Be a Dwelling

Be a womb.
Be a dwelling for God.
Be surprised.
~Loretta Ross-Gotta


Imagine yourself as a living house. 
God comes in to rebuild that house. 
At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. 
He is getting the drains right
and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; 

you knew that those jobs needed doing
and so you are not surprised. 

But presently He starts
knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably 

and does not seem to make any sense. 
What on earth is He up to? 
The explanation is that He is building
quite a different house from the one you thought of – 

throwing out a new wing here, 
putting on an extra floor there, 
running up towers, 
making courtyards. 
You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: 
but He is building a palace. 
He intends to come and live in it Himself.
~C.S. Lewis from Mere Christianity

Whenever there is the temptation to hunker down
in retreat from
the rest of the world,
and God Himself,
content with the status quo
and reluctant to stretch beyond
clear boundaries I’ve carefully constructed
for my one weary life~

I am surprised.

Whether bunker or cottage or palace,
when I seek safety or simplicity,
it is not enough.
I am not a dwelling for God
until His remodel project is finished~

He puts down His chisel, hammer and saw,
sees what He has salvaged from the junk heap,
looks me over
and declares it good.

Overrun By Weed Creep

thegardener

 

horse manure composted garden

 

…all I know is that we must cultivate our garden…
~Voltaire from Candide

 

gardenrows

 

This year, once again, we’re late getting our garden in — there have been too many other things happening in our work and home life to even think about getting the garden in.  Starting a garden in June is not something I recommend to anyone.  It requires bushwhacking to make a suitable bed for the seeds.

Thankfully, my now newly retired husband — normally part-time farmer now full-time — was up to the job.

The weeds, never discouraged by cool rainy weather, have instead been emphatically encouraged. They grow with exuberance, happily seeding themselves, thank you very much. The garden plot had become a veritable forest to contend with before the soil could be prepared for seeding.

My husband set to work on the jungle on hands and knees, digging into the turf of weeds, loosening their grip, pulling them out, shaking off the clinging clumps of dirt from their roots and turning over fresh soil to dry in the sun under a fresh dressing of warm composted manure.  Along with creating multiple trenches for our vegetable seeds and starts, we planted prayers that there was still enough time left in the growing season to actually bear a harvest.

I admit there are plenty of times my life feels like our neglected garden plot.  If not kept tended, if not exposed to enough warmth and light, if not fertilized with the steaming loam from a well-composted manure pile, if not kept clear of the unwanted weeds that take hold and grow no matter what the weather conditions, there can be no harvest of value whatsoever.  I will accomplish nothing other than sustaining self-sowing weeds for the next generation to battle.

I leave behind a life unrecognizable as a source of nurture as it is overrun by weed creep.

Each year we’re determined to do better but we know we’re running out of time and gardening seasons. It isn’t just the resultant sore back and dirty fingernails that serve as reminders of the hard work of tending one’s life like one’s soil.  It is that burst of sweetness that comes from eating the first fresh peas, the sharp tang of a radish straight from the ground, the bowl of greens unsullied by chemicals, the onions, potatoes and squash stored away in the root cellar for winter consumption.

Most of all, it is the satisfaction of knowing we accomplished something wonderful with our own hands — guided gently by the ultimate Gardener who won’t allow a few weeds to overrun us.

 

beanplantA

 

squashsprouts

 

weedyradishes

 

beansprout

 

weeder

 

 

 

Preparing for Parable: New Treasures as Well as Old

cellardoor

 

Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.
Matthew 13:52

 

rootcellarwinter

 

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath. 
~Theodore Roethke “Root Cellar”

 

rootcellarsteps

 

 

 

rootcellarjars2

 

On our farm there is an underground storehouse in the form of a root cellar. I tug on the handle of the heavy cover to lift it to one side in order to descend the steps to the underground room that serves as a year round natural refrigerator.  At the bottom of the stairs, I open the thick sealed door to permit a shaft of sunlight to illuminate the inner darkness–there is always a moment of wondering what I might find on the other side in such a mysterious place.  A rush of cool earthen air blows back at me as if displaced by the light that has rushed in.  Until I snap on the lights, it is as secret as a womb harboring its precious cargo.  This place smells of dirt and moisture–the lifeblood of the fruits and roots that tarry here until it is finally their turn to be brought up into the light.  Potatoes, onions, apples, pears, nuts all resting and waiting, as if suspended in time.

This is the old, waiting for me to partake and be nurtured. The old covenant.

It has been awhile since my last visit.  As the lights blink on, I blink too in unbelief.  There had been a startling transformation, as time no longer stands still as it had through the winter.  Long white arms, almost waving with enthusiasm, were reaching out from the potato bin in a desperate searching plunge through the blackness.   In this dark place, their blind eyes must sense a better place and have set out on a mission to get there.  The naked shoots are so entangled one with the other, it feels voyeuristic, as if I were witnessing something private and personal.

I gather them up,  apologetic for causing them a moment’s doubt about their destiny.  A trench must be dug, so they are placed gently at the base with shoots pointed toward the sky, and the dirt swept over them in a burial that is more commencement than coda.

And so the eyes have it, having reached for a light not seen but sensed.  Through a glass darkly, we try to understand – no more dust, cobwebs, murkiness.

This is the new, reaching out to us, never to leave us the same ever again.  The new covenant, a new life.

…even the dirt kept breathing a small breath…

Was blind, but now can see.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

rootcellarjars

 

IMG_1113

Caught and Stoppered

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

“Dandelion wine.
The words were summer on the tongue.
The wine was summer caught and stoppered…
sealed away for opening on a January day
with snow falling fast and the sun unseen for weeks…”
~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine

Now is mid-January:

Summer is found in our dark root cellar–
in rows of canned fruit and
a pile of potatoes

Summer is found in our freezer–
containers of berries and dehydrated pears
alongside bags of pea pods, corn and beans.

Summer is found in our barn–
piles of hay bales to be opened
to release the smell, the sun, the sweat of a midsummer evening’s harvest.

 

Thinking Autumn Thoughts

sunrise1041

eveninghaybarn

sunrise1042That country where it is always turning late in the year.
That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist;
where noons go quickly,
dusks and twilights linger,
and midnights stay.
That country composed in the main of cellars,
sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics,
and pantries faced away from the sun.
That country whose people are autumn people,
thinking only autumn thoughts.
Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.
~Ray Bradbury from “October Country”

cellarfall

octoberfrontyard

Just as a painter needs light in order to put the finishing touches to his picture,
so I need an inner light,
which I feel I never have enough of in the autumn.
~Leo Tolstoy

octobereast2

rollingjoy

A Heaven of Impermanence

photo by Josh Scholten

My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been.
To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence
where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening.
The light is gold. And while we’re here, I think it must
    be heaven.
~Elizabeth Spires from “In Heaven it is Always Autumn”

I wander the autumn garden mystified at the passing of the weeks since seed was first sown, weeds pulled, peapods picked.  It could not possibly be done so soon–this patch of productivity and beauty, now wilted and brown, vines crushed to the ground, no longer fruitful.

The root cellar is filling up, the freezer packed.  The work of putting away is almost done.

So why do I go back to the now barren soil I so carefully worked, numb in the knowledge I will pick no more this season, feel the burst of a cherry tomato exploding in my mouth or the green freshness of a bean straight off the vine?

Because for a few fertile weeks, only a few weeks, the garden was a bit of heaven on earth, impermanent but a real taste nonetheless.   We may have mistaken Him for the gardener when He appeared to us radiant, suddenly unfamiliar, but He offered the care of the garden, to bring in the sheaves, to share the forever mercies in the form of daily bread grown right here and now.

When He says my name, then I will know Him.  He will lead me farther than I have ever been.

photo by Josh Scholten

…in heaven it is always autumn, his mercies are ever in their maturity.  God comes to thee, not as in the dawning of the day, not as in the bud of the spring, but as the sun at noon,  to illustrate all shadows, as the sheaves in harvest…
~John Donne in Christmas Day Sermon 1624

Digging Potatoes

Digging Potatoes by Martin Driscoll http://www.martindriscoll.com

Recent rains have melted the potato vines flat to the ground, nearly indistinguishable from the dirt where they lie strung out and dead spider-like. It is time to dig before there is no trace left of where the potato harvest can be found. Weeds still thrive in the cooler autumn weather, green and strong, but the potato vines had given up several weeks ago, dying back as summer waned.

Armed with basket and pitchfork, I go to work, sinking the tines into the soil to loosen it, then lifting up gently to see what I might find underneath. From a waterfall of dirt tumbles smooth egg-size ovals of red and yellow and white. I pan the dirt with my fingers, sifting through the clumps to discover nuggets to brush off and set aside in the basket to take to storage in the root cellar.

Within each unearthed hill of potatoes rests the old mother “seed” potato, so fertile and firm, eagerly sprouting when planted only 4 months ago. I stumble upon her, noticing her vigorous nurture of multiple offspring, sometimes as many as twenty coming from one original planting. Occasionally I find her shrunken to only a dry floppy skin, her flesh spent and dispersed. More often she is still recognizable, though spongy and softened, wrinkled and withered by her immense effort to propagate. Most poignant are the hills where there is nothing left but residual gooeyness in the center. It adheres sticky to my palms as I unexpectedly grasp her glutinous remains, and it gums up deep under my fingernails.

The seed gives all of herself. As she must.

The new potatoes are spread on the drying shelves, color coded into gold, red and white, waiting in the dark root cellar to become a feast of dreams born of sun, rain and soil. I return to the kitchen to wash their dirt off my hands, scrubbing to remove what still clings to my skin. Even so, my fingernails stay hopelessly stained and brown, and I don’t mind.

Within my hands I will carry the memory of the mothers.

Van Gogh Painting, Oil on Canvas on Panel Nuenen: August, 1885 Kröller-Müller Museum Otterlo, The Netherlands, Europe F: 97, JH: 876