Peel Back the Layers

Yesterday we harvested some of our onions, and while cooking with and preparing to cure them I was struck once again by the powerful metaphor presented by these simple bulbs. Often I have heard people refer to spiritual growth as “peeling back the layers of the onion.” The implication is that the inward journey is slow and multi-faceted.  My revelation today was that the layers represent much more than I had once imagined.

I had never cooked with onions that fresh before, and was surprised at the moisture in the outer skins. Onions we purchase from the supermarket have already been cured for storage. The thin outer membranes must dry out for several weeks before they are ready to be kept in a cool dry place. When properly cured an onion can be stored in a root cellar for months. But if the outer layer is not allowed enough time to dry, then rot will set in after only a few weeks.

I also learned that onions are not just for flavoring foods; they also contain powerful medicine. When eaten with fatty foods they help to reduce blood cholesterol, and they can be made into tonics for treating colds and flu.

The papery skin of a well-cured onion at first seems like inadequate protection from a world full of insects, bacteria and fungus. But these layers, less than a millimeter thick, are crucial if we are to get any use out of the harvest down the road.

The same holds true in spiritual terms. We are offered abstract, invisible tools to protect us and help us to grow. Prayer and meditation might seem unimportant when we are faced with a week’s to-do list, but without the thin veil of these protective measures, we won’t hold up under the pressures of daily life. Spiritually speaking, I’ve learned that it’s important to preserve my “onions” until I’m ready to unlock their healing powers.

As my story unfolds, I journey deeper within, seeking truth in the many facets of the one I know as God. Each layer has significance and meaning, pungent and spicy and sweet. I used to rush through each bulb, seeking some truth at the center. But at the core there was always just another potential layer. As I age and mature, I find that the peeling process takes me longer, I take more time to notice the distinct differences in each segment of my onions. I consider its use carefully; suddenly a taken-for-granted staple becomes medicine and vitality.

Peel back the layers, yes. But don’t expose the fragile center too soon, or the harvest might spoil before you get to enjoy the reward.