When I was growing up, my mom often sang in church. It was the late 1970s, and even in our small Oregon farming community, most of the other mothers wore lipstick and high heels and pantyhose on Sunday mornings. Embarrassed, I scrunched in my pew when my sheep-farming mother walked up the center aisle with her bare legs and Birkenstocks.
Tucked under her arm was a long, narrow dulcimer, a four-stringed wooden instrument favored by old-time players from the Appalachian Mountains. A friend made hers from a fencepost. After unfolding two metal chairs – one for her and the other for her binder full of folk songs – she’d sit with her legs wide, dulcimer balanced across her lap, and strum with a pick cut from the lid of a yogurt container.
“Every man ‘neath his vine and fig tree, shall live in peace and unafraid,” she’d chant words written nearly three centuries before by the ancient prophet Micah. After warning the Hebrew people of God’s impending judgement for their sin, he pointed to a time of peace and restoration when divine justice and love would rule.
“And he will judge between many peoples and render decisions for mighty, distant nations,” Micah 4:3-4 says. “Then they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they train for war. Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, with no one to make them afraid.”
We live in a time of great conflict. Daily acts of terrorism fill the headlines. Many more deeds of violence go unreported, such as in northern Nigeria, where in the past five years proponents of Boko Haram have routinely bombed homes and villages, killing more than 17,000 people. Despite assurances from our government that we are winning the war on terror, many people are afraid that such atrocities will spread.
It is a far cry from the simple farming life I once enjoyed. Yet God’s promise of pending peace is as true today as in the frightening days of Micah, when ancient Assyrians terrorized the world. As a reminder, my 64-year-old mom planted a grapevine and fig tree outside her Connecticut cottage.
When she showed them to me, I laughed. New England grapevines I’d seen. But a fig tree? “Can it even survive here?” I asked. It would, she assured me, if it was protected in a wire cage stuffed with dried leaves and wrapped with burlap and plastic each winter to protect it from the cold, which she did.
Last fall, ten-months after she’d died, I dug up my mom’s fig tree, planted it in a pot, and drove it to Maine, where it promptly lost all its leaves despite being in the sunniest corner of my living room. All winter, five bare twigs spread above the soil, looking dead – just like our often deferred hopes for peace. Yet, this week, in the numbing-cold of winter – just in time for Valentine’s Day – a small green leaf unfurled, proving that even when the future appears bleak, with proper nurturing and support, love will always find a way through.