God's presence in the ordinary walnut

Jennifer Halling, postulant

Editor's note: Sisters from Mount St. Scholastica write a weekly column titled "View from the Mount" in our hometown newspaper, the Atchison Globe. this column appeared in the Nov. 12 edition of the Globe. 

Recently, when I was reading the paper in the community living room at Mount St. Scholastica, some sisters were listening to the weather report on TV, and I overheard the meteorologist say that an unfamiliar object fell through the sunroof of a friend’s car. 

I glanced up to see them cut to a picture of a mottled green and black walnut, which we’ve been picking up by the truckload here at the monastery; 210 buckets and counting. After filling 20 or so 5-gallon buckets myself, it’s fair to say I no longer find black walnuts quite as extraordinary as they appear in the eyes of Gary Lezak, the Channel 41 weatherman.  

The current abundance of walnuts calls to mind something James K. A. Smith wrote in his book “You Are What You Love:” “Too often we look for the Spirit in the extraordinary when God has promised to be present in the ordinary.” How is God present to us through the very ordinary walnut? Here are a few thoughts: 

  • Black walnuts, in particular, remind us that God loves diversity, for people either love or strongly dislike their intense flavor.·     
  • Walnuts remind us that God can be found beneath the surface of things, for the nut resides in an unattractive green hull that turns black and mushy as it decays.      
  • Walnuts provide food for squirrels in the winter, reminding us of God’s care for creatures that we often view as annoying pests. 
  • Collecting walnuts is a welcome source of income for some people. We at the Mount were thrilled to find someone in Troy to buy our walnuts – although the money we received wasn’t a great “windfall,” it is enough to give us a good start on seeds and gardening supplies for next spring’s garden. 
  • God provided us with walnuts to help us stay healthy. Walnuts are an excellent source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids, are rich in antioxidants, and are a very good source of manganese and copper. Walnuts have cancer-fighting properties, contribute to heart health, promote brain health, and assist in control of diabetes.   
  • Walnuts remind us that God provides for our needs in sometimes unusual ways, for when walnut hulls are ground, they can be used for blasting, tumbling, cleaning, polishing and filtration. They are also used widely in the construction, furniture, adhesives, paint, plywood, resin, rubber, paint and cosmetic industries. 
  • Walnuts also highlight the creativity and tenacity of humans, who figured out so many different uses for their shells. These virtues are often traced back to earlier days in our history, when everything was seen as a gift and all the parts of an animal or plant were put to use. As our landfills become heaped with waste, we need to rekindle the ingenuity of former generations in using and recycling our resources. It is a form of stewardship of the earth that we need to take seriously, especially as the earth’s population increases. 

I, myself, am particularly grateful for black walnut trees because they provide a connection to my father, Luke Halling. When he was a young man, he planted some of these trees on the family farm near Bendena, and after the trees were cut down several years ago, my younger brother gave me the gift of a pen that was created from a piece of the wood. Thus, in a way, God’s spirit that was present in my dad continues to find expression through the words I write with that pen. Upon deeper reflection, God’s presence in the ordinary can turn out to be extraordinary after all.