September is when we begin putting our gardens to bed where I live. In the fields early corn gave way to beans which is giving way to cover crop. Smaller kitchen gardens are producing fall squashes including pumpkins. Perhaps, some diligent people are sowing greens for the late autumn and early winter. But the winding down time is almost here. The days are getting shorter but are still very warm. It is almost outdoor fire time.
Being a pastor it is a busy time. Planning for fall festivals, charge conferences, Thanksgiving, and Christmas is taking up our time. But then there is a sudden January stop until Lent and Spring. Cycles of life and worship give guidance to living and working. But gardens, for me at least, give breaks from the cycles. It is strange that something that is cyclical is a break from cycles. Yet, there are moments in all cycles where we touch the eternal now. We stop and breathe.
Gardens of Love
I convinced Kathryn this year to buy raised beds with me. A friend who makes them for a good price sold me the beds, the soil, and the magical elixir of compost. Setting them up provided a stopping time. We visited. He asked about my garden plan. He gave advice. I gave water and wrote a check. His mattock broke. I loaned him my potato fork. I had some simplicity.
The next day I planted. And, surprisingly, most of it survived. We have a lot of rabbits, raccoons, birds, and opossums in the neighborhood. I live in a subdivision where planting is about beautification and not food. I considered the possibility of merely providing a smorgasbord. But I have a dog. Allowing him out a few times a day established the necessary deterrence.
Beds of Grace
The beds provide enough. We do not need a lot. My friend claims, if I leave them in place, the beds will last six years or nine years on the outside. I will not hold him to that. It is one of my gardens of love. It exists for no other purpose than to give me something out-of-doors for giving care. The beds do not require much. And the garden provides healthy snacks and stuff to share with other people.
The garden is a reminder of grace. Kitchen gardens are about food. Often they are about family connection too. My son was asked in an interview for a part time job, “Has your Dad ever had a garden?” He replied, “I can’t remember a time he hasn’t had one.” When I kept kitchen gardens, the children helped plant, weed, and harvest. It took away from necessary television and videogaming. But they survived. But they got excited when a shovelful of soil was turned over and they found potatoes. The fifty pound bag of seed potatoes we planted produced three times as much. The corn and beans were always plentiful. We made grocery trips to the back yard.
Grace means we receive what we cannot do. A grain of corn produces an ear. A bean provides more. Plants turn sunlight into sugar. There is no human food without photosynthesis. Whether we eat from gardens or forests, we rely on the one thing only chlorophyll makes possible. The first prayers we teach our children are about food for the table.
Gardens of Labor
Someone may object, “But gardens are a lot of work.” Gardens require mental and physical labor. Unhelpful weather takes an emotional toil sometimes. And, no, I do not confuse gardening with farming. Labor is learning. My brother-in-law was surprised when I walked out of my father’s garden with turnips from seeds that had washed away from the original bed. “I would not have known what that was,” he said amazed. How did I recognize it? Learning from working several gardens prior to that one.
How can gardens be both grace and works? Suburban protestants ask such questions. We live in the mind more than through our hands. We see and hear more than we recognize or listen. We ask theological questions with out recognizing our earthly and human orientation. We experience grace through labor more than we know. If grace also means gift, then we have gifts that allow us to perform tasks. Spiritual gifts are graces. And they are meant to be used. Gifts that appear more physical or mental are meant to be used as well. We must recognize some have fewer than others. People who receive vegetables from another person’s garden are given them because they are neighbors. Did they work for this grace? At first we say no. But that is wrong.
Living In Grace
We can say a person receiving from another’s produce did not work the garden from which it is grown. They are receiving charity. Yet, they exist as the gardener’s neighbor. Being a neighbor means one provides something for their neighbors. Perhaps, the person simply provides the security of being nearby if needed? Maybe they provide friends for your children? If we think about it long enough, there is a work they perform in the community that is both intangible and valuable. They provide you some grace you may not immediately see.
Bedding Down The Garden
Putting the garden to bed is labor intensive and somewhat disheartening when completed. But a new grace is being formed, a new cycle is beginning, and a new appreciation is provided. Promises are being made. I will think about this when I plant tulip bulbs this month and enjoy the colors in the trees.