This past few weeks, Laura and I have been rolling up our sleeves and getting back out into the garden again. It seems that the more we accomplish, the more there is to do; but then, that is what life is really all about, isn't it? If I don't put much in, or out there, in life...then it is fair to expect a commensurate return. At the same time, though, just because I am "putting it out there," well, it doesn't necessarily follow that the harvest will be great.
After a bit of reflection, and some wonderfully tragic failures and accidental successes, I am coming to realize that most of life-well lived-entails first learning, then doing.
This is a trial and error experience, and I continue to be impressed by the reality that my own stubborn nature insists on learning that lesson over and over again. I get the opportunity in the garden, when a crop fails, when bugs invade, when my neglect leads to an infestation of weeds, when one plant chooses to overgrow and supplant another...to learn from my mistakes. In fact, I think in the end I learn more from my mistakes than from my successes. Partly because failures tend to find us open to criticism in ways that success does not; and perhaps because of their dramatic negative impact, failures DEMAND our attention. Do you ever want a good tomato? Fine, then look at how the plant died, got infested, suffered from neglect...and learn.
That is a good model for life, in case you didn't realize where this was going. The opportunity to reflect on that came to me today when I ran into my across-the-fence neighbor as he was coming in from his morning run and I was heading out on the morning dog walk. He noted that Laura and I have been more diligent lately with new plantings in the front yard, and bed work in the back. After some chit chat about the pepper and tomato crops, he askd about our church, and how the flood recovery was going.
I responded that is was going, albeit a bit slowly at this point. He understood, and then asked about how this season affects us...as he and his wife had been out to the mall, and Lo, the Christmas Decorations are starting to appear in between the Hallowe'en candy displays....
Thing is, I told him, we are actually getting close to the start of a new liturgical year. The first Sunday of Advent is only weeks away. That means a lot of work, using the metaphor above, in turning earth, choosing programs to plant and getting our mission plans and the budget for same under way. He was a little astounded, noting that he and his wife tend to sit back from that...but conceded that his pastor mus have much the same issues in his church. "Wow," he said, "I guess you have both a spiritual community to lead and a pretty comples institution to administer...."
Yup. Quite a garden.
As the season shifts in the natural world from vibrancy to dormancy, I realize that this is also a season for us in the Church of awakening to a vibrant reality of new growth in Christ. The pause I take today is one of mindful awareness that I would prefer to slow my pace a bit, be a bit more mindful of the ground I am turning, the plants I am seeking to root and the grace of attention and patience needed to see good fruit being nutured into being. The old image has new weight for me, of the vineyard. We can dress the vines, care for the soil, provide water and nutrients...but in the end, it is God and an open, wise heart that means a good harvest-both for our garden in South River...but even more so for this blessed vineyard that is the one our Savior commits to our care.