A Time to Plant

14 08 2010

Now that it’s finally stopped raining, I’ve been going for a lot of walks, usually through neighborhoods where I get some really beautiful views of the Puget Sound or at dusk, quick glimpses through windows and screen doors of a thousand different lives.  I stumble over cracked sidewalks and overgrown bushes and duck low hanging trees, and I pass a lot of personal gardens.  I’m not a gardener at all, but this time of year offers a view of magical, colorful creation at its best.  Bright purple cabbage, yellow corn, leafy green lettuce, red tomatoes, yellow squash and a confetti of wildflowers dot my walking paths.

It gets me thinking about growing.

We were made to create.  In the image of our Creator we have been invited to join the repetitive yet spontaneous and endless process of production.  We get so bogged down in the pressure to produce that we forget about the God-nature of it, but it’s true.  We were made to imagine and dream and till the soil until something beautiful sprouts.  With this likeness in our being, in our very function, it’s no wonder that we (particularly in the industrial West) so often skew the balance between work and rest.  To work is in our nature; even if we have a few lazy days (or years!) we still long to see the fruits of our labor.  We grow grumpy and frustrated when our lives don’t seem to make “enough” of a difference in the world, when our work doesn’t seem to ever fix anything or stay the ever-persistent demands of survival.  Even when we’re tired – exhausted – we.  keep.  moving.  Stopping won’t get us anywhere.

Lately, as I walk through my neighborhood, I find myself uncomfortable with the stillness of both the streets and my own soul.  I whine to God that I’m walking alone, that my dearest friends are hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away, and that I have nothing “more exciting” to do.  But then I see a garden and I’m reminded of how things grow.  We plant for the harvest, but the harvest won’t happen without the tedious, time-consuming tending of the soil.  The crop won’t last long if we don’t take the time to water and dig and watch and wait.  The real growth happens underground.

And so, among the gardens I pray.  I am reminded that I am never alone and that God himself is faithfully tending to my every need and preparing me for a harvest that will last.  Even more, he invites me to create myself with him.  He gives me space to till the soil too.

Too often, because we’re so busy bent over, close to the ground, looking for the fruit to pick, our prayers remain in the present, or in the past that, like a weed we can’t get rid of, crowds out the crops we really want.  We pray for the needs of the day or of the moment – all good prayers and in line with Jesus’ teaching in what is commonly referred to as the “Lord’s Prayer.”  We know someone who is sick, or hurting, or scared, and so we pray.  We feel anxious or angry or alone, and so we pray.  We’re haunted by certain memories or mistakes, and so we pray.  But we get so busy in the pace of the work, that eventually all we seem to be able to do is keep up.

Yet in the moments when the ground is empty, then God invites us to plant, and we get to lift our eyes and look ahead.  We get to pray for the coming harvest that’s still invisible.  We get to pray for future things.  We no longer just have to pray for survival, or for God to “fix” things (even though sometimes there are seasons where that is all we can do), but we get to pray also for God’s creative, proactive presence in our lives and our world.  We get to dream with him what it could look like for his Kingdom to spring up through the earth wherever we’re planted, in giant purple heads of cabbage and in tiny little berries.  We get to pray for crops large and small.

Don’t get too hung up on the harvest.  Every seventh year God asked his people to let the land lie, and to remember that even though they were made to co-create with him, it was imperative that they remember who the first Creator was.  And when they worried about what they would eat that year, he reminded them that he would bless them with everything they needed during the time of rest – with an abundance, actually.

Heed the Creator’s command to rest, and in so doing, pray for the underground growth.  Don’t resist the stillness or the silence or the loneliness you may find yourself in.  It’s the way that we plant and pray for future things, and it matters.  It’s the way that the mustard seed grows.


For My Friend

14 03 2010

I have a friend who’s in a pretty intense period of being stripped of everything normal in her life.  It’s like an earthquake of sorts, where suddenly everything’s shaken up, the ground’s dropped out from underneath her, the structures in her life have crumbled to the ground, she’s lost her own two feet to stand on, she doesn’t have resources to even begin to rebuild, most days she battles being too tired to even climb out of the rubble and the aftershocks come in waves just at the moments when she starts to have hope again.  I have watched her amazingly try to put the pieces back together, to “make it work,” to find a way out from here when there really is no visible way…all with a joyful, hopeful, tenacious spirit.  And yet, at the end of the day, and amidst the rumble of still more aftershocks, we are recognizing that the only thing God is really letting her do is, well, receive.

Receiving is almost a four-letter word in our can-do culture.  I remember my own earthquake season – quite different from my friend’s, but legitimate nonetheless – where my world was completely shaken and I found my giving self with nothing left to give.  I suddenly depended deeply on people’s money, plane tickets, ideas, prayers, anger, advice, time spent listening to me say the same struggles over and over again, and the truth they faithfully spoke into those struggles over and over again.  It took my understanding of humility from a concept I chose to act when it was convenient, to something I couldn’t escape feeling – like when you haven’t eaten in a while and you feel a little trembling in your knees.  It forced me to walk in weakness.

This position of true humility, when you know you’re weak, deeply violates our culture’s unspoken law of “success” or what it even means to be “normal.”  And if we are Christian, we say we’re different and that we put our trust in God, but we really keep the culture’s law as much as anyone.  We wrestle with God to give us strength and to “open doors” so we can walk into the next room of life confidently on our own two feet.  The idea of only being able to sit in the room waiting for others to come and drop things off or carry us forward – because that’s sometimes all we can do – spits in the face of Calvin’s capitalistic work ethic, makes us seem lazy, and stirs a deep and persistent fear down low in our gut that our survival, let alone that abundant life Jesus promised us, is quite absurdly dependent on the willingness of others to come and journey with us.

I was thinking of my friend this week and the painful process she’s been on having to accept both her inability to give and receive at the same time, and I was thinking of how we as Christians respond to these seasons of dependence in our lives.  We accuse God of not loving us because He won’t give us all the things we want/need in order to be independent (anyone looking for a job?  Having a life-direction crisis?  Wanting a better education so you can get a little more respect?  Struggling to pay the bills or secretly bitter at your budget?  Lonely?  Wanting to see the fruit of your ministry?)  All of the antidotes to these desires, even when desired with good intentions – money, jobs, direction, spouses, community, etc. – they all dance before us like prizes on the Price is Right promising to pave the way to that life we’ve always wanted, or legitimately even hoped to have in order to honor God.  We accuse God of not loving us when he doesn’t give us these things.  Perhaps the accusation is not explicit, but we ask him to show his love to us by giving us these things – am I right?

But we miss his love when he withholds…in the way he starves our independence but satisfies our dependence.  That we must depend on the providence of God and others does not mean he does not love us, but rather that he loves us so deeply that he wants to meet our needs and be involved in our lives.  The story of the people of God as they wandered through the wilderness was not that they survived by their own strength, but rather that they were dependent upon the strange and unanticipated gifts of God: water from rocks, victory in battle through worship not warfare, guidance from clouds and fire, manna that fed them enough for each day instead of meals they could prepare themselves.  This is the miracle of the manna – that the God who could have given them more than enough for their entire journey all at once, instead chose to show up every morning and rain down just enough for the day…and then he showed up again and again and again.  Sure, he was leading them to a land flowing with milk and honey, where they would never be in want, and we need to remember this and pray that God would lead us to our own land of plenty, but if you’re like me or my friend and you’re not yet there, let us rejoice in the love of the manna and continue to pray as Jesus advised us, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

“My God, my God, why have you deserted me?  How far from saving me, the words I groan!  I call all day, my God, but you never answer, all night long I call and cannot rest.  Yet, Holy One, you who make your home in the praises of Israel, in you our ancestors put their trust, they trusted you and you rescued them; they called to you for help and they were saved; they never trusted you in vain.” – Psalm 22:1-5