Something Holy (An Ash Wednesday Reflection)

There is something holy about working in soil.

Maybe it is the connection between our bodies and the soil. Scripture tells us that this tie is more than intimate.  We are made from earth, it says.  We are of the same stuff. So when we work in the soil and get it under our nails and all over our clothes, there is good reason that we recognize the link.  It’s not imaginary, it’s really there. When we tend the garden, we are tending to another part of ourselves and when we grow food for the sake of others we are loving them as God loves us – creating for them, providing for them, for our neighbors, our brothers and sisters.

Somedays that is more evident than others.  This past Wednesday was one of them and I did not even get dirty. In fact, I only turned a few shovels myself.  But the lesson was more than evident when I came back at the end of the day and walked down to the Neighbors’ Garden to look at what had been accomplished.  Row upon contoured row had been formed.  Step paths had been dug.  And thousands of seeds were down in those rows and waiting to grow. Snap peas were in. Beets and turnips and radishes were in. Carrots were in. Spinach and arugula and collards were all in.  A lot of people are going to eat well from that garden.  But there was something more, too, and it only slowly came to me.

When I started the work that morning, there were eight of us. Three volunteers from DOOR.  Luis and Josh and Dennis and Geoff and myself.  Before we even got started, I was called to another place, but I was able to stay long enough to get things going and bring back seeds.  When I drove off the second time, I could see the determination in the entire group, but also some fatigue.  It is hard work turning soil, even just making rows and everyone was tired. I figured we would get things started that day and finish next week.  Too bad, I thought, it would be better for those peas and carrots and beets to be in the ground already.

But it was Ash Wednesday and Josh had to leave to practice for Candler’s worship that evening.  Luis was pulled away to another task, too.  When I left, the group was down to five.  And very shortly thereafter, I got a call that the three DOOR volunteers would have to leave, too – their friend who had not joined us was increasingly ill and needed their care.  That left Dennis and Geoff in the field.

I really did not expect to find the garden planted out when I returned in the evening.  I figured two men in their seventies and eighties would get tired around lunch time and have enough sense to stop working.  I am writing this morning because they had more hope in God’s work than they had sense. They had more commitment to Christ’s love and more sheer determination to be active partners in the work of the Spirit not to stop and to finish what they and others had started, too. Sense was in short supply, but there was more than enough heart.

I invite you all to stop on your way into the church this week and take a look at our garden – planted well and on time by volunteers – and give thanks to them and to God for what we have at this place – good soil, a chance to labor well, and the blessings of God to turn the two of those into so much more.

I am attaching a photo that I wanted to share with you. Dennis is not in it. I am pretty sure he took the photo, though.  Those look like his fingers all over the lens.  And they speak more than a little about the simple, good approach he brought to this labor. He is not technically adept at such work, but he knows and appreciates how good it is and so he has given his life to it. We could all benefit from his example.

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Geoff and Erin are in the picture and they are beaming. I know from talking to Erin that she had to go tell the guys to stop at 4 PM because they still had not taken a break. No lunch.  No breaks.  Just good, determined labor on God’s good earth.  I know she had been working hard that day, too, so I am glad she is in the picture. What we see there is joy. The world needs more of it.

Just a few hours later, we would be sitting around a table listening to that age-old reminder of Ash Wednesday – “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” from Genesis 3:19 – and that night I could not dwell in the ashes and limitations of that message.  I could not put on sackcloth because I kept seeing that garden and when I saw the picture of Erin and Geoff with Dennis’ fingers all over it, I knew why. We are dust.  But that is not a bad thing.

The Peace of the Earth be with you all.  The Peace of the Heavens, too.

-John

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