Forty to one. That’s the ratio of sap to maple syrup in the long, slow process of creating the amber sweetness my family used to boil and bottle every spring. It’s a ratio that tells you something about the time and determination required to make syrup, but gives no hint of the longer arc of transformation that makes it possible. It offers no nod to the long summer days when maple leaves drink in the sun. It makes no mention of the way that sweetness seeps into the sap and then settles into a deep winter’s sleep in the dark interior of trunk and root. It pays no homage to the early spring days when strengthened sunbeams again charm the sap back up into the branches and crown.
The tree makes its sweetness all year long. We humans show up for a month in the spring to tap it and make a lot of noise about the effort of hauling sap to the fire and the time invested in round‐the‐clock boiling to reduce it, forty to one.
Transformation is like that. We make it out as requiring such great effort—or such unspeakable miracle—that it can seem rare or unattainable. But as every child and parent knows, transformation is as common as a growth chart taped to the wall and marked with a new line every month. Even as adults, we replace our skin cells every 35 days and our blood every 120. In ways both literal and figurative, I am not the same person I was just a year ago.
Transformation, generally speaking, is also neutral. Despite the hint of heresy this carries in a culture enamored by progress and its onward and upward mythology, not all transformation is desirable. Nor is what’s left behind necessarily less worthy. Even the youngest botanist knows better than that. The blossom passes no judgment on the seed, and the fruit claims no airs over the blossom.
Still, human transformation of the particularly positive kind―the change in heart, mind and character known as metanoia―does not usually occur by happenstance. Requiring more patience and persistence than even maple syrup, metanoia is not an individual accomplishment but the result of people working together, taking turns at the metaphorical tasks of tapping, tending fires, filtering and preserving the sweetness we desire. Metanoia arises from our ancient human hunger for the transformative powers of love and community, of beauty and truth. It begins with the personal transformation of hearts and minds but cannot be separated from the long, slow turning of the world itself toward justice and toward peace. Always, it is a matter of alignment and relationship between our own inner spirit and that of all beings around us, between our own inner seasons and the seasons around us, between the demands of this season and this moment and the longer arc of history stretching before and after.
Today, as an April snowstorm in my part of the world has extended an already lengthy maple syruping season even longer, I wonder, am I willing to continue the tasks of transformation so abundantly calling to me today? To continue the work of harvesting the hidden sweetness of transformative possibilities waiting to be tapped in my own heart and in our shared world?
Where is transformation flowing, perhaps out of sight, in your life today, and how might you participate in tapping it, hauling it, preserving it, bringing its sweetness into a form ready to be shared? And what are the relationships and communities you will need to keep that work going for as long as it takes?