Here in Seattle it is the beginning of spring. Daffodils seem to dance across the garden with their bright yellow faces turned towards the sun, and cherry blossoms delight me with their fragrance and beauty. My front porch bulges with lettuce, spinach and other greens, and tomatoes and basil sit snuggly on heat mats and under grow lights waiting for warmer weather. I might have started some of them a little early, this year, but I am desperate for spring – not just in the garden but in the world around me too.
Spring is the greening season. Seeds scattered in autumn lie dormant over the winter, then send up their first tender shoots and new growth adorns my overwintered shrubs.
We love to see this greening and the delightful display of vibrantly colored flowers that accompanies it. This is what we feel spring is all about, so it always seems strange that it coincides with Lent, when we are encouraged to eat simply, fast and pray.
It is entirely appropriate though. This was once known as the hunger season and in some parts of the world still is. An anxious hopefulness and uncertainty hangs over farmers watching the carpet of green spread across their fields. They pray for spring rains – not too much to flood the fields and not too little so that the seed withers and dies. They eke out their diet from what remains of last year’s crops – mainly dried seeds and lentils, the same as the Lenten diet still eaten by some faith traditions, and pray it will be enough. Purchasing seed could bankrupt them. I have row covers, heat mats and grow lamps to hurry my seeds along and if they fail it does not bankrupt my life. There is little if any risk in my garden practices, only delight, and for that I am grateful.
I used to struggle with the offering of first fruit to the priests. Can you imagine what hardship this was to the poorest and most vulnerable in the community? Then I read that the corners of the fields left to be gleaned by the poor were not subject to this law and I thought “Thank God, who did not subject the poor to such hardship.” Our God is merciful and just. If the wealthy honored the true practice of first fruit offering, the poor would still be provided for.
This year the juxtaposition of Lent and spring taught me a lot. Spring, like Lent, is an uncertain and sometimes stressful season and this year it seemed particularly taxing. The beautiful greening of the landscape and opening up of our communities after the COVID lockdowns carried with it the promise of abundant life to come and gave hope for the future, but the shadow of war in Ukraine and rising prices in our economies made us feel as though God has withheld the rain and we were still existing on a subsistence diet of beans and lentils.
I love to wander my garden looking closely to see which seeds, scattered in autumn are sprouting. These are always the strongest and healthiest plants. So I wonder “What did God plant in us over this last year that is now sprouting and should be nurtured into strong healthy plants?
Some communities survived the hunger season better than others because of their strong sense of responsibility for each other. Sometimes even landowners freely gave from their own hoarded grain to help the poor around them survive. Others always made sure they left the gleanings that were meant to be for the poor. I wonder: What of God’s provision are we hoarding but should be sharing?
Last but not least: Did I plant the wrong seeds, in the wrong place at the wrong time? Maybe in my haste to get started this year I didn’t pay attention to some of the basic principles of gardening. Know the feeling? The number one organic gardening principle is “build up the soil.” Maybe I should build up the soil around the gifts and talents within me that I believe should be flourishing now. The best way to build up soil is with good old compost – that rubbishy stuff from the kitchen that we throw out. When matured and changed it becomes black gold.
Maybe what we all need is a little more patience. And while you wait be encouraged by these words in Joel 2:21-24
Do not be afraid, land of Judah;
be glad and rejoice.
Surely the Lord has done great things!
22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals,
for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green.
The trees are bearing their fruit;
the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.
23 Be glad, people of Zion,
rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.
Lent continues, the season is still full of possibility and promise. Are you finding ashes and desiring beauty? Now available as an online course, this virtual retreat will help you to lay out your garment of lament and put on your garment of praise. Gather your joys and release your grief with Christine Sine and Lilly Lewin! Click here for more info!