Old-fashioned flowers! I love them all: The morning-glories on the wall, The pansies in their patch of shade, The violets, stolen from a glade, The bleeding hearts and columbine, Have long been garden friends of mine; But memory every summer flocks About a clump of hollyhocks.
The mind’s bright chambers, life unlocks Each summer with the hollyhocks. ~Edgar Guest from “Hollyhocks”
The endless well of summer lies deep in the heart of old-fashioned flowers, but no well is so deep as hollyhocks – the veins of their petals pumping color as they sway on long-nubbined stems, carefree in the breeze.
My mind is suddenly unlocked, opened by a hollyhock key.
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You get down on your knees in the dark earth—alone for hours in hot sun, yanking weed roots, staking trellises, burning your shoulders, swatting gnats; you strain your muscled midwestern neck and back, callous your pianist’s hands.
You cut roses back so they won’t fruit, rip out and replace spent annuals. You fill your garden dense with roots and vines. And when a humble sprout climbs like a worm up out of death, you are there to bless it, in your green patch, all spring and summer long,
hose like a scepter, a reliquary vessel; you hum through the dreamy wilderness—no one to judge, absolve, or be absolved—purified by labor, confessed by its whisperings, connected to its innocence.
So when you heft a woody, brushy tangle, or stumble inside grimy, spent by earth, I see all the sacraments in place— and the redeemed world never smelled so sweet. ~Ken Weisner, “The Gardener” from Anything on Earth.
We are in full-garden produce preservation mode right now on the farm – these are the days when we pick the fruits of Dan’s labors – all the hours he spent this spring preparing the soil with rich compost, meticulously pulling out weeds by the roots, rototilling and cultivating, then staking/stringing/sowing the rows, then standing back to watch the sun and rain coax the seeds from the dark.
All this happens in a mere few weeks – we never tire of this illustration of redemption and renewal we’re shown year after year – how a mess of weeds and dirt can be cleared, refined and cleansed to once again become productive and fruitful, feeding those who hunger – both now and deep into winter and next spring.
It gives me hope; even when I myself am feeling full of weeds and despairingly dirty and overwhelmed, I can be renewed. It takes a persistent Gardener who is willing and eager to prune away what is useless, and sow anew what is needed for me to thrive and produce – His hands and knees are covered with my grime.
And the fruit that results! – so very sweet…
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Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. ~Marilynne Robinson from Gilead
It is ordinary time, in the church calendar and in my life…
As I am covered with Sabbath rest quiet and deep as if planted in soil finally warming from a too long winter~
I realize there is nothing ordinary about what is happening in the church, in the world, or in me.
We are called by the Light to push away from darkness, to reach to the sky, to grasp and bloom and fruit.
We begin as mere and ordinary seed.
Therefore, nothing is more extraordinary than an ordinary Sunday.
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From the place where we are right Flowers will never grow In the spring.
The place where we are right Is hard and trampled Like a yard.
But doubts and loves Dig up the world Like a mole, a plow. And a whisper will be heard in the place Where the ruined House once stood. ~Yehuda Amichai “The Place Where We Are RIght” from A Touch of Grace
Sometimes I am so certain I am right, remaining firm in my convictions no matter what. Yet when there is no movement, the ground beneath my feet hardens with my stubborn trampling. Nothing new can grow without my crushing it underfoot; any possibility becomes impossible.
Sometimes I harbor doubts and uncertainties, digging and churning up the ground upon which I stand. When things are turned over, again and again, new weeds and seeds will take root. Sorting them out becomes my challenge, determining what to nurture and what is worthless.
As I look ahead to this coming week, treading the familiar ground of the events of Holy Week, I cannot help but question and wonder: how can this impossible Love save those, who like me, feel dry and hard and devoid of possibility or who unwittingly allow weeds to proliferate?
Then I hear it, like a whisper. Yes, it is true. Loved despite sometimes being hard ground, or growing weeds or lying fallow as a rocky path.
I too will rise again from the ruins. I too will arise.
I tell myself softly, this is how love begins— the air alive with something inconceivable, seeds of every imaginable possibility floating across the wet grasses, under the thin arms of ferns. It drifts like snow or old ash, settling on the dust of the roadways as you and I descend into thickets, flanked by the fragrance of honeysuckle and white primrose.
I recall how my grandmother imagined these wanderers were living beings, some tiny phylum yet to be classified as life. She would say they reminded her of maidens decked in white dresses, waltzing through air. Even after I showed her the pods from which they sprang, blossoming like tiny spiders, she refused to believe.
Now, standing beside you in the crowded autumn haze, I watch them flock, emerge from brittle stalks, bursting upon the world as young lovers do—trysting in the tall grasses, resting fingers lightly in tousled hair. Listen, and you can hear them whisper in the rushes, gazing out at us, wondering— what lives are these? ~Bradford Tice, “Milkweed,” from Rare Earth
We all need to recall the wonder of love – how it forms, how it grows hidden away in a pod of potential until the right moment of emergence.
Then love looks around shyly, wondering at the world it is meant to transform by simply overwhelming it.
I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one … I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~Maya Angelouon her 70th birthday, citing a quote from Carl Buehner
I learned from my mother how to love the living, to have plenty of vases on hand in case you have to rush to the hospital with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole grieving household, to cube home-canned pears and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point. I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know the deceased, to press the moist hands of the living, to look in their eyes and offer sympathy, as though I understood loss even then. I learned that whatever we say means nothing, what anyone will remember is that we came. I learned to believe I had the power to ease awful pains materially like an angel. Like a doctor, I learned to create from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once you know how to do this, you can never refuse. To every house you enter, you must offer healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself, the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch. ~Julie Kasdorf– “What I Learned from my Mother”
Usually a mom knows best about these things — how to love others when and how they need it and how to ease pain, not become one. We don’t always get it right though, and dads can do it better.
Showing up with food is always a good thing but it is the showing up part that is the real food; bringing along a cake is simply the icing.
This is a good reminder that as a doctor, my usefulness has tended to depend on another’s suffering. No illness, no misery, no symptoms and I’m out of a job. I can only hope that someday that might be the case. What a world it would be, especially as now suffering is universal.
And then I can still be a mom and grandmom even if there is no more doctor work to be done: ….if I’d known it could help, I’d have baked a cake and shown up with it…
As a child, my father helped me dig a square of dense red clay, mark off rows where zinnias would grow, and radishes and tender spinach leaves. He’d stand with me each night as daylight drained away to talk about our crops leaning on his hoe as I would practice leaning so on mine.
Years later now in my big garden plot, the soggy remnant stems of plants flopped over several months ago, the ground is cold, the berries gone, the stakes like hungry sentries stand guarding empty graves. And still I hear his voice asking what I think would best be planted once the weather warms. ~Margaret Mullins “Lonely Harvest” from Family Constellations
We were both raised by serious vegetable gardeners; as kids we helped plant and weed and harvest from large garden plots because that was how families fed themselves fresh produce rather than from a can. Even frozen vegetables were not plentiful in the stores and too expensive, so grow-it-yourself was a necessity before it became a trending hashtag.
Now, with his parents’ past guidance in his ears, my husband works the soil to prepare it yet again for yielding: the over-wintered shells of squash, the limp left-over bean vines, the stumps of corn stalks. Dark composted manure is mixed in, rototilled and fluffed, grass and weed roots pulled out. Then he carefully marks off the grid of rows and the decisions made about what goes where this year; what did well in the past? what didn’t germinate and what didn’t produce?
Then he lays the seeds and pats the soil down over the top and we wait.
Our garden has been yielding now for two weeks – plentiful greens and radishes and now fresh strawberries with peas coming on strong. It will be a resource for our church community and our winter meals as well as a fresh bounty for our table over the next three months.
Planting a garden is our very tangible expression of hope in the future when the present feels overwhelmingly gloomy with despair. Yet a garden doesn’t happen without our planning, work and care making that first spinach leaf, that first pea pod, that first strawberry taste even sweeter.
“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.” ~Voltaire’s last line from Candide
You come to fetch me from my work to-night When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see If I can leave off burying the white Soft petals fallen from the apple tree. (Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite, Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea); And go along with you ere you lose sight Of what you came for and become like me, Slave to a springtime passion for the earth. How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed On through the watching for that early birth When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed, The sturdy seedling with arched body comes Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs. ~Robert Frost “Putting in the Seed”
The garden is ready; the soil turned over, the compost mixed in, rototilled to a fine crown. Next will come the laying out of strings, the trench hoed straight, the seed laid one by one in the furrow and covered gently with a light touch.
Then the sun warms and showers moisten, the seeds awaken to push upward, bold and abrupt, wanting to know the touch of sky and air to leaf and leap and bloom and bear.
It was the face of spring, it was the face of summer, it was the warmness of clover breath. ~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine
However you may come, You’ll see it suddenly Lie open to the light Amid the woods: a farm Little enough to see Or call across—cornfield, Hayfield, and pasture, clear As if remembered, dreamed And yearned for long ago, Neat as a blossom now With all the pastures mowed And the dew fresh upon it, Bird music all around. That is the vision, seen As on a Sabbath walk: The possibility Of human life whose terms Are Heaven’s and this earth’s.
The land must have its Sabbath Or take it when we starve. The ground is mellow now, Friable and porous: rich. Mid-August is the time To sow this field in clover And grass, to cut for hay Two years, pasture a while, And then return to corn.
This way you come to know That something moves in time That time does not contain. For by this timely work You keep yourself alive As you came into time, And as you’ll leave: God’s dust, God’s breath, a little Light. ~Wendell Berry from The Farm
Farming is daily work outside of time – the labor of this day is the care for the eternal. There is a timelessness about summer: about preparing and planting and preserving, this cycle of living and dying repeating through generations. We, as our many great great grandparents did, must become God’s dust yet again.
So I’m reminded, walking through the pasture’s clover patch, of all the ways to become seed and soil for the next generation. For a blossom that appears so plain and goes so unnoticed during its life, it dies back, enfolding upon itself, with character and color and drama, each a bit differently from its neighbor.
Just like us.
Perhaps it is the breath of clover we should remember at the last; God’s own breath comes to us disguised in so many ways as we walk this ground. Inhale deeply of Him and remember we too are made fruits of His eternal labor.
“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.” ~Tennessee Williams in “Camino Real”
(These words became his epitaph)
Some beginnings in this life commence on inhospitable ground:
no soil, no protection, no nurture, barely enough water.
Here lies a drive to thrive and transcend: forcing through a crack in the pavement while exposed to relentless heat.
Such delicate beauty comes from nothing but a seed packed with the potential to transform its circumstances through perseverance. We all are created with the potential power to break through rocks and change the world.