I survived my seminary years by spending hours in the Howard Thurman Listening Room at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. In that solemn place, I heard an early, unpolished version of Thurman’s “Daphne Story.”
I prefer that older version over the story Thurman published in his book, “Deep is the Hunger.”
As I remember, Thurman was visiting a very close friend who had a very exotic Daphne growing in his garden. Most species of Daphnes are known for their aroma and color, but this friend’s plant had a reputation of having an extraordinary flower and fragrance.
During lunch, Thurman could feel his emotions building. He was anxious to see this unique plant. Finally, at the right moment, Thurman asked to see the Daphne.
To Thurman’s surprise, his friend’s Daphne was a small, woody, flowerless shrub. Immediately the questions came: “Did you water it properly?” “Is the soil correct?” “Too much sunlight?” “Is this the right time of the year for flowering?”
The answers to the questions were puzzling. The soil was identical to the natural soil of the jungle, where this type of Daphne thrives. It received the proper amount of sunlight, hydration and fertilizer.
Everything was as Thurman expected.
However, the friend did surprise Thurman. He pointed out that this plant was too comfortable.
In the jungle, it competes with the larger, hardier plants. In that environment, the Daphne is forced to focus all of its resources into reproduction. The result is its world-famous blossom.
In a cultivated garden, there is no natural pressure or competition. As a result, the Daphne turns to wood.
Thurman bemoans the fact that people are not like the Daphne. We have the ability to make choices.
I believe people are more like the Daphne than Thurman sees. Frequently, when life is its harshest, people are at their best.
I have lived in this beautiful part of South Carolina for only three years. During those three years, I have witnessed two hurricanes and a 1,000-year flood.
Throughout these very difficult times, I found people blossoming throughout our neighborhood. After Hurricane Matthew, my wonderful wife, Donna, and I took hot food to the local community.
We targeted a neighborhood comprising trailers and manufactured homes. Many were without electrical power. Several had trees destroy their dwellings.
Amazingly, the neighbors were all helping one another. One family owned a generator. They gathered extension cords and provided power to the homes around them. Others removed trees or helped to reinforce damaged areas to make them safe.
While Thurman is correct that humans have free will, he missed the fact that we tend to exercise that free will in positive ways when life gets tough.
My prayer for all of us is that we will blossom in both challenging and comfortable times.
The Rev. Dr. Jon R. Black is senior pastor at Campbell Chapel A.M.E. Church in Bluffton.