Some months ago, after visiting my middlest daughter, I brought back from her Ottawa home two aloe vera plants. They were about the same size, and I planted them in two available pots, one about two thirds the size of the other. The plant in the larger pots has done well, looks healthy and grown a bit. The plant in the smaller pot is going gangbusters. It has swollen to twice the size of the other plant, and produced a whole host of babies, some of which are nearing the size of the other plant.
I don’t know if these plants are a metaphor for life, or not. But it is interesting that the plant with the most room to grow is the least productive. I read an article the other day about a writer who took a furlough/sabbatical for writing a book. He left the big city and made his way to a cottage, where there were little to no distractions. He set up a plan of how many pages he would write each day for a week, free from the burden of his job, obligations at home etc. for a one-month spacious period of time. But he produced nothing aside from some writing on the first day.
Maybe it isn’t space we need in order to be productive but intimacy, small places and times where we can feel our edges and experience our breath bouncing back at us. Intimacy comes from a Latin root that is the superlative of “inner.” To be intimate is to be utterly within. Our common parlance often understands this word in relationship to sexuality, or perhaps in reference to a special kind of comradery. But there is an intimacy of knowing the self, of being in the presence of our own interiority.
This is not always an easy place to be. Here we see our fears, our rages, our deaths. But these are rich materials for the project that is being ourselves. In this kind of intimacy we see beyond the self we project in the world and we begin the journey of truth. The philosopher Martin Heidegger writes that the word truth in Greek is related to the verb of disclosing or laying bare. In intimate relations the other is disclosed to me; in intimate spaces, I begin to see myself.
In the Christian church today is the Reign of Christ Sunday. The image of Jesus as King of Kings is celebrated. But the story of Jesus begins in a stable, and moves to cross, and ends in closed cave where the story begins again. This so-called king was really a master of intimate spaces, and places us in the same, where we discover the love that reigns in the heart. From the intimate heart comes healing balm, an aloe vera like salve, our succor in solitude.