A little lesson on patience from the Mayapple

Mayapple in bloom

A few visitors have found the little creek that meanders along one of the trails in the woods at the Catholic Conference Center. The creek emerges in front of the Ave Maria chapel and continues on its way to Jacob Fork River.

Even fewer have noticed a native ground cover that carpets the woodland floor. It’s called a Mayapple. The plentiful and lush green leaves remind me of a fig tree. Hidden beneath the leafy canopy is a little white flower which blooms in May. The flower produces a lemon-shaped fruit which ripens during the summer. Hence the name Mayapple, though it might be better named Mayflower or Augustapple.

All parts of the plant are poisonous – even the green apple – with one exception. In late summer the apple ripens and turns from green to yellow. Then it can be safely eaten. Some natives make it into jam or wine (although I might be a little leery if offered some).

When I consider the words apple, fig leaf, and poison in the same thought, my mind naturally goes to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve ate the ‘poisonous’ fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and altered the course of all creation. They received knowledge they were woefully unprepared to receive.

The Mayapple, unlike the fruit in the Garden, stops being poisonous when it properly ripens. Some things need to ripen in their own time. In raising teenage sons, for instance, I walked a fine line between letting them learn on their own or laying down the law. Sometimes an authoritarian Dad is poison to a teenage boy trying to mature into a man. 

When I meet with someone for spiritual direction, I can sometimes see clearly what they need to do to shore up their spiritual life. But to offer this course of action before a person is ready to hear it could be poison to their ears. It’s like trying to force open a rosebud instead of letting it bloom in its own time. My job instead is to provide a suitable environment so the rose can blossom naturally. 

The Mayapple might be God’s way of reminding me of the virtue of patience. The ground cover, like many parts of life, is meant to be admired, nurtured, and cherished until it ripens. During that time, I wait and pray that God will let me know when the time is right to do more. 

Is there something in your life where patience might be the proper response?