It is a season to weed and to water and to pluck from the vine.
We are in the midst of Ordinary Time on the liturgical calendar – between Pentecost and Advent, “ordinary” sounds mundane. But if it is mundane, it can also be the beautiful kind of mundane, like a long-married couple sharing their morning coffee or a gardener deadheading a plant, again. Tempus per anum is the phrase from which we glean ordinary time, though it simply means “time during the year.” Where ordinary may sound aimless or lacking in comment-worthy value, “time during the year” calls us to peaceful, bustling fruitfulness.
During the summer, you water, you weed, you gather up harvest, you can vegetables or boil fruit into jam to save up for bleak winter days when hard grey and brown define the horizon. Repetition does not have to imply boredom or meaninglessness – though advertisers attempt to convince us otherwise. The rhythm of seasons is a necessary beauty, like the measured count behind your favorite music.
In the modest little volume, A Year in an Irish Garden, writer Ruth Isabel Ross comments on gardening life in August.
Light rain all day, endless gloom, horrible for many disappointed people on holiday especially since the weather forecasts predicted several days of brilliant sunshine. It is difficult for an enthusiastic gardener, though, not to gloat selfishly at the thought of so many roots finding refreshment. Some of our most handsome perennial plants look wilted because we skimped their mulching. Now they’ll revive. As for the vegetables, this incessant rain should save the crops.
Ms. Ross’ thoughts from County Wicklow on 22 August again reel us in:
Why is a beautiful morning so much more marvellous than a fine afternoon? Perhaps because of the freshness and because it makes the garden a paradise for suddenly released creatures. There has been gentle rain all night but soon after dawn the sun shines, bringing out happy bees and butterflies.
These meditations from an Irish gardener illumine a couple of practical truths: first, that gardeners and farmers are invested in rather different things than their neighbors. What is a bad day for a tourist is a guiltily triumphant day for someone who has given hours to reclaiming a hundred-year-old garden. And what is ministry but reclaiming lost garden, inch by inch? Until that Day when Heaven and Earth are made new? Our leafy green remnants of our lost paradise assert the beauty with which God created the world. No, we Christians see rhythms and seasons and tides a bit differently than our neighbors, and that’s alright. They don’t have to understand our joy when a fragile perennial survives: but they’ll see our joy, and wonder at it.
Second, there are no small victories. The morning “makes the garden a paradise for suddenly released creatures.” Happy bees and butterflies are free to buzz and flutter. There’s an extraordinary pressure present in the world today: pressure to perform, pressure to always say only just the right thing, pressure to show yourself worthy of being heard, pressure to change people who fall short, pressure to fix all of our global, national, and local woes, pressure to prove our rightness, pressure to practice best practices in every area all the time, pressure to be open and honest about your messiness, pressure to be caught up to date on information that may come up in any conversation, pressure to represent your demographic well, pressure to conform to whatever prevailing values your virtual or physical peer group celebrates.
In the middle of this pressure cooker, where is room to celebrate a paradise for suddenly released creatures? Where is there room to savor one small victory that, in the scheme of things, may be monumental? Gardeners know that faithfulness counts but success is not guaranteed. The ups and downs of gardening illuminate precisely how much is out of our control. Pastors are excellent at attempting to control outcomes. Jesus was wise enough not to. Scatter the seed, Jesus said. Some will get eaten. Some will spring up fast but shallow, withering when the heat is turned up. Some will land on hard rock. And just a little – just a little, will take root, grow, bear fruit. Who are you to discount a small victory? Jesus didn’t. If you’re too good, too successful, too busy to experience gratitude for the freed, released bees and butterflies, why should God put anything bigger in your care?
Consider the lilies – they don’t work, they don’t weave, but they’re more beautiful than all of Solomon’s ancient wealth. How much more will the Savior, who Mary mistook as a gardener, take care of you – and your cares?
We are being tended by the Good Gardener, watered, weeded, pruned. We are subject to the seasons – the time during the year – the ordinary time. We are ordinary creatures, and that is enough.