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    a pile of pecans on a table

    Pecans Rain on the Just and the Unjust

    There’s nothing like an overabundance of tree nuts to open one’s eyes to God’s overflowing and undeserved generosity.

    By Elizabeth Corey

    January 6, 2022
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    • Daisy Stanley

      Thank you for reminding us of all the things here if we but look. We are all so blessed.

    Usually the pecans come intermittently in November, dropping here and there as each ripens and sheds its outer husk. Brave squirrels carry them away as winter provisions, and mourning doves peck at broken nuts in the driveway. Most years pecans hide deep in the grass beneath fallen leaves, discovered only when stepped on. Many are left ungathered, and by May, infant trees are taking root across the yard.

    This year was different. Two days of sustained high winds meant that pecans came down in hail-like showers, covering the ground with their pale brown shells. We crushed them into shards and dust when walking from car to back door, and it felt positively wrong not to harvest them – such an abundance going to waste beneath our feet. Despite our busy schedules, my daughter and I began to collect them, thinking that perhaps we might gather a bucket or two, but not much more.

    We quickly saw that the harvest was much greater than we had first imagined. Our house sits on a large plot of land with thirteen pecan trees that have grown for many decades. We have never fertilized these trees or watered them, or worried about their health. They seem to exist entirely for our benefit, leafing out beautifully in the spring and offering vivid green shade throughout the summer. In early fall the nuts develop, green at first, but turning darker as the days get cooler and eventually dropping, though usually not so dramatically.

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    I realized as we worked that this unmerited harvest was a kind of epiphany, a showing of God’s grace. We – who had been “too busy” to look up from our preoccupations – were being showered with a gift: material for pies, pesto, and candies; for toasting in butter and sprinkling on ice cream sundaes; for stirring into homemade bourbon pecan ice cream. And the quantity was far more than we could use by ourselves: we would have to bag up the nuts and give them to our family and friends.

    As I gathered pecans over the course of many days, I wondered at my own initial blindness to this gift. At first I had seen the pecans as an annoyance, as just another mess that I would need to clean up. How had I not appreciated this profusion of goodness for the entirely undeserved grace that it was? I was struck then by how often we fail to perceive (or appreciate) the goods that surround us: our health, abilities, material abundance, intelligence, good fortune, friendships, and love.

    Instead of appreciating these goods, we focus on bad things: the shortcomings of other people and ourselves; sicknesses and tragedies and injustices and outrageous happenings – all that is wrong with the world. We are eager to cry foul at evil, but seem asleep to the good.

    Why is an attitude of joyful acceptance, of appreciation for life’s goods, so difficult to cultivate and sustain? To be sure, much in modern culture militates against it. There are many things to lament: the loss of traditions, the rise of ideological politics, and the decline of the family, not to mention epidemics like mental illness, drug addiction, and pornography. If we’re expecting doom, there are numerous harbingers at hand.

    But this problem isn’t new, and an attraction toward chaos and evil seems to be a permanent part of human nature. Consider, for example, the famous story in Plato’s Republic of Leontius, who is maddened by his own desire to look at corpses; or of Saint Augustine’s friend, Alypius, who cannot resist the gory awfulness of gladiatorial shows. We know the good but cannot do it; we return with a kind of relish to brokenness, sin, and death. We almost seem to need the problems we are so quick to lament; if nothing were corrupt or problematic, how would we orient our lives? What would we do with such glorious freedom from pain and suffering?

    Of course, nobody can achieve such perfect release in this life. Yet perhaps we can find it more often than we usually do. God’s grace is poured out for us in Christ, who died for us and promises us the unmerited gift of eternal life, but it is also in so many smaller quotidian happenings. Little epiphanies are everywhere, if we have eyes to see them: in the beauty of the natural world, in the birth of a child, in recovery from illness, emergence from depression, and in the very act of waking up each morning. Sometimes, though – perhaps because we are not able to receive the fullness of all these gifts all at once – we must wait in hopeful expectation. Like a parent who hopes and prays for a prodigal child’s deliverance, we must be alert to the subtle, sometimes tiny signs of change and flowering.

    As Jesus observes in Luke’s Gospel: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near.” (Luke 21:29–30) We must pay attention and read these signs, rejoicing in them for what they promise, as we gather up all the pecans that we do not deserve, and share the bounty.

    Contributed By

    Elizabeth Corey is an associate professor of Political Science in the Honors Program at Baylor University, in Waco, Texas. Her writing has appeared in a variety of popular and scholarly journals, including First Things, National Affairs and the Wall Street Journal. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, publisher of First Things.

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