“Is this one a good plant or a weed?” I say doubtfully, pointing out one specimen to my husband.
Really, I don’t need to be gardening today. We are moving in a few weeks, and then the garden will be a new tenant’s responsibility, and they can do battle with the snails themselves.
But there’s something about getting my hands dirty that is good for my soul. After long days wrestling two little ones, with too much coffee and too little adult conversation, my frazzled mind needs the physical meditation of pruning and digging, of mulching and weeding.
Our city garden is small: a patio partly covered by the kids’ sandpit, and a little patch of grass backing onto the train line, where orange and green coloured trains trundle loudly past us every 5-10 minutes. We’re also directly under the Heathrow flightpath. It’s hardly the Garden of Eden, but it’s our own oasis. I’ve shown Kaya where the lemon verbena and the lavender are found and she brings me leaves to rub and “sniff.” Oskar barrels up and down our small space at top-toddler speed and eats dirt when my back is turned.
The mystics frequently found God in nature. Hildegard of Bingen heard these words in a vision: “I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon, and stars …. I awaken everything to life.”
I feel myself being awakened back to life too, when I retreat out here after dinner time, the light stretching into the evening and the birds singing their evening song.
This little plot of land speaks in parables to me. As I prune the rose bush and deadhead the daffodils. As I learn how to train the jasmine up the side of the shed, and how to shake the seeds out of the poppies to be stirred into lemon muffins later. As I rest in the sunshine and watch the bees float drunkenly between the flowers. The garden teaches me about the seasons of my life, about waiting and resting, about growth and harvest, about death and resurrection.
Today the weeds sing me their story. “What about this one?” I ask my husband again. He looks up from where he is cleaning out the shed and answers, “It’s only a weed if you don’t want it growing there.”
Huh. I look back at this spindly little plant with its pretty lilac flowers. The way she is spreading over this patch of earth makes me highly suspicious of her origins in the garden. But I like her. I like her tenacity and persistence. I like her daring to bloom where she has been told not to.
I’m learning to let the black and white labels go. It was far easier when I knew the answers—what beliefs were right, what were wrong. Which people were living right, which were definitely living wrong. But God keeps confronting me with beautiful lilac flowers when I expected something ugly and destructive. It’s a thoroughly confusing way to live life, and yet somehow, it’s also simpler. Jesus—who knew a thing or two about gardens—said, “You will know them by their fruits,” and so these days I try and look for the fruit. Where is goodness and love and kindness and compassion? Where is hope and courage and justice and equality?
Many days I’d like the assurance of a marked out plot. I’d like someone to plant me there—how’s that for passive?—and then just do my thing in that space, sure that was where I was meant to be. I’d become like my tulips, predictably popping up in the same spot year after year, blooming for a couple of weeks in loud colours and then fading and disappearing.
Instead, I feel a bit like a trailing little weed. I’m moving from place to place, project to project. My answer to, “So, what do you do?” takes a good half an hour to explain, and probably will be different in a year from now in any case. My faith is shifting, my work is shifting, my little international family is growing and changing. Nothing is certain and everything is confusing.
But I feel myself blooming despite it all. I’m discovering an inner stubbornness that refuses to accept the status quo and finds the alternative rather exciting. I’m taking steps into the unknown and trusting that when Jesus says, “Come and see,” it’s because he’s been there all along. I’m re-reading all the old stories and find myself weeping in the wrong places, but it feels so right.
“You’re not a weed,” I whisper to my little garden interloper, “You’re quite lovely.” And I leave her to enjoy her found patch of sunshine.