This past summer, before I even started CPE, I knew I was, to put it bluntly, “in for a hell of a year.” It was going to be a LOT of adjustment–adjusting to working part-time (and the loss of income that goes with it), adjusting to a regular commute for 30 weeks, adjusting to a weekly schedule of regular and constant change, and adjusting to moving outside of my parish community to do ministry. I spent a lot of summer nights under the stars, on my deck and by my outdoor fireplace, pondering what I needed to do to care for myself.
What came to me was the utter joy I get from messing with green and growing things.
I don’t even pretend to be a gardener. I fling wildflower seed willy-nilly around the house, plant a few things on purpose, and raise tomatoes and chili peppers in big pots of dirt. I eat the tomatoes and peppers, putter with the flowers that result from this activity and bring cut flowers into the house. As fall approached, an old memory came to me. In 1994, I spent some time at the (now defunct) Armed Forces Institute of Pathology as a civilian extern, over next to the campus of the old Walter Reed Hospital. One of the ways I assuaged my homesickness was every day after work I walked by the Metro station and bought some cut flowers from a very charming Middle Eastern guy who knew how to do a sale job on his flowers. (Flowers + flattery = works every time.) Bringing something green and cheerful into my life every day mattered.
So, I came up with a plan–to rescue a few green, growing things out in my yard, and to grow a few things over the winter by means of grow lights. Here are some of the results so far:
I have noticed that when I need to take a little break, whether it’s from studying, or just relaxing after getting home from my CPE commute, I like fidgeting with my plants. I suppose I like the idea that I am nurturing something green and growing, when the shortening days and temperature drops tell me, “No! Don’t you know the world is dying and hibernating right now?”
Sometimes, I wonder if that isn’t a theme for my own journey right now, or, for that matter, the Christian theme. Rebirth in the face of death. Resurrection following the darkest hours. Hope for the future while surrounded by doom and gloom.
I suppose deep down inside, my hope is that God tends me much like how I tend my little plants–give them what they need to grow, but let them grow in their own way under the circumstances. I am not always very good at “being tended.” I generally prefer tending over being tended. Yet, in tending plants, I am reminded that it all comes from God–light, water, soil–each day and night a chance to grow an imperceptibly tiny amount, noticeable only when we look back over a longer span of time than one day. In the burial rite of the Book of Common Prayer, we express that defiance of the powers of death and the acceptance that all is derived from God in the opening lines:
I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.
Whoever has faith in me shall have life,
even though he die.
And everyone who has life,
and has committed himself to me in faith,
shall not die for ever.
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him
who is my friend and not a stranger.
For none of us has life in himself,
and none becomes his own master when he dies.
For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,
and if we die, we die in the Lord.
So, then, whether we live or die,
we are the Lord’s possession.