of us quit on ourselves a long time ago. But we can change that! The hickory is a strong, enduring and successful tree  - an image of promise and potential through difficulty and challenge.

We've all left some part of our God-given capacities un-addressed. Name it:
  • The things to which we've been saying "not now"
  • The things we procrastinate over
  • The things we think we need someone else's permission to start
  • The things we only dreamed of but never approached for fear

I thought all my life that I should be a hermit-monk, but everyone stood against the idea, and so I never went. But when I turned 50 I disappeared for a week, driving across the wide state of Pennsylvania into Ohio, to the Holy Family Hermitage where as a boy I always dreamed of entering.

In the visit I met Father Basil who helped me to see quickly that hermit-monk wasn't my vocation but that I needed to do more to bring forward the inner monk I'd not been listening to. With that, the problem was resolved in an instant, and I set out on a new path.

The hickory trees have just dropped pounds and pounds of nuts - each filled with potential and possibility. Go for it!


  1. This is truly inspiring. We have heard the words "Don't give up" so many times but this nature connection really hits it home for me.

  2. You appear to have found your God given capacity. I am thankful you have made your journey and have ended up sharing your spiritual thoughts with us all.

  3. My spirits are always lifted after I read your posts. They help me to shake off the downers I might be feeling and help me to go to a better place. I like the exposure you bring to the gospels. Grateful.

  4. "Shake off the downers" - that's an on-going challenge, isn't it?

  5. It is important to make these connections with nature because the natural world brings life enhancing peace, joy, zest, the ability to meet life’s challenges with a positive attitude, and to see the interconnections of all things. This awareness that builds from nature connection will often lead to changes in the internal awareness of people. God is present everywhere in our lives

  6. I am glad that you didn't become a hermit monk Father Stephen. Hermit monks probably don't get to blog their thoughts for all to see. You are doing more good for us here than spending your days praying in a monastery. I am a grateful follower of your prayers and guiding thoughts. Sometimes they help me through my day when I don't think I have it in me to persevere. Many blessings to you as you help light the way.

  7. I have my monk-moment when I'm lighting the candle in the chapel each morning before the sun is up and I remember all the folks who follow the posts - aware of people's struggles, suffering, sorrows.

    1. That is so nice of you. Your connectedness is a welcome change.