Lessons from the Resurrection Fern

by Deacon Scott D. Gilfillan

Resurrection Fern Growing on Southern Live Oak



I went to spend some time with my grandchildren on the North Carolina coast. While there, my wife and I walked the nearby trails around Fort Macon. Southern live oaks line the trail with huge, sweeping limbs that plunge toward the ground before reaching up to the sky. 

A captivating plant grows on the surface of some of these majestic trees, the resurrection fern. It is called a resurrection fern because in dry weather the fronds turn brown, curl up, and appear to die. When the rains return, the fern turns green and springs to life.

The fern has two fascinating attributes. First, It harmlessly grows on the bark of these live oaks, not as a parasite like Kudzu, but as a woodsy companion. Second, the fern gets its nutrients not from the soil or its host, but from the moisture in the air.  

Both attributes say a little about the spiritual life. The fern lives harmoniously with the tree, not trying to devour or control, but as Saint Paul says, “preserving the unity of the spirit in a bond of peace.” (Eph 4:3) It’s a hallmark of an individual’s spiritual life but also that blessed place we desire for all the world. 

In addition, the fern feeds on air. Air in Greek is ‘pneuma’, also translated as spirit or breath. The spiritual life is also nourished by the ‘pneuma’, a word people of faith often translate as the Holy Spirit or the Breath of God. 

Michael W. Smith sings a simple but beautiful song, “This is the air I breathe”. It sounds like he could be singing about both the resurrection fern and our spiritual life: 

This is the air I breathe… Your holy presence living in me
This is my daily bread… Your very word spoken to me
And I, I’m desperate for you,
And I, I’m lost without you, Lord.

The spiritual life alternates between consolations and desolations, even with the saints. Like the resurrection fern, there are times when it feels like my spiritual life dries up, even appears to die. I can relate to the fern curling up, turning brown, and feeling lost to the world.

When these dry spells come, the fern patiently waits for the moist air to restore its life. In my spiritual dryness, I also need to wait patiently. While waiting, continue to breathe and have faith that the rains will come.

May God fill you with the new life of the resurrection during this Easter season.