“You see these roots here? They’re brown and have no filaments on them.” My daughter, Heidi, sat on our balcony holding my poor, naked Christmas cactus and pulled away the old soil and dead roots. “No wonder the leaves are so thin. They weren’t getting the water and oxygen they needed.”
Heidi cleaned the cactus’s bald stump, then repotted the plant and returned it to its home by the window in my study. My cactus was so strong and healthy until I overwatered it. If Heidi hadn’t come to the rescue, it might have died. “It still might,” she said, touching the leaves lovingly. “We’ll see.”
In this state, my dear companion isn’t very attractive. I thought about moving the cactus out of the room where I write and offer spiritual direction, but I couldn’t do it. It’s been with me for so long, flowering in Advent and Lent when God was silent and greening with me on ordinary days. Now it was my turn to see it through tough times.
In prayer, I reflected on the damaged roots that couldn’t absorb the nutrients the large plant needed. I feel strong, even taller these days. Yet, a bit of bad news or a forced decision can disrupt my ecosystem, and it can take me a day or two to settle. My mind knows it’s no big deal, but my body remembers this story and has lived it for a long time. My roots are gasping for oxygen.
As I listen tenderly, I’m able to see and brush away the rotting certitudes that validate my fears. I take a breath and let it go down under the anxiety. I take another and let it nourish the knowing that is deeper still.
I’ve heard that there’s a place in the core of each of us that is untouched by trauma. In this place, we know that we are in God and God is in us. In this place, there is no doubt that we are good. Our hearts and bones know that we are loved, we are enough, and God will never abandon us–not in this life or the next.
I take another breath and look at my sad and drooping cactus. It will take a while for the new shoots to grow. In the meantime, life will jangle my nerves and my roots will need those reconnecting breaths.
But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.
–Psalm 52:8 (NIV)
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In this short instructive and inspirational video, Dr. Gabor Maté, explains how we can heal from trauma and reconnect with our True Self. While I would have preferred a different title which names that it is God that enables us to find and heal ourselves, I appreciate that Maté names that we have agency in this. We don’t have to be victims of our past. What Maté is proposing here aligns with what Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr have written about the True and False Self. It also aligns with scripture (Genesis 1:31, Colossians 3:3) and the words of Jesus (Matthew 11: 28-30, John 14:18-20).