The Companionship of Weeds

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By Christiana Peterson | @ChristianaNPete

F_Christiana

In my garden, there is a soft-leaved weed called comfrey, an herb used in healing balms and salves. The weed stretches its yellowed turnip-like roots underneath the garden soil, trying to grab at every inch for purchase. It is the epitome of forwardness, both in its brazen disregard for my own gardening desires, and its onward motion, ever branching out in different directions.

Every year, I vow to eradicate this weed from my garden. So I find the biggest shovel, drive it into the earth, burrowing under the roots. When I press down upon the end of the shovel, I hear and feel the roots ripping and popping like seams on a garment. It’s a satisfying sound. But when I pull up the leaves, triumphant that I’ve detached the whole plant, I see the yellow middles of more roots under the soil. Comfrey is a self-healing plant, one of the reasons it makes a wonderful salve and also the reason it takes over my garden.

And so, halfway through spring, little comfrey leaves keep popping up along my garden again, reminding me that they battled my intentions of culling them and won. Onward and outward they move.

Like many parts of my life, my natural inclination is to give the right of way to those moving forward. If I feel a competition on the horizon, even a comparison, I will often step back.

So I let comfrey win its battle.

I continue to garden anyway. Perhaps because it still gives me a measure of control, but mostly for the feel of tilled soil between my bare toes, the soft crunch of the earth beneath the shovel, even the smell of fertilizer so pungent that it is almost solid as it carries from the cow pasture on a windy day. It smells of the effort of my farmer husband who has cared for the cows. The seasons blend together as he digs his pitchfork in and out of the manure, recycling it onto my garden. This gardening gives me the feeling of moving forward with its smells of new life, the future fresh vegetables and flowers that can be nourished from hot waste.

Similarly, I plant words into the earth of my spirit, hoping they will grow into future fruit and glory. I love the feel of the pen and journal, the tap of the keys, the movement of the fingers connected to brain and heart, spinning words onto the loom of story, song, and poetry. But when I begin to consider how to move forward past the writing, I don’t do well; to think of who might publish my book, how many Twitter followers I have, who is or isn’t reading my writing and what they think of it. All that interrupts my words.

I encounter other lovely writers who seem confident and successful. But the same old insecurity, the impulse to compare, the envy emerges like comfrey in the garden. I dig at it, proud of the ripping I feel when it seems to come loose, convinced I have sent it away down the mystical river of life with a prayer, where it can rest with God. But days or weeks or months later, the green leaves of envy peer out at me, reminding me it takes more than just one season to pull them.

In my garden and my writing, my sense of movement can be a mess. I always seem to get tangled up with the weeds. I struggle with forward movement, stepping back too quickly, letting someone else go ahead even when we don’t have to go single file. But in my head, my thoughts jump forward too quickly, racing to the next thing, worrying, agonizing, getting stuck in the future of what-ifs.

I am a messy wannabe mystic who longs to find God in the way of the Christian mystics. I long for their connection to the irrigating spiritual tributary that flows to God.

Maybe there is a different way to move forward.

When I have finally relinquished my efforts to tug the comfrey out of the garden, I read something interesting about this herb. It is a companion plant. Companion planting, the practice of choosing certain plants to sow together for their mutual benefits, has been used for thousands of years in agriculture. Comfrey can actually be beneficial for other plants because it increases the health of the soil where it is grows.

I was going about it the wrong way. It turns out the weeds I was trying to remove because they were crowding my soil are actually beneficial. In reading the radical lives of the mystics, I realize many of them live in tension with their brokenness and the great grace God has offered, facing their failings and struggles head first and using their weakness for God’s good. In a sense, they make a companion of their weeds. Or at least they acknowledge them and move forward.

I know that not all weeds are beneficial. And some are easier to pull up than others. But sometimes if we stop fighting them, we realize they can teach us things about ourselves and the rich soil around us.

The mystics lived lives of intense prayer. While I cannot always live as a mystic, I can follow them in one way. Instead of worrying about the future or that I’m not moving forward enough, I can steal away to my garden and cultivate tangible life in a way that isn’t always possible in the more esoteric moments of writing and spiritual life. The goal is to be present here and now, letting God be the gardener of my heart, resting in companionship with my weeds.

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About Christiana:

30.pngChristiana N. Peterson lives with her family and a bunch of Mennonite misfits in intentional community in the rural Midwest. She has published pieces on death, fairytales and farm life at Art House America, her.meneutics, and cordella. You can find more of Christiana’s writing on her blog at christiananpeterson.com and follow her on twitter.

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  • This is SO beautiful, Christiana …

    Also: I’ve had to work on this VERY thing: “My natural inclination is to give the right of way to those moving forward.”

    I love your voice here. So. Much.

    • Thank you, friend for letting me share here and for assuring me that I’m not alone in these things!

  • Stopped by this phrase: “using their weakness for God’s good.”

    Amazing that this is even possible — and so thankful that God can use our mixed motives and our imperfect offerings in a “companion planting” of grace within the Body of Christ.

    My gardener heart enjoyed every word of this essay!

    • I’m so glad to meet a fellow gardener! And I agree, what a grace that God uses our weeds to bring God glory.

  • Hello there from a fellow messy wannabe mystic! I identify with every word of this (the internal part. Not the gardening part. I kill plants just by looking at them). Oh to really let God be the gardener. A lofty goal. Beautiful words!

    • Oh, I’m so glad to have a companion in this messiness! Thank you for saying these kind words, Nicole!

  • These words are beautiful! I needed to hear theme this morning. Thank you!

    http://www.littlelightonahill.com

  • Katie Bergman

    You’re a beautiful and gifted writer. Such eloquent prose! Thanks for sharing.

  • What I love about this piece is that it pokes holes in some of the tidy Christian dichotomies: light/dark, weed/vine, sinner/saved, good/bad (Like with Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk In the Dark). It’s not that there’s no truth in those ideas, but that life is inevitably more complicated. So happy to have you here on SheLoves, Christiana!

    • Oh, I love BBB’s Learning to walk in the dark! It was very powerful for me. Thank you so much for walking alongside me here, Heather. So glad to dip my toe in with the wonderful writers of SheLoves!

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    So lovely! Thank you for sharing … Companion planting. Love this!

  • Alia_Joy

    I go through seasons of this too. Are you a 4 on the enneagram by any chance? I know 4’s struggle with envy and once I knew this about myself, I can see where it springs up and the surest ways I’ve found to let myself recognize my tendency to believe in scarcity and that someone else is going to take my spot because I always yield the right of way to more aggressive ones, is to champion others work and to believe I have a voice just as worthy to be heard. It is both/and like companion planting. I love that image. I want to be generous with other’s work but I’m learning to put myself forward a bit more too. I’m writing a whole book on weakness so this really spoke to me. Keep on planting.

    • Yes, definitely a 4. I felt the same sense of revelation when I learned about a 4’s struggle with envy and comparison. It made so many things make sense and made me feel better able to approach that weakness with purpose and prayer. Your comment resonates with me so very much. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • Alia_Joy

        I had a good feeling you were a 4. Solidarity. 😉

  • Christina Krost

    Love this, love you.

  • Great post!

  • Beautiful words, and what a wonderful, rich metaphor! Thanks so much for sharing.

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