20 November 2007

The Theology of Gardening

Back in the spring, I told you about my new garden. Well, it was time for some fall planting.
I'm new at this whole gardening thing. In other words, I have no idea what I'm doing. Good thing my mom's brilliant with these things. Last week, I spent a few days in their neck of the woods (and I mean that literally), and helped my mom do some of her gardening. Very instructive. For example, I learned that pansies and snap dragons are winter flowers.
So home again, home again this weekend and time to work on my miniature garden (which never feels miniature when you're working on it).
I think I like gardening. Besides getting to sink your hands into dirt (or, in Texas, clay, which passes for dirt), you have time to think, pray, and sing (yes, out loud--don't worry; the neighbors have known for a while about the conditions of my mind). And it struck me. God's work in me is a lot like gardening.
The process spanned three days. My process, that is, not God's. Although wouldn't it be nice?
Saturday, I bought all the supplies with the intention of planting in the afternoon. Except we needed to run this errand and that errand. Okay, so no gardening done Saturday. Still, supplies were bought.
Sunday, after an afternoon nap that went longer than planned, I got out there. Alas, our big trees (which I adore, so this is not a complaint, mind you) had stripped their leaves all over our front yard, including in my garden. You'd think they were five (or my husband) leaving (leafing? I know, I know) their clothes all over the floor. Sheesh. So I spent most of my time on Sunday clearing out the leaves and the acorns and the pecans, knowing that in another week, I'll have to go back there and clear it out again.
Which brings me to astute observation number one: does God get tired of clearing out my old dredge, knowing He's going to have to do it again? And again. And again.
I also had to pull out the summer flowers--the vinias and the zinnias (I sound like Dr. Seuss) and the daisies. I hated doing it. They still thrived with the weather being what it has been (spring-like). But I knew (or rather, my mother knew and told me) that they wouldn't last much longer. They wouldn't make it through the next season. So I pulled them out and cut back the potato vine and the honeysuckle. The potato vine and honeysuckle look like they've had a crew cut.
Astute observation number two: does it make God sad to pull out things that seem beautiful in our lives but that He knows won't last? He has to pull out the old sometimes to make room for the new. Does He ever not want to dig out some flowers in our lives? Or prune, even though He knows that's what'll allow us to thrive later?
Sunday was also my day of pain. The sun had set, and the light dimmed, although I didn't realize it because I was busy at work and busy chatting on the phone with a friend. My mom had given me an agorapantha plant (which I'm spelling wrong, but I can't find how to actually spell it), and I took a knife to it to cut it into at least two plants. Suddenly, sting, sting. I looked down at my knees to see a colony of red ants attacking. I could almost hear the trumpet: Charge! I ran into the house, peeling off my pants as I went (hoping the neighbors weren't watching).
"Fire ants! Fire ants!" I yelled and dashed into the shower.
Now, if you live or have lived in Texas, you know the two bains of gardening here are the aforementioned clay (which is not conducive to growing living things other than roly polies) and fire ants. Fire ants inflict much pain. Later, that pain becomes a maddening itch (although I'll contend it's not as bad as fleas).
Needless to say, I was done gardening for the day. The following day, when I returned to the garden, I found the knife sticking out of the agorapantha like an abandoned crime scene.
Astute observation three: does God's gardening in my life sometimes inflict pain upon Him? Besides even the pain He endured on the cross? Does He hurt when I lash out, not liking having a knife stuck in me one bit and sending out my army of fire ants?
Finally, we're at Monday. The final day (sort of) of my gardening process. Monday was my fun (as opposed to all claims in the song). The ground was prepped, and I came armed with a drum of ant killer. Before planting the seasonal pansies and snap dragons and dianthus, though, I dug holes for my bulbs--tulip, daffodil, and hyacinth. I don't remember what I put where or what colors I bought. Which means that come spring (hopefully), I'll have a fun surprise waiting for me. But it'll be a long, long wait through the cold (or occasionally chilly days here in Texas).
Astute observation number--what number are we on?: I don't want to wait. I've been through all this pain, this pruning and clearing and digging, and I want the pretty now. But maybe come spring, I'll have a fun surprise waiting for me. I wonder, is God ever pleasantly surprised by what comes up? (Scratch that last question. I'm not in the mood to debate omniscience and sovereignty and free will.)
After the bulbs, I put in my winter plants. This was the easiest step and the most immediately gratifying. Voila! Beautifulness on my front lawn. I went running yesterday and stood first for a couple of minutes in front of my house, admiring my work. I like making things beautiful, in music, in writing, in knitting, in gardening. That's not to deny the darkness of it, the tension without which resolve and release in music means nothing, the conflict that makes the plot in writing, the cramped hands in knitting, the tight hamstrings and fire ant bites in gardening. But in the end, it's beautiful, and I like being a part of that.
I suspect that God enjoys making things beautiful. After all, He's Creator. We get it from him (I learned it by watching you, alright?).


Christianne said...

Cool! Love these astute observations, oh astute one. And you're just plain funny. You make me laugh out loud.

I tried gardening once, when I was living on my own for the first time and wanted to try something with the little patch of garden outside my front door. Except it was something along the lines of that clay earth you mention having in Texas. One trip to Home Depot to get the vinkas -- or flox? I can't remember which -- and then a second trip to Home Depot to find out why they died in, like, four days. No deep roots could be dug into that clay unless I somehow found a way to dig down fourteen inches, the lady gardener expert said.

Forget that. I let them die. It was pathetic, both in attempt and to look at.

Jennifer Tiszai said...

Yeah, that's part of why I like gardening so much. Plus, you can see some visual results after hard work, unlike, say, writing.

Also, it's agapanthus. Or Nile Lily. I miss seeing them. I don't miss the fire ants of OC. Never got bit by them though.

Danica/Dream said...

These are great! Thanks for sharing.

Jenny said...

Beautiful and insightful

Mark Goodyear said...

Great essay, Heather. It reminds me of the most beautiful garden my wife planted in San Antonio before we moved.

After we sold the house, the new owners dug it up and left large patches of dirt in the yard. It still breaks my heart to drive by the old house.

Jenn said...

The wondering about whether God Himself gets hurt when He prunes us was the astutest, I think. Thanks for sharing the thought--the wonder.

Danica/Dream said...

Hey, you won the book on Free Book Monday on my blog! Congrats!!

Pamela said...

awwww how I loved this post.

Real Live Preacher said...

I share your love of gardening along with the fact that you are a novice.

I think I like the idea of gardening.

Have had many encounters with fire ants. None good.

Erin said...

Gardening is it's own giant library of spiritual illustrations and "a-ha" moments. That's one reason I like it so much.

I'm glad to get away from fire ant land.

Do you have a photo to share?