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Story

By Eric A. Clayton

It wasn’t the grass’s fault that it had been planted over the failing sewage pipe. The grass just did what grass does, a shock of green waving blissfully in the wind. Cut short, now and again, but determined to grow up and up.

The pipe had been there a long time, lying quietly in the darkness and the dirt. So long that roots grew in and over and through it. So long that it had begun to crumble. So long without anyone paying it any mind at all.

So long that it had been quite nearly forgotten.

It wasn’t the fault of the grass when the backhoe showed up. When the enormous machine dug and dug into the dirt, searching for that failing pipe. It wasn’t the fault of the grass, and yet the grass was torn asunder and cast to the side all the same.

All because of that failing pipe that had for so long been out of sight, out of mind.

Where the grass once grew, there is now grayish, brown dirt. It is uneven, cracked and ugly. It is covered with hay. It is an eyesore.

But beneath that bare landscape, there is a new pipe: fully functioning and shored up against any future root incursions. The pipe is stronger and no longer forgotten.

And above that pipe, beneath that hay, there is grass seed. And slowly, slowly, tiny pinpricks of green. They poke up and out of the ugly barren landscape, gracing the ground with color. Slowly, slowly, that green pushes aside the dismissal yellow of the hay, the depressing gray of the dirt.

And the grass will return.

And you say to me, “Eric, is this a parable about the removal of your sewage line?”

And I say to you, “It absolutely is. Because I can see nothing else from my front porch than hay and mud and the sad remains of this rather large plumbing project.”

Since I pass it every day, it haunts my thoughts. And this line from the Prayer of Teilhard de Chardin comes to mind:

We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — and that it may take a very long time.

And I wonder at our own impatience, our own furrowed brows and pursed lips at the piles of ugly hay stacked up in our lives. But we had such beautiful grass! we say. And then it was all upended, and no fault of ours. We’re tired of staring at this new ugliness.

But out of the ugliness comes beauty once more. And is it really so ugly? Is it really so beautiful? Or, is it simply the way of things, the intermingling of growth and struggle and new life?

I wonder, too, about those proverbial pipes that lie forgotten and failing in our spiritual lives. What a pain to dig them up, to have to face them! We want to avoid the hassle, the cost, the embarrassment.

But at the end of the day, aren’t we better for having made whole those broken things buried deep in ourselves? For having been reminded that they exist in the first place?

That’s the hard work of the spiritual life: It’s not all tilling of soil and planting of new seeds. Sometimes, the backhoe shows up. Sometimes we have to dig. And dig. And dig. Broken and battered and buried things must be found and healed.

And then, amidst all that so-called ugliness, new life, new beauty appears. And the foundation is made all the more whole and wonderful and known.

This reflection is part of the award-winning weekly email series, “Now Discern This.” If you’d like to get reflections like this one directly in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

a person smiling for the cameraEric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America MagazineNational Catholic ReporterU.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.