God who orders all things mercifully mingles sweetness with bitterness. If misfortunes take the upper hand, He spreads the veil of peace on the soul that places trust in Him.
–Attributed to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
The bittersweet vine bears a benevolently ironic name. It is not a hybrid plant — one part bitter and one part sweet. It comes pre-mingled, as it were. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, on the other hand, had to navigate through the bitter and sweet in her life. This quote prompted further reflection on the bittersweet’s characteristics.
Like bittersweet, we mature from one Life-giving Source or Vine. Living and praying through the bitter and the sweet, while “placing trust in Him,” render them sacred, impart a deeper meaning, and assist in integrating these life-experiences.
The bittersweet’s oval leaves follow an alternate pattern as they grow. Resembling footsteps, there is a natural order of balance and tension. That rhythmic left to right, or bitter to sweet, equalizes momentum and carries each step forward. “God orders all things.”
In the Fall, orange-red berries break forth from golden-yellow capsules. The bright berries remain through Winter providing food for wildlife when it is scarce. Individuals can also provide sustenance and support for others who are desperate or despairing. Humanitarian efforts (grassroots to global endeavors) spring up and into action, “when misfortunes take the upper hand.” Compassion, or “co-suffering,” may well be “mingling’s” finest moment.
The fundamental nature of the bittersweet vine is to grow whole and hardy. It becomes pliable as it grows, transforming into almost any shape. These past months give witness to inventive acts of kindness and support, with creative solutions. Ordinary people as well as businesses have attuned their efforts, reshaped their purpose, and applied their talents meaningfully.
Stories of innovative outreach continue to inspire. Who would have thought an auto company could assemble ventilators, or school buses would become wi-fi hotspots for students (neighborhoods) without internet. Social media abounds with new connections and self-expression, and that boy on his sax still serenades hospital workers daily. Through distressing months and too many moments of loss, great resourcefulness has been unleashed — unquestionably for the good of the neighbor. The list is endless.
Every now and then, when a little sweetness mingles with humanity’s bitter plight, these moments touch us like a “veil of peace.” They lift our spirits, bring us to tears if not to our knees. These uncertain times call on each of us to mingle our prayers, abilities and insights with/for others. Something newly imagined can evolve. Something of beauty, perceived by the soul, has already emerged.
-Catherine Salani (SC collaborator, educator, artist)
P.S. Should all else fail, there is always bittersweet chocolate!