I planted the first seeds yesterday. Up to my elbows in compost, little raindrops pattering around me, I tucked sweet peas into the beds by the rabbit houses, snap peas and kale and romaine into the raised beds along the driveway. It was thickly quiet; a rainstorm was moving in and my little world knew it. The birds had disappeared into the trees. Only the thrushes were singing their one long note, then silence.
I told Caleb to get the camera, said "let's take some photos for a blog post." He is an impatient photographer, but he obliged. I'm not sure what I expected. I now have a few dozen pictures of me bending over, and a few more of my boots. It's all good.
This is the year of big steps. Life is shifting around a bit, kids moving on with their lives, and the rest of us find ourselves able to move forward on some things we've dreamed about. Around the table we discuss goat breeds and where to build a shelter this summer, how to fence the hilly pasture. I ask everyone again if they really want to stay here....if a plot of land in the country and animals and gardens is what they really want to do. After all, that kind of life means staying, working, being rooted. Our friends are travelling, exploring, serving in faraway places, creating adventures.
"Planting and growing and tending is a different kind of adventure," I say. They nod thoughtfully and our circle gets quiet.
What I don't say, but what whispers at me from the corners of my mind, is that I can't shake the feeling of guilt. When I drive through the city a couple of times a week, it seems there is an old man on every corner, ragged cardboard sign and a gaze that looks away when I pull up alongside. A friend finds her marriage in tatters. We spend a Saturday evening with a room full of foster children and I can't let go of their stories or their bravery. Overseas, people are bombed. Women suffer. The world is breaking in every way.
And I am tucked into a warm house on a hillside far away from beggars and bombs. We raise bunnies... and ducks. This isn't exactly the stuff martyrs are made of.
I have conversations with God. "Okay," I tell Him. "We'll go. We'll sell this place and move to the city (or Africa or Haiti or anywhere else.)" I screw up what courage I have and I open my hand. "See?" I tell Him. "I'm not holding on to anything." My heart beats loud in my chest.
But He does not say anything new to me. He does not leap up and say, "At last! NOW you'll serve me!" All is quiet. The birds have gone back to their trees and only the thrush is singing her one long note.
I remember we've had this conversation before, God and me. He said:
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Lord, in a world of such sorrow, how can you ask me to sit still? To dig down and grow vegetables and goats? Should I not feel the burden of this weight of goodness?
We are not unscathed by sorrows here, nor do we hide away in safety from the realities of serving in a broken-hearted world, but still the guilt thrums deep.
That one note sounds again through the trees and something whispers in me, a warning I don't want to embrace: I am in danger of being wiser than God. If He says to dwell, to cultivate...who am I to protest? I close my eyes and tell my soul to submit.
In Penelope Wilcock's lovely series of books on life in a Benedictine abbey, the monks are each assigned various tasks in the running of the abbey. The cook,"holds the obedience" of the kitchen. Another man "holds the obedience" of the farm animals or the woodshed or the clothing. Each man is supposed to do his work faithfully, attentively, without complaint or presumption.
I open my eyes and take a look around at the little garden, the house, the land. And if I "hold the obedience" of this little space on earth? Can I do it faithfully and attentively? Can I let go presumption and simply obey?
John O'Donohue asks,
How can we ever know the difference we make to the soul of the earth?
If the world is truly breaking around us as it seems, perhaps it is neither luxury nor foolishness to do such ordinary acts as tending creatures and cultivating soil. Perhaps, after all, those are the imperative actions of faith-people: drilling down into the dark, thick crust of the earth and nestling within it small beauties.
Perhaps we are here in order to say house,
bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window...
To say them more intensely than the Things themselves
Ever dreamed of existing.
Perhaps those of us who are called to stay put, to hold the obedience of children and homes and ordinary jobs and suburbs and cities and little old houses in the woods are here to say peace, nurture, kindness, faithfulness, beauty, hope, God, to a world that has forgotten how to dream those things can exist. I imagine a legion of faith-full people tenderly calling forth light out of darkness. I imagine a web of faith-planted seeds, roots spreading through the ground, green breaking through the surface in a quiet explosion of life. I imagine the Creator God whispering, "Yes! Yes! Good!"
Out in the garden a boy snaps pictures and we laugh and I groan at the silliness of them. The sky above us darkens and the raindrops start to come earnestly. We gather up our things and head for the house. The little seedlings I've planted bow their heads bravely under the rain. And in the trees, the thrush is still tenderly singing her one, simple, captivating song.