Staying home full time for the last three weeks has provided an excellent opportunity for me to better understand the areas I am most in need of improvement. For example, this week has revealed that I kill plants. No matter how hard I try, it seems I cannot apply the appropriate proportions of water, sun, and soil long enough to move from seedling to flower or to sustain a flower already in bloom. This is especially distressing because my husband comes from a long family line of farmers – people who make things grow for a living. And yet here I am, unable for the life of me to keep a single zucchini plant alive. It’s not for lack of interest -- if I could only will it to happen, I would have beautiful flowering vines on my deck, hanging blossoms on my front porch, and a garden full of fresh produce – from which I would feed my family from a hand-made apron in a kitchen that would consistently smell like fresh homemade bread. This is the vision of my domesticated self. Instead, I lose one blossom after another, and with them my dreams of home-made salsa and fresh basil pesto.
My husband likes to remind me that to keep a plant alive I have to water it… and not just once but every day. Ah. And sometimes what it needs is not more water or more sun, but shade. And not all plants can use the same fertilizer or the same soil….Goodness, I think. It all starts to become very complicated. But here is the key: Do I want to try?
Apparently I have not wanted to try enough, and herein the weakness is revealed. I love the idea of many things – but the follow through is often lacking. True confessions: my “homemade stocking” for my now-three-year-old daughter’s first Christmas still has a snowman with only half a head. And despite the money I spent on oil paints to create homemade art for our walls – we still have only one tiny landscape that I hide tucked away in the bookshelf. But my failure at the art of gardening has been particularly hard. What is it that I lack? Perhaps the ability to be still, to be patient, to continue to persevere day in and day out even as I wait for something so small like a seed to finally take root…and grow.
The Gospel reading last week was about Mary and Martha. Mary “chose what was better:” she sat at Jesus’ feet while Martha was busy with many things. Our parish priest reminded us that, like Mary, we too need to sit at Jesus’ feet; we too need to be still. Are we too busy to pray? Then, he said, we are too busy. And like watering a plant, it is so easy to put off something like being still for another 5 minutes because I have so much to do, until each 5 minutes turns into an hour, and then an afternoon, and then another day...until I wonder, why does my spiritual well feel dry? My relationship with Jesus is not formulaic. I cannot repeat a mealtime and bedtime prayer and expect to flourish. Sometimes what I need is fertilizer – soaking in His presence. Sometimes what I need is the water from the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I need the Word of Life. What this takes is time.
Today I am going to take the kids to a local garden, a "gardener's delight with 20 different themed gardens." No, I'm not going to wallow in self-pity at the garden I will never have, and I'm going to resist my typical burst of short-lived enthusiasm to take on a new project. Instead, perhaps today I will just listen. Maybe I'll bring my Bible and share a passage with the kids. I'll try to be still. Perhaps today, as I sit in the stillness surrounded by quietly growing seeds (and my not-so-quiet, but still-growing children), I will begin to learn a lesson. I might not see immediate results, but in time, these seeds will grow.
We didn't make it to the gardens yesterday. The near-100-degree temperature with near 100-percent humidity came with public warnings to keep infants and the elderly indoors. This was enough to deter us from any outside excursions. The best-laid plans.... However, I did find some quiet time: between laundry loads and during naps, I hunkered down in the cool, dark basement. I closed my eyes to block out the visible chaos, and, for at least 15 minutes in the silence, I listened.