Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A harvest from a forgotten garden

my garden

Last Spring, I planted a small garden: two narrow raised beds with enough room for a cabbage, some basil, carrots, red onions, three tomato plants and a few watermelon vines. I planned and plotted, dug out and built up the beds, dumped in garden soil, nestled the seedlings into their new home, and gave it all a healthy dousing of water.

But that was about it.

Honestly, I didn’t spend a lot of time tending my garden. Spring got busy, and when summer rolled around, I spent even less time in it. I watered it maybe five or six times (it rains a lot in Northern Virginia) and weeded it less than that (though with the new soil and the beds being raised, weeds weren’t really a problem). I pruned it only if I had a moment when I ran outside for a handful of basil leaves.

The rain fell, the sun shone. The months passed.

onions from my garden
Then somewhere along the way, my garden started to produce. A lot. The carrots and watermelon didn’t fare so well, but I didn’t need to buy as many tomatoes at the store and I stopped buying basil altogether. There was at least a month when I didn’t need to buy any red onions, either. And did you know fresh-from-the-garden cabbage is actually spicy?
                                      
One day I carried into the house a small fortune of tomatoes, and it dawned on me that I was akin to the man in Jesus’ parable in Mark:
God’s kingdom is like seed thrown on a field by a man who then goes to bed and forgets about it. The seed sprouts and grows—he has no idea how it happens. The earth does it all without his help: first a green stem of grass, then a bud, then the ripened grain. When the grain is fully formed, he reaps—harvest time!
That’s how I feel about my garden. I planted it, and then forgot about it. But the earth did it all without my help—and I’ve been reaping the harvest. For months.

Recently, I’ve realized that I feel the same way about my soul. The seeds of God’s kingdom grow in me, and I have no idea how it happens. This particularly resonates with me right now because I’m coming out of (or, at least, getting a reprieve from) a season when God’s pretty much doing it all without much help from me.

These last couple of years has been a bit rough. Several close family members have grappled with serious health problems, and my husband’s father lost his battle with bone cancer and passed away in August. This both confronted and left me wrestling with the reality of mortality, the fragility of life, and that we all will eventually lose those we love and leave those we love behind.

This brought on a kind of dark night in my soul. Like that despairing psalmist, I’ve found God hard, if not impossible, to find. I’ve lamented that his face is hidden from me. Sometimes, I’ve wondered if he’s even there at all.

And many of those disciplines I gravitate towards—reading scripture, prayer, meditation, study—have brought little consolation and diminished. Even my writing, which is a kind of public spiritual journaling, has decreased.

Yet, as I ponder my garden and soul, I see now that I’ve grown in ways I didn’t expect. I am more profoundly aware of my flaws, fears and selfishness—and thus more aware of my need for God. I’ve grown more appreciative of the ordinary things. I feel more compassion towards others. My love for my children has grown even deeper and I’ve become more patient with them (though I’m sure they’d tell you I still have a long way to go with that one). I’m less cynical and more hopeful about God’s people and my understanding of God’s Story and his plan for creation has grown, too.

And I can see new disciplines have emerged in my life. I’ve craved corporate worship, which consistently brings moments of healing and peace in ways I’ve never experienced before. I’ve been seeking ways to help and serve others with new intensity. I’ve started recording spiritual truths and imperatives and meditating on them in an effort to work them down into my soul. I’m constantly hungry for solitude, turning off music and television with more frequency so as to reduce the noise in my life. And I’ve been simplifying things—my time, possessions, and focus.

What astounds me about this, however, is that most of these are things into which I put little, if any, intention or effort. Most of my growth is fruit of seeds I didn’t even know had been planted. I find myself participating in new disciplines I did not intentionally seek out—and in some cases, seem to practice without knowing it. And like that farmer, it feels like I don’t know how it’s happened.
                                      
I’ve experienced darkness before, and one of my greatest consolations has been St. John of the Cross’ The Dark Night of the Soul, in which he writes about how God changes and purifies the heart and soul during the spiritual crises of the Dark Night of the Soul and the Dark Night of the Spirit. He explains these seasons as ones where God, far from being absent, is so near and his light so bright that you feel blind and wrapped in darkness. But as you wait in this darkness, God works within you, transforming you in secret, drawing you into a closer and deeper union with him.

Perhaps something like this occurs in other dark times as well. Even as we fumble, God works within us to change us into the persons he created us to be—more like his Son—even as he draws us closer to him. It doesn’t feel like he is there; in fact, it often feels like he is absent. Yet, somehow, he is intimately near.

My pastor says, “With Jesus, every death is a resurrection.” With God, every broken part of this world and every flaw or bent part of us is a seed ready to die so new life can grow. We, like the farmer, don't understand how it happens. God, like the earth, does it all. This is one of God’s truths that, in the darkness, is slowly becoming my experience. It is a seed whose roots are working their way through my being.

It is comforting to me that God so tends my soul when I feel like I can do nothing but watch the rain fall, the sun shine and the darkness cool the burnt summer earth. And suddenly, along with Peter, I find myself uttering: Oh my soul, there is indeed no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bless you, Carmen.

Anonymous said...

this touches my heart in a bittersweet way that makes life seem more precious. many thanks for writing of your soul's hard journey so precisely and beautifully. xo susie