Lessons from the Resurrection Fern

by Deacon Scott D. Gilfillan

Resurrection Fern Growing on Southern Live Oak

After spending some time with my newborn grandson on the North Carolina coast, my wife and I walked the nearby trails around Fort Macon.  Prominent throughout the Carolina coasts are Southern live oaks with their sweeping limbs that plunge toward the ground before reaching toward the sky. 

On the surface of some of these majestic trees grows a captivating plant, 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 top of these live oaks, not as a parasite like Kudzu but as a woodsy companion.  It’s an attribute from which the world could learn much – to live with another in mutual friendship and respect, and not upon the other to conquer and control.

Second, the fern gets its nutrients not from the soil or from its host, but from the moisture in the air.   As I walk the trails among the trees and ferns, I am considering the wonder of a newborn grandson.  My mind goes to the miracle of life and sustenance.  My grandson receives almost all his nutrients from his mother.  The fern receives almost all its nutrients from the air.  My biological life is sustained by the food I eat.  But what about my spiritual life? 

Spiritual life comes from God who is imaged in a variety of forms, including mother and air.  There are times, however, when it feels like my spiritual life has dried up, even died.  I can relate to the resurrection fern, curling up, turning brown, and appearing lost to the world.

Michael W. Smith sings a simple but beautiful song, “This is the air I breathe”.  It sounds like he could be both singing about 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 fern patiently waits for the moist air to restore it to life.  In my spiritual dryness, I too need to patiently wait for my own resurrection. But while waiting, continue to breathe deeply until that blessed time comes.