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The Parable of the Mulberry Tree

Last night I was offered mulberry sauce for my cheesecake and I felt myself recoil. It’s not that I don’t like mulberry sauce. I have never even tasted mulberry sauce. But I used to have a mulberry tree in my backyard—a lovely mulberry tree that dropped big, juicy, purple berries all over my yard and left behind a fermenting wasteland of purple juice. The mess—the stench! My daughter was six months old, getting ready to crawl, and I envisioned a future of purple handprints and footprints all over my home. Before the next summer that tree was down.

My friends who offered me the sauce have a keen appreciation for mulberry trees and their fruit. Had I known that sooner, I would have invited them to come to my house every summer to pick up the berries. Where I saw only a mess, they saw a future of delectable jams and sauces. I saw only death, but they saw the nourishment that came from it.

In “Pictures of the Kingdom” (p. 3), Pastor Tony Maan references van Gogh’s painting The Mulberry Tree, featured on the front cover of this issue. Van Gogh is said to have suffered from psychotic episodes and delusions, and he painted The Mulberry Tree while in a psychiatric hospital. In 1890 van Gogh died from self-inflicted gunshot injuries. Van Gogh was defined solely by his mental illness while he lived, but after his death he was recognized as a great artist. Just as I could not see the possibilities the mulberries presented, so van Gogh’s contemporaries failed to see his genius, the beauty that resided not only in his paintings but in his soul (see “Broken Beauty,” p. 32).

As I write this I am listening to the poignant album All Belong Here by The Many. One song has the refrain “There is mercy enough, there is grace enough. There is love enough for all of us” (“Lovely Needy People” by Lenora Rand). But what about in worship? When we look at those gathered with us do we take the time to see beyond brokenness to beauty? Do we try to hide our own brokenness because we fear judgment? Is there room for us around the table just as we are?

In this issue of Reformed Worship we are joining the conversation on worship and mental health. How do we make room at the table for all to come, to meet Christ just as we are, and to find nourishment and love? How do we see the beauty in everyone? How do we make room through the language we use, our prayers, the songs we sing, and the sermons we preach? Take time to learn from “Speaking Well in Worship about Mental Illnesses” (p. 12) by Dr. Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, “Practical Insights for Leading Worship” (p. 27) by Rev. Cindy Holtrop, and other articles on this topic. Consider using or adapting some of the resources offered in this issue.

May all our worship services communicate God’s grace to all by proclaiming that:

When you’re not sure who you really are
When all you feel is the shape of your scars
And you have more wounds than you can count
Open your eyes, look all around
You aren’t alone, this is your home

Come and remember who you are here
Do this to remember who I am
Come and remember you belong here
All belong here.

— “All Belong Here” as recorded by The Many. themanyarehere.com. Words: Lenora Rand. Music: Hannah Rand. ©2017 Plural Guild Music. pluralguild.com