There is a force in nature called “geotropism.” It simply means the movement of plant parts deeper into the earth. Dictated by gravity, the very end of a plant’s roots grows in a downward direction. Botanists consider this an impulse of faithfulness to the Earth. Inescapable, apparently no matter what you do to a plant within Earth’s atmosphere, this active, peculiar force will drive roots to grow down. To quote from my favourite book at the moment, a book on the ontology of plants, “Roots are the essence of descent” (Coccia, The life of Plants).
Plants are firmly situated (otherwise known as sessile) and in their immobility, they both collect the energy of sunshine and remain steady when storms come. This impulse of downward descent is instinctive and unfailing. What a relief to know it is at work beneath the Earth’s surface and the natural world responds obediently to its dictates. By way of science, I’m given a definition and an image of anchored life. An invisible force is elucidated, and I am comforted. What this means to me is there is a way to be held in place, especially in the midst of unavoidable chaos.
As a foreigner, permanently living overseas, in a global pandemic, I’ve had to grapple with the far-awayness of the familiar and the nature of my new home, now a place I can’t leave even if I wanted to. Whether I am ready or not, my roots need to descend and find locations of greater depth to hold me here. The territory is unfamiliar but knowing this steadying force of belonging to a place is at work in the world brings me peace. In yet another way, plants lead me and teach me about mysterious truth and help me return to my place with a creaturely calm. By universal design, descent is elemental and natural and good.
Collins Street Baptist Church