So a friend of mine from my former jewelry trade publishing days was inspired by a Facebook posting showing the update on my garden. It is funny and thoughtful and makes a wonderful point about what we “plant” in life. I share it with you all today.
What To Plant?
SUNDAY, MAY 14, 2017
| A country pastor challenges Jacques to write a sermon. Predictably, it doesn’t go well… |
My inability to garden is exceeded only by my inability to fish. I’m lucky to have been born in an age when hunting-and-gathering has been replaced by the checkout line at Safeway. How bad am I at fishing? As a teenager I spent five weeks, spread over three trips, canoe-camping in the Quetico-Park wilderness of Canada, considered one of the prime fishing spots on the planet. Every day I fished, and yielded a total haul of zero. The one that got away? Hell, they all got away. I never caught a single fish and you have to admit, that takes skill.
I did slightly better at gardening. Slightly. The first house we owned had a little garden in the yard, about twenty feet square, with a dilapidated chicken-wire fence. Being excited to own a new home, and wanting to experience it fully, we went to the garden store and bought seeds for vegetables. You know, lettuce, tomato, stuff like that. We planted them. Watered them. Nurtured them. This was before our first child, so the nurturing instincts all went into the garden. Pretty soon, here they came: little green things poking their heads above the ground. OMG! I felt like a deity, summoning life to a previously barren planet. The plants grew each day, and every morning I’d rush out to the garden, before breakfast, to check on “my children.”
I remember that one awful morning like it was yesterday. I arrived at the garden and found terrorists had attacked in the night. It looked like an IED bomb had gone off. There were only tiny pieces left of all my wonderful vegetables. A shred of tomato plant here, a morsel of lettuce there. Guys don’t cry, but in my soul I was sobbing. Intellectually, I knew what had happened. Deer. This was actually before terrorism was a thing, but I’m quite certain those animals were an affiliate of ISIS, just a bit ahead of their time. The “dilapidated chicken-wire fence” had proven no match for Al Qaeda In Connecticut, mammal division.
We tore down the fence, re-tilled the soil, and planted grass. A year later you would not have known it had once been a garden. I considered the whole thing a message from the Lord: “JV, forget about being a deity. Leave fish to Jesus. And, trust me, I’ll find someone else to grow crops. You were put on this planet to bring online trading to the diamond industry. This I have prepared you for. This is your path.”
What can I say? I followed God’s plan, and turned my back on the soil. Despite growing up in Iowa, farming was never in my blood; fishing even less so.
Yet it all came back to me yesterday when Facebook friend, Donna Frischknecht, editor-in-chief of National Jeweler magazine turned Vermont country-pastor, posted a picture of a square of New England dirt—just the size of my old garden—along with the caption: “Time to start thinking about what to plant.”
I wanted to scream: plant nothing! Tilling the soil, sowing crops, hoping your dreams are realized, will bring nothing but heartache. It’s not worth the risk. Down that path lies shattered hopes, and destruction of one’s soul. Been there, done that. Got the ripped and shredded t-shirt. And obviously I’ve yet to recover emotionally.
Wait a minute. A country-pastor posting a photo of barren soil, and wondering what to plant? “Sounds like a metaphor for a sermon!” I suggested to her.
“You write the sermon,” she wrote back. “And send it to me.”
OK, so God had clearly found the right path for Donna: here she was, challenging me to look into my soul—into that square of barren dirt that lives inside each of us—and find my own message. What to plant? What to write?
Well, there’s the obvious and corny “you reap what you sow” message. But that’s been done. Could I improve on it? Could I fertilize the concept a bit? Maybe, grow a hardier and improved strain?
Probably not, and it sounded like a lot of work. Perhaps, instead, I could frame her piece of black earth as a Rorschach test. What do you see in it? What do you want to plant? What do you hope to reap? Is the deity summoning you to follow a path, and asking you to perceive it for yourself because in your soul you must already know what it is?
OK, that sounded a bit heavy.
Perhaps the whole thing’s far simpler. Maybe that patch of fertile soil is what we wake up to every morning. It’s our daily to-do list, before we’ve written our to-do list. It’s a statement of the limitless possibilities inherent in each new day.
But I think that’s been covered before as well.
While struggling with the black dirt, and the important message I knew it must contain, I realized it was Mother’s Day. Facebook is all aglow with thoughts of mothers, many for those who have passed, and the desire to once again be with them, and be able to say that most important thought, or ask that most important question. Does the black soil perhaps represent all the crops that should have been planted, and never were? The opportunities in life not taken, the risks not run, the moments not seized?
OK, but that’s way too melancholy for a beautiful spring day. No, the black earth can’t be about something so depressing as…regrets.
What was the real message of Spring, anyway? A new beginning, a re-birth. Perhaps a garden is not about the harvest, it’s about the process. Maybe the secret to life lies in that direction.
The black earth is calling to us, insisting we take that first step, wherever it may lead. Plant something, nurture it, and when the terrorist deer arrive, accept life’s rebukes. Unlike kids on college campuses these days, we’re not delicate snowflakes. We’re hardy. We can plant anew. Because it’s not eating the vegetables that matters. It’s growing them.
I realized there was a good chance I was over-thinking all this. Maybe Donna’s garden was just Donna’s garden, and the secret of the universe wasn’t hiding in there after all. In fact, you could look at the rectangle as simply art. Dark rectangle against a green background? If Rothko had signed his name the whole thing would be hanging on a wall at the Guggenheim by now.
Best I hadn’t become a pastor. A real pastor would have looked at that would-be garden, and a deeply spiritual, yet obvious, message would have leaped into the mind, fully formed, ready to excite and renew the flock next Sunday. I couldn’t dig a great insight out of that dirt with a diesel-powered backhoe. Probably best for me to wander back to the Facebook political wars and…
Facebook! That was it. The empty garden, the fallow earth, springtime, the question about “what to plant?” This wasn’t about life, or spirituality, or a road walked in the wilderness. Nope. It was all about Facebook messaging. My God, a fool could have seen it a mile away. Someone who couldn’t catch a fish after five weeks in Canada, on the other hand, might take a bit longer.
No matter. I felt myself warming to the topic. What to plant? Indeed. Look what’s being planted on Facebook these days. We already know about that reap/sow deal. Yet we go on Facebook every day and sow…seeds of strife! Argument. Anger. Hatred, at least towards politicians. And those who support them.
So what are we reaping from our Zuckerberg garden? Polarization, of course! A daily crop of new enemies and adversaries. We’re behaving like those Al Qaeda deer, invading each other’s Facebook gardens and tearing apart carefully nurtured opinions in a quest to service our own needs.
What should we be planting? Perhaps grains of tolerance? Seeds of reconciliation? Kernels of patience? Tilled properly, might we not hope the black earth could germinate a harvest of kindness and understanding? Should the plowed field of social networking be used not to sprout prejudice and resentment, but instead to germinate seedlings of outreach, generosity, and humility? Should we not ask ourselves, before pressing that potent “send” key, is this message—once sown—likely to reap for us a crop of harmony, or a harvest of discontent?
Looking at the black earth of a Facebook status-update form, which invites us temptingly to record our deepest thoughts, color-code them with a pastel backdrop, layer on pictures, links, and emoticons, and share it all with people we’ve never met, should we not ask ourselves that most important question: “What to plant?”
Damn, I should have been a pastor…
Worship at Stone Well Farm will be back next week, May 21. I am on the road today, guest preaching in Spencertown, New York.
Till then, take the time to slow down, breathe deeply and open your eyes to all the beautiful God moments that are present in your life all the time.
This Sunday’s “Worship at Old Stone Well Farm” will be delayed as I will be getting up really early to make the drive from Vermont to New Jersey to worship with those who ten years ago nurtured me into this crazy life known as “ministry.”
Yes, I am going “home” to the church where as a seminary student I spent many times wondering where it would be God would send me to proclaim the good news. Little did I know then how many twists and turns would be waiting for me. How many highs and lows. But most of all, how my prayers would have been answered in the most amazing ways when God led me to a little rural church in upstate New York where just over the border my dream farm would be waiting for me.
Going home can be emotional.
For going home—be it physically going to a place you once knew or perhaps just visiting in one’s mind—is a time to remember who you were, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s a time to remember how far you’ve come. It’s a time to pause and reflect on all that God has done in your life. It’s a time to take a deep breath, assess and realize something we often forget in our constant running forward, to get somewhere, anywhere. That is, life is good. Always. Because God is good. Always.
Yes, I’m going home to a church who nurtured me, who knew me when…
There will be dear friends to hug again and tears to shed over those who are no longer there. We will sing the songs of faith, join our voices in prayer and break the bread and share the cup. We will be in God’s house—together again.
And in the sacred moments of our time together, I will find the time to pause, look out into the congregation and whisper to God words I know I need to whisper more of.
Thank you, God…for who I was…for who you are leading me to be…for this crazy life of ministry…for a church family who knew me when…for the chance to go back home, if even just for a day.
May today you take time and reflect on all God has done and is doing for you.
Blessings, Pastor Donna