Making Sense of the Both/And of The Kingdom

 

Ever since we lived in North Carolina and our Sunday afternoon drives took us down red dirt roads, I’ve wanted a red bud tree. We’d listen to gospel music on the car radio and I’d stretch my arm out the rolled-down window on the passenger side, letting the sweet air whip through my fingers. The roads were lined with red buds and I’d never seen anything like it. Like burning bushes, surprised to see they hadn’t been consumed.

The day after I wrote about the cardinal in the tree above me, singing a joyful tune, I discovered a red bud tree in our front yard. This is our first spring in this house and the yard is a treasure trove of new discoveries. There are tulips and bleeding hearts pressing through the swatch of earth beneath the  kitchen window. Right outside our bedroom window, a butterfly bush is holding back its secret of purple and lavender blooms, not wanting to show up to the party too early. And in the front yard stands a red bud tree, smiling at me through the picture window like a gift tied up in bright pink ribbons.

On the morning I discovered the red bud tree, I’d been reading in Matthew about John baptizing people out in the wilderness. I’d read about how he took them into the water and they were baptized into a new life. And when John stood out there in the wilderness, his message was short and to the point. “Change your life,” he said. “God’s kingdom is here.”

That morning, I got ready for work, walked out the side door and on my way around the car to the driver’s side, something on the front porch caught my eye. I took a few steps backward with my purse slung over my shoulder, iPhone and car keys in my hand.

What is that? I wondered, and then, “Is that what I think it is?” I asked out loud.

I crept closer to the porch and peered inside the planter filled with soil from last year’s orange flowers whose real name I don’t remember. Three feathers pointed at the sky from inside the planter and I stretched my neck forward, holding tightly to my purse.

Dead.

There were no signs of violence or any other mishap. Just a dead robin, face-first in the old, dead soil of last year’s flowers – a few scattered clumps of earth on the concrete porch beneath the planter. I wondered if the robin had flown into the window, but I think I would have heard that. A day later, I was still trying to figure it out and H would tell me, “Sometimes things just die. Even birds.”

I had a hard time getting the red bud tree and the dead bird to find a place they could share in my head. I don’t know why it was so difficult to process both the gift of the red bud and its flaming blossoms, and the undignified look of that dead bird, face down and alone in the planter on my porch.

I stood there with the flaming tree on my right, and the dead bird on my left. Right in the middle of the two. In the space between what is and what’s to come. Soft rain drops fell around me and rolled off the roof and through the downspout into a puddle, baptizing the earth at my feet.

The Kingdom of God. I usually miss it altogether.