A burly one was hiding behind a butte between Dodge and Cimarron. He came right for my car, leaping several feet in the air before landing to pivot in my direction. I’m not sure which is worse: the big ones that barrel down upon you, or packs of smaller ones, surrounding your car.
They certainly seem to be alive, don’t they? They race across the prairie, suddenly surging in speed, changing direction, and throwing themselves at your truck as though they were bent upon destruction, hoping to smash a headlight or to badly scrape your car’s side.
Tumbleweeds aren’t alive. Indeed, nothing could be deader, though, watching them sprint across the prairie, they seem bewitched with malevolent cunning and celerity. Yet they aren’t alive. They’ve dried, withered, and died.
People can be like tumbleweeds. The fastest can be the most forlorn. Their energy and ingenuity seem boundless, but only because they have no center in which to rest. They fly through their days, impervious to what happens around them—save to exploit opportunity—seeming to accomplish more than anyone else. They have quite literally ignored Christ’s warning in Saint Mark’s Gospel. Gained the whole world only to lose their souls (8: 36).
The deepest teaching of all religions is that the center of our gravity, the wellspring of wholeness, lies outside ourselves. The Western religions call that center-beyond-the-self “God.” Indeed, if one intuits that life and wholeness lie outside the self, somewhere beyond one’s own imagination and desires, then, regardless of whether or not one feels comfortable with the word, one has already acknowledged the reality we call “God.”
Tumbleweed folk believe that they gather the world to themselves, that their accomplishments, their wealth, their reputations establish them are their own centers of self. Jesus describes them as those “who neither fear God nor respect any human being” (Lk 18:2). In contrast, the persistent widow of the gospel knows that her center lies beyond herself.
Exodus illustrates the selfsame with the arms of Moses. “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight” (17:11). Opening to God brings life. Closing upon the self brings destruction, no matter the number of foes slain.
Saint Augustine described himself, before his conversion, as something of a tumbleweed: swift, destructive, dead.
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace (Conf. X.27)
Does the saint describe us? Then may the same God have mercy on us, and bring our racing hearts to rest.
2 Kings 5: 14-17 2 Timothy 2: 8-13 Luke 17: 11-19