Bitter Into Sweet
After Moses had led the escaping people across the sea they journeyed three days through the desert without finding water. When they did come to water at Marah it was too bitter to drink (that is why it was named Marah, which means ‘bitter’). When the people complained Moses pleaded with the Lord, who directed him to a piece of wood. Moses threw this in the water, and the water became sweet. Exodus 15: 22 – 26
For the one who has left behind the pleasures of Egypt which he served before crossing the sea, life removed from these pleasures seems at first difficult and disagreeable. But if the wood be thrown into the water, that is, if one receives the mystery of the resurrection which had its beginning with the wood (you of course understand ‘the cross’ when you hear ‘wood’) then the virtuous life, being sweetened by the hope of things to come, becomes sweeter and more pleasant than all the sweetness that tickles the senses with pleasure.
Gregory of Nyssa in The Life of Moses Book 2
In the grounds of the monastery at Durrow there was a tree that provided local people with a prolific supply of apples; however, these tasted so bitter that the people complained. One autumn day, Columba went up to it, and seeing it laden with fruit that was going to give more displeasure than pleasure to the people, he raised his hand and spoke to the tree: ‘In the name of almighty God, bitter tree, may all your bitterness depart from you, and from now on may your apples be really sweet’. Columba’s biographer commented: ‘Wonderful to tell, more swiftly than words all the apples on that tree lost their bitterness and became wonderfully sweet’.
Sweet Jesus, I lay before you now
things that are needlessly bitter –
May your sweetness turn
food into pleasure
tragedy into triumph
and ugliness into beauty.