Sometimes, I Dream About Gardens.
I've been sick for most of the last twelve months with some sort of digestive affliction that snuck up on me last spring with a whole host of odd and inexplicable symptoms. After months of unhelpful medications prescribed by a specialist, and then months of herbal treatments (prescribed by me) to try to get things under control (with varying degrees of partial success), I finally signed on with a functional medicine doctor. He, and doctors of his kind try to eliminate "root" causes of disease. Most of this gets done through natural means--food as medicine: what I put in my body becomes the compost out of which regeneration occurs at a cellular level. And this means that for the next many months, I'm going to be living off of mostly vegetables (which is what we all should be doing, anyway, except we don't. Amiright?). But now, out of necessity, arugula is my new best friend; micro-greens are growing hydroponically in my sunroom; the happy sight of crisp cilantro and parsley displayed in mason jars half-full of water greets me every time I open my refrigerator. Lemon quarters are strewn about my kitchen.
Concurrent with this new pattern of eating, I'm laying the groundwork for a raised-bed, self-composting garden this year. After years and years of garden failures, I know my problem has always been soil quality. The developers of my neighborhood didn't bother putting back in any topsoil after they graded the lots, and so my backyard is a long slab of clay that the roots of a fragile tomato seedling always fail to penetrate.
Good soil is like the magic beans of fairytales. I know, because my dad grew and still grows gardens of prolific fruitfulness out of good soil. I've seen friends' small organic garden beds yield more produce than could even be processed in a single summer. All things but the soil being equal to my failed crops, it was the soil that made the difference.
But the greatest irony of life-giving soil is that before it gave life, it was, quite literally, a death-bed. Indeed, my compost-garden is full of death and decay right at this moment: brown, tissue-thin leaves, curling slabs of mango skin, a stub of a head of romaine. Even what I put in my body to heal it becomes compost of a sorts. The energy in spiraled zucchini, the warmth of avocado, is emptied of its own essence as my body takes and repairs, takes and heals, takes and produces...well, fruit of a different kind that looks like glowing skin and bright eyes and a more in-tact stomach lining.
Garden. Body. But what about the soil that feeds our souls? How can the hard, impenetrable clay of history and circumstance and relationships and experience turn into something that gives life and doesn't destroy it?
I know all the trending answers to this question: God! Yoga! Meditation! Deep breathing! Exercise! Prayer! Service! Generosity!
And perhaps these are all good answers, if only in the way they get at something yet more profound.
Under which circumstances does the soil--in which our lives are rooted--give us life?
Well isn't it through dying?
Dying to unfulfilled dreams. Dying to relationships we wished were different. Dying to entitlement. Dying to getting the last or the most or the best or the first. Dying to convenience. Dying to the right to retaliate, seek revenge, order the world as we see fit. By "dying to," know I don't mean to suggest that we shrug our shoulders and stick our fingers in our ears and say, "Oh well, that betrayal didn't matter. My disappointment didn't matter. My desire to be best didn't matter." Indeed not. All of our wounds and our sorrows and our sufferings and our desires matter--they matter so much, and sometimes they matter so much that they choke us.
Death-that-brings life is the great paradox of Christian faith. Said Jesus: "If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."*
Sometimes, I dream about gardens--prolific, wild and fruit-bearing plots that hold all kinds of sustenance ripe for picking and handing to a friend or a stranger who is hungry. And then, I wonder about my life, if humility, forgiveness, giving-up and giving-in to the reality that life is not exactly how I hoped it would be, and surrendering to the mysterious promise that out of this place--the place of not railing against, of not shaking a fist at the sky, of giving up my illusions of and lunges for control--that I will somehow find my life, green and beautiful and unfurling skyward out of the compost of all this death. And maybe, it will grow into something edible that will nourish a hungry companion.
I'll get my self-composting garden off to a good start this spring, but all year long, I'll keep adding kitchen scraps, odds-and-ends of death-in-process, so that the garden continues to push up tomato plants, basil, cucumbers. Perhaps our lives are meant to be as such--self-composting witnesses to the mystery of Christ in us, the hope of glory. In the micro-deaths of a thousand moments of fragility, suffering, tears, forgiveness, generosity, self-sacrifice, may there grow something green.