For the Love of Strawberries

A story is told of Bertha and Abraham Maslow… like many couples who marry at a young age — she was 19 and he was 20 — they struggled financially as their daughters Ann and Ellen arrived. As Abraham completed his degree at City College, the young family indulged simple pleasures within their constrained budget.

A favorite family outing was to go to one of the many city parks in their New York neighborhood where Abraham and Bertha had both grown up. During strawberry season the parents would splurge on one carton and carefully divide the berries among the four of them.

The parents would generally nibble on only one strawberry. Being the ebullient young children Ann and Ellen were, the girls would quickly gobble down their full share oblivious to their parents restraint. Abraham and Bertha knew their children would soon be back asking for more of the juicy, sweet treats.

Years later, after he had become one of the most influential developmental psychologists of the 20th century, Abraham would recall moments like these in the city park, “Bertha and I learned that strawberries never taste better than in the mouths of our children.”

My unexamined assumption is that the Maslows were Jewish. Their religious affiliation does not matter — their human experience as parents points to something foundational to all the great world religions — a deep, down unity and goodness girding all creation, the felt experience that all is bound up in the Holy, and we are “wired” to participate in this Love.

Contemplative practices of all faith traditions entice, nudge, cajole us to embrace a single-hearted unity with all creation — what my friend Ellen Swanson likes to call “community without conformity.” The Maslow’s strawberries — indeed the simplest of all genuinely human encounters — open for us what is nothing less than a mystical experience, we find God in all persons and all creation!

The mature spiritual life takes us beyond the prescriptions of what is “right,” “moral,” “just,” or “equal.” We are set free from the prescriptions for every step we take or move we make because some authority has “said so” or “others are watching.” We ourselves become the dance; our living becomes the loving; we are swept off our feet by the One who is Love.

The Maslow family came to appreciate this Love through strawberries. Jesus speaks of this in many ways, at many times and ultimately with his life — “unless a grain of wheat fall to the earth and die…” We find our life by losing it. Those who would save their life will give it away.

Love, life, God are never so wonderfully tangible as when shared in selfless communion with family, neighbors, whomever is hungry among us.

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