Yesterday I got lost for an hour taking pictures of acorns and oak leaves. The sun was autumn bright. The sky a brilliant blue. Some leaves were still green. Others were tinged red and yellow. Little stripes on the acorns were an intriguing feature I had never noticed before. I kept snapping away in the late afternoon light.
In this case, I became so engrossed doing something I love that I lost all sense of time. It’s a suspended moment when I no longer have to recall the rules or technicalities of taking pictures. I’m un-self-consciously following the light and absorbed in creating photographs, knowing it takes dozens to get a good one.
There are over 600 varieties of oak trees, and they all produce acorns. However, oak trees don’t produce acorns until they are mature at 20 to 50 years of growth. A single oak tree can produce over 2,000 acorns in a season, but each acorn only stands a 1 in 10,000 chance of becoming an oak tree.
I’m fascinated by acorns for a number of reasons. For one, Chris Scharen and I chose an acorn as a visual metaphor for the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project. We worked with graphic artists Danny Yee and Sue Han to capture an image that keeps giving back. The longer you look at their creation, the more layers of possible meaning emerge.
In the LPI Project itself we are trying to understand how pastors learn to do their work over time in the practice of ministry. We’re curious about how the wisdom needed for good pastoral judgment develops. Like oak trees, learning and growth take time, and the fruit of such labors in both cases is not always evident in the first few seasons out. Moving from novice to expert is a complex and time-intensive process of adult learning.
In the same way good visual metaphors and good photographs keep giving back, so a practice well-learned also keeps giving back with creative innovation and joyful discovery. Pastoral wisdom matures over time, and has to endure a number of challenges, yet when it survives, it can produce much fruit after years of of steady growth. The result can be bountiful and beautiful, like thousands of acorns shaking down in season. Our search for beautiful pictures of such wisdom is underway. We’ll keep you posted about what surprises we find.