I have this theory. Maybe it is just a theory that applies to my life, because it holds so true for me, but maybe it is a theory that crosses over into the common as well.
The theory is this: The moment you publicly write or share about a piece of wisdom or contentment that you have found, you have just issued the universe a challenge. A challenge to test your new-found wisdom, your hard-earned contentment. You have, in that moment, essentially handed the universe a bucked of slime and then laughingly said “I don’t know” as you walked towards the cliff of your own making.
Which is I don’t write “advice” about parenthood or marriage too often. Because I am a chicken – I am afraid of the slime. And because I don’t want them – my husband, my children, – to get slimmed, to fall off the cliff because of my hubris.
You may remember that earlier this year, way back in the month of May, I released a little book all about learning to water the grass beneath my feet instead of always seeking greener pastures. A book about going slow, digging in, spreading out. A book about choosing to be present to the life I had.
Which meant of course that within mere weeks of its release I was as restless as a kid on Christmas Eve. I was just itching for something new, something different. A change, a new start, a fresh beginning. I was clawing at the universe looking for a quick fix to a lifelong problem – learning to be present and rooted to the here and now.
During all my pining and itching both my irritatingly wise husband and my annoyingly insightful spiritual director suggested that I go read this amazing new book that had just been published all about contentment and hard-work. They are such smarty pants.
They also suggested that I get back into the dirt. That I tend to the things in my life that are real, not theoretical.
Which brings us to the garden.
There is nothing more real than a garden. Gardens can’t lie, they can’t be faked.
Nothing that reminds me just how little control I have like a garden. Nothing that reminds me more that repetition of practice yields healthier fruit.
I am an Episcopalian by choice and conversion, and the Episcopal wing of the Christian faith is one that is deeply rooted in the belief that repetition in our worship yields healthier fruit. That part of what this repetitive rhythm does is create an opening for the Holy Spirit to enter into our hearts, minds, and experience. Sort of like how we get our best ideas and insights in the shower. The familiarity and repetitive nature of our shower practices allows a part of our imagination, and our consciousness to be opened and inspired in a unique way, a way we cannot access during our chaotic frenetic days of raising kids and working jobs and buying groceries and checking our phones every thirty seconds.
This past week I had the honor of being a part of a Creative Arts Camp for 5th-9th graders at our state Episcopal camp center. Each evening right before dinner we would gather for a reflective time and our camp priest would lead us through the practice four things – a simple song, a yoga flow, a guided meditation, and an affirmation – before jumping in to our creative activity.
At the end of the week during our debriefing session, one of the counselors pushed back on the repetitive nature of these practices. He found them to be a bit boring, and didn’t understand their purpose. He worried that the campers didn’t enjoy them enough, didn’t find them fun enough.
Being completely exhausted and worn out emotionally and physically by the intense and AMAZING week of camp, I held my tongue, nodded, made notes, and smiled best I could. Because had I opened my mouth in that overtired-over-invested moment, what would have come out would have looked something like this:
Because when I am tired and emotional I turn into Craig Middlebrooks.
And what Craig Middlebrooks would have yelled at that well-meaning, very talented counselor would have been
IT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE FUN! IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE TRANS-FORMATIVE DAMMIT!
But thankfully some grain of maturity and wisdom prevailed and I kept my inner Craig in-check.
Which brings me back to the garden.
Sometimes gardening is boring and NOT FUN. It is repetitive. It is hot and sweaty and the WEEDS NEVER STOP COMING.
Sometimes – most times – for a person wired like I am – it is 100% easier to get on plane and fly somewhere far away where I get to be wise and special and everything is NEW – than it is to go back out into the dirty dry hot garden and water AGAIN. Weed AGAIN. Till AGAIN. Pick AGAIN. Fight the bugs AGAIN.
And yet and yet and yet.
I need the garden.
I need the weeds and the pickin and the bugs and the cracked earth.
I need to shell peas and wash eggs and can tomatoes.
I need to do laundry. I need to sweep the kitchen floor.
I need to scrub the shower.
Again and again and again and again.
I need the rhythms, I need the repetition, I need the discipline.
I need the transformation that comes from doing the things I “want” to do but don’t REALLY want to do.
Many, many writers will tell you that they love the moment that they sign their book deal and they love the moment they see their book on a bookstore shelf, but they loathe every minute in-between.
And yet, without the in-between there is no book, no song, no painting, no poetry, no corn or tomatoes, no openings for the Holy Spirit to flow through.
For me, gardening is the same.
I want the beauty and the fruit of a garden. I want the Instagram images and the tomato sandwiches, so ripe their juice runs down my chin like a river. I want the fresh crunchy corn in the summer and the joy of pumpkin picking in the fall. I want flowers in jelly jars and basil with my eggs.
Which means that I have to go back out to the garden. I have to go back to the dirt and the bugs and the weeds. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
This is the process of transformation. The choosing to enter into the not-always-so-fun for the sake of growth. The decision to go into the wilderness of sameness in order to make room for Spirit to show up.
This summer our garden is late-blooming and slow going. Partially because we were building new things like Guinea coops and book releases, and partially because the thought of more weeds was just too overwhelming for me. Too daunting. Too boring. Too predictable. Too hard.
And yet without my garden practice there was very little space for the Spirit to enter in. Very little room for growth or hope or inspiration. And absolutely no flowers.
This week at camp, while we were having Creative Arts Camp, another crew was having Farm Adventure Camp, and during the closing service we came together to celebrate and pray and sing and dance.
We opened our service with this prayer, written by one of the farm campers:
Our roots that art in dirt
Nutrients be in thy veins
The rain will come
Sweet produce won
In the garden as it is in our stomachs
Give us this day our daily veggies
And forgive our poor weeding
As we forgive the weeds that wage war against us
And lead us not into McDonald’s
But into the Garden
For the farm is my home, my sanctuary and my lifeline,
forever and ever. Amen.
Standing there, in the Chapel of the Transfiguration, on a mountain top, delighted and worn thin by the week, I wept as we prayed these words.
Forgive our poor weeding as we forgive the weeds that wage ware against us….
Lead us back into the Garden..
For the farm is my home, my sanctuary, and my lifeline, forever and ever. Amen.
No, weeding isn’t always fun. Repetition in worship practices can be boring. Sticking with something that seems mundane in the moment, hard.
The garden may be late-blooming and writing books about going slow might set one up to suddenly want to spin out of control in some strange trick of the universe.
But thankfully, as Sweet Man and I remind each other as needed, Living isn’t a race.
So back to the garden I go. Back to the dirt and the bugs and the weeds and the sweat. Again and again.
Because, as Craig says it best, in the end:
much love my friends