{This Sacred Everyday} Ed Cyzewski

{This Sacred Everyday} is a collection of posts about encountering God in the plain places, in the monotonous, in the daily. Today’s reflection is from Ed Cyzewski, who became my Real Life Friend recently when we met at The Festival of Faith and Writing and bonded over our shared love for all things Philadelphia. What I appreciate most about Ed is his commitment to encouraging and building up other writers in his sphere of blogging influence. He is an encourager at heart and inspires me to be the same. I’m honored to have him here today.

The Spiritual Gift of Inefficiency Or Why I Slave Away in My Garden

Manure tea is heavy and awkward to pour. The smell is revolting. How can week old rabbit manure that’s been “brewing” in a bucket of warm water not assault your senses? I pour the manure tea on our tomatoes. Tragically, it splashes.

I look at the fertilizer powders in the gardening center with longing eyes. What joy it must be to use a scoop to spread a pleasant, clean white powder on one’s plants and call it a day.

Instead, I’m scraping up another load of rabbit manure from their cage and filling up the bucket for next week’s batch of natural fertilizer.

On other days I’ve hauled in bags of dirt and compost, turned over the soil, dug holes, yanked weeds, and fought off pests and disease. I deal with sweat, sore shoulders, torn jeans, and cracked fingers.

Gardening can be physically demanding, expensive, frustrating, and wonderful. I’m not just attached to the thought of the sweet carrots I yank up or the delicious greens that pop up in orderly rows. I’m into the rhythm and sanctuary of my garden as a sacred space.

Gardening is my entertainment, my quiet time, my creative outlet, and one of the best places to take my spiritual pulse. It also happens to produce stuff we can eat—at least when things go well.

I used to obsess over the results of my garden, measuring its efficiency and production capabilities. I was one step away from creating a star chart for each plant, tracking its contribution to our family.  The cucumbers were always the disappointments.

It took me a while to stop looking at my garden with an industrial, consumption mindset where the biggest, fastest, cheapest food wins. My garden provides a place to escape my computer, piles of mail to sort, dishes to scrub, and litter boxes to clean.

This is value I can’t quantify or measure with a price tag.

If I didn’t garden, I’d spend most of my time just creating more blocks of text on screens, watching television, and complaining about feeling stressed, busy, and distracted.

When I plant a row of Swiss chard or dig up holes for our tomatoes, I’m creating something with a single, uninterrupted focus—provided my phone is stowed away inside the house. The investment I make in the clumps of dirt and reeking compost will bring a physical return. I will be able to cultivate something.

There’s a lot of pressure today to find the fastest, cheapest, easiest, most efficient way to do things. I could drive to the supermarket three blocks away and pick up everything I need for dinner before crashing to watch a hockey game with a rabbit next to me.

Let me share a different narrative for an evening.

Instead of watching television tonight, I’m going to plant some blackberry bushes in my yard. They’re a birthday present for my wife.

I have some cheap fence boards, a few screws, a bag of compost, a wheel barrel of dirt, and some cardboard laying around. With the plants and my shovel, I get to work.

I begin by digging a shallow trench around where I hope to place the plants. I burry the bottom two inches of my fence boards into these trenches, screw them together, and then backfill the finished frame.

The soil where I want to place the plants is dry and compact because the skies have been clear blue and flooded with sunlight for the past week. Each hack with the shovel feels like I’m digging into concrete. The dirt gives way reluctantly. I line up the first plant in the hole, each time resolving to dig a little deeper.

When I finally dig down far enough, I sprinkle compost and top soil in the hole and drop the plant in. I surround it with more compost and soil before moving on to the next hole.

After all of the plants are in place, I lay cardboard down on the remaining patches of grass within the frames and then pile fill dirt on them. Before going inside to clean up, I give the plants a good soaking with our hose.

This project took a good two hours, maybe longer. I don’t know when our $3 dollar blackberry bushes will produce enough berries to say they were worth my time and expenses for compost and top soil, but any such discussion misses the point. I made something pleasing and restful.

My mind was free to wander.

I processed the events of my day.

I was free to pray for friends and family.

Best yet, I wasn’t plugged in. No one could try to sell me anything. My thinking wasn’t fragmented by the news, my phone, or the radio. I was wholly present in one place, and such practices are a commodity today.

Gardening is an act of resistance against the frantic pace and constant connection of modern life. It’s a choice to do something inefficient, focused, and peaceful. Digging in the dirt, weeding, or picking lettuce makes it impossible to open my computer and to click on an article about the latest angry pastor or to buy a new designer rabbit leash. However, gardening will do wonders for providing focus, peace, and a clear mind.

I can’t point to specific spiritual gains that I’ve made from gardening.

My growth is creeping, incremental, and hard to notice each day.

Then one day a parable about good soil makes more sense. Another day I understand what the fruit bearing process is like. Most days I realize how calm and present I am after a little time among our vegetables and flowers.

Before I realize it, God’s Kingdom is taking root in me. I don’t know how it happens or what it will produce. I just know how it started: by sticking my shovel into the ground and digging in.


Ed Cyzewski is the author of Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life and co-author of the forthcoming book Hazardous: Committing to the Cost of Following Jesus. He blogs about imperfectly following Jesus at www.inamirrordimly.com.




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  • http://outofmyallegedmind.com/ Nancy Franson

    Ed! Look at you over here!
    You know, this idea of inefficiency has truly opened my eyes to seeing the gospel in a whole new way. The whole Christian life, when you think about it, is terribly inefficient when you think about it. Eugene Peterson, in a recent conversation about the Sabbath, pointed out that things like prayer and observing the Sabbath are terribly inefficient things. We think we’re doing something, but instead are truly acknowledging our utter dependence on God for everything.

    You and Eugene Peterson on the same page. That’s a pretty good day’s work, my friend!

  • http://alwaysalleluia.com Kris

    I feel much of this when I work in my own humble garden. God speaks so loudly to me out there, and always when I am pen-less, computer-less, with no method to record His truths. He wants me to listen out there and I used to find it frustrating but now I see the freedom in being able to just listen, without the distractions of books pens, computers, etc. He just wants us to dig in.

    Thanks for this, Ed. Always a pleasure reading your words.

  • http://www.judithhougen.blogspot.com Judith Hougen

    Great post, Ed. I love it–gardening as a way to rage against the machine! I like the idea of how inefficient gardening is (you could easily buy blackberries in the store for far less than your input of time and money comes to). Our culture sees efficiency as an unquestioned good–Christians readily buy into this idea. Thanks for reminding us that sometimes life in the kingdom is the most inefficient way there is–and blessedly so.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    It’s cool how when we stop to listen to God, he’s able to teach us the same lessons. I guess it’s OK that I don’ t have my own private deity… ha!

    And I was tempted to sign off as “Papa Monk”…

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Thanks Kris. In the simplicity of those moments, we can only worship him, and I think that’s a really good thing sometimes!

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Yes! Raging against the machine indeed! I was running a little long, so I had to delete the bits where I got a bit more combative about our cultural and economic systems. I want to make a sign for my garden that says something like, “Adam Smith was a tool.” Markets don’t care about our souls, neighbors, or wider communities, so it’s up to us to create the space to hear God’s whisper so that we can live as his people rather than accepting our cultural norms at face value.

  • http://www.sarahbessey.com Sarah Bessey

    I love this meditation. My father-in-law is a gardener and has passed that heritage on to my husband. He finds something sacred there, too, and I see it (but I still stay home with the baby when he’s at the garden….rats).

  • michaboyett

    If only you had! Next time?

  • michaboyett

    Ed, I couldn’t stop thinking about your words today while I was outside with the boys in the yard. They were playing with the neighbor kids and I was slowly pulling weeds and stopping over and over to correct how August was speaking to his friend, or to keep Brooksie from rolling down the hill on the scooter. And I thought: All of this is so inefficient! My weeding pulling and child correcting and bug spray applying. And I’m learning more and more how good all of that is…how much God loves the deliberate slowness of those moments. My day is hardly slow but there are moments…and I can either choose to be anxious in them or let them bring me to God’s heart. Thanks for your words!

  • michaboyett

    Rats?! I wouldn’t garden either!

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Was that “rats” as in “what a bummer”? Or are there rats at the garden? I’m not too familiar with Canada, so hey, anything’s possible, eh? ;)

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    It is a letting go process for sure, and we’ll soon learn quite a bit more about that once our little guy arrives!

  • http://www.adamshome.blogspot.com erin a.

    I love this, Ed. Gardening is such an awesome way to slow down & reconnect with God & grow. It is powerful in my own husband’s life. Thanks for the inspiring piece. I’m going to pass this one on.

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  • Jethro Clampett

    Refreshing. Thank you