In his song, "The Things I Need," Peter Mayer speaks of a longing to live the simple, sweet life of a man whose heart beats with the rhythm of sowing and reaping, plowing and harvest.
"I'd trade my wage for a fertile field
For a plow and a spade and a pauper's yield
I'd swap these streets for a single chance
To drop that seed from my own bare hands…"
This past weekend I too, felt the pull of the soil in my fingers…I yearned to feel musky black dirt beneath my fingernail, the dampness of the earth seeping through the knees of my jeans, and the spring sun on the back of neck as I planted tiny seeds in rows lined plumb with stakes of willow and cotton twine.
This love for soil and seed is a desire so deep within me that I often wonder if it didn't come over with my grandparents on the boat from Ireland. Perhaps handed down, like an old Celtic lovesong, from parent to child. My earliest recollection of this love for all things agrarian happened when I was only four years old and my parents leased a farm in rural Iowa. My dad had grown up the youngest son of immigrant farmers who came to this country in hopes of offering their seven sons and one daughter nothing more than a small piece of land to farm. Most of his siblings had settled in rural New Jersey where they had grown up. But one brother had headed west and settled in Iowa. When I was four, my parents with four children in tow, and another on the way, decided to join this pioneering brother in the "wild west." We arrived on their doorstep one late winter day, and by spring Dad had leased a farm nearby.
Although this was my dad's dream come true, my gentle mom was not a farmgirl…at all. Mice in the barn, swallows in the attic, and bats under the eaves were more than a Bergen County (almost NYC) coed could have bargained for. Farms were places that Nancy Drew visited in her "Mystery of the Old Barn" or "The Secret in the Attic" and farmhouses were supposed to have bedrooms with gingham curtains, dormers with window seats, and kitchens filled with apple pie and summer breezes…not mice and howling winds that caused the snow to drift above the window sills by Thanksgiving. This was not native territory for my beautiful mother who would rather spend the afternoons in the woods, behind the old farmhouse, building fairy villages out of twigs and moss with her children…instead of shucking corn or putting up tomatoes.
But for me it was heaven. There were always new brown and white calves in the red barn and corn filling the silo…but best of all there were potatoes to harvest. I loved getting out in the field with my dad and the local high school boys he hired as day laborers. We would follow the plow turning over the dark black earth revealing Iowa's gold (at least to us)…big, fat, brown potatoes. Each time I found one and pulled it up out of the soil squirming with worms and beetles I felt like a prospector discovering precious metal in a mountain river. That summer and fall were some of the best days of my childhood. But it was a hard life for a woman like my mom, not accustomed to rigors of farm life. Even though we moved after that first year, my memories are "filled up full" with the smell of earth and the colors of a field in harvest…as indelibly etched on my heart as Christmas mornings and my first kiss. It primed in me a love for planting and harvesting that springs eternal.
I think this is why the agrarian parables shared by Jesus really resonate with me. They touch a place at the core of my being that still "remembers". I love his stories of the "sower and the seed", "wheat and tares", "laborers for the vineyard", "mustard seed", etc.
This week, as we walked through the extensive gardens in Forest Park, I have been thinking a lot about farmers everywhere. The early spring warmth brought on new growth well before the hard frost hit last week blighting the new buds on fruit trees and withering the tender herbs I had already planted in window boxes and herb gardens next to my favorite pansies and lavender.
But another "rural daughter," Mary Baker Eddy, has shared ideas in Science and Health that have been even more useful and encouraging this week than frost damage reports on the evening news or dire prognoses of crops beyond hope in the newspaper. She writes:
"The decaying flower, the blighted bud, the gnarled oak,
the ferocious beast,--like the discords of disease, sin, and death,
How often are we encouraged to consent to the inevitability a gnarled oak…or knuckles...to feel paralyzed and helpless at the sight of a blighted bud…or future. But she says that these aberrations are "unnatural." So as I remember my own gnarled hands and feet, healed seven years ago of crippling arthritis. Or my educational and professional prospects, that not even my dad's passing and the postponement of my acceptance to a full-ride university scholarship could blight. I am buoyed with these proofs. Proofs, cases of precedence, that I can now offer to my flora friends in the park. These instances of healing confirm God's promise that He "will not bring to the birth and not cause to deliver." These divine laws of Love that govern the universe are causing the very world WE live in to "blossom and bud like the rose"…and nothing can reverse these gifts of beauty and love...into blight.
Just as there is no unkindness so cold and uncaring that it could deprive us of our right to love, to show warmth, to extend our generosity and affection, there is no cold so bitter that it can blight a bud or stunt the growth of beauty.
The world of nature has shared so much of itself with me as it has revealed profound examples of "God's love" all around me...every day. Or, as Eddy avers,
"All nature teaches God's love to man.."
Today I think I will sit quietly and ponder how my life's example of trusting God in overcoming cold indifference or a blighted prospects can be a blessing to each fruit tree, flower, shrub and plant I walk beside later this afternoon. I will tell them my story of how God's love has blessed my life…with the promise of "all things new." It will be fun to sow seeds of promise and hope...with stories of renewal and love.
"Sow in the morn thy seed
At eve hold not thy hand
To doubt and fear give thou no heed
Broadcast it 'oer the land'…"
CS Hymnal #314