Saturday, November 25, 2006

Valley of Dry Bones


The combination of warm weather and finding a rose on Thanksgiving drew me outside and into my garden today. I decided it was time to prepare the garden for winter. As I walked out the back door, I commented on what sad work I was about to do. My husband responded, "Yes, but the garden has to die before it can return next Spring." Oh, he is so wise!

It is indeed almost time for my garden to die and my job today was to prepare its passing. This is a complicated task. Some perennials such as ferns must be left alone because their dry leaves serve to protect the delicate roots during the snow and frost. Others want to be clipped back so the plant can begin to store up much needed energy. And others such as the hosta, fall apart at the touch. Where once stood a thick leafy plant is now smooth dirt with no visible sign of life. I am slowly learning what each plant needs, mostly by trial and error.

The saddest sight, however, has to be the impatients. At the first frost these delicate annuals, shrivel and collapse. For years, a lady in my neighborhood has surrounded her home in impatients. At first frost, these beautiful flowers become what I have come to think of as the valley of dry bones - rows and rows of fragile pale green stems hanging lifelessly over pots and sidewalk.

What is amazing about any garden is that next Spring it will be completely different. Each plant that "dies" will come back transformed. I've even seen flowers change color due to a difference in the acidity of the soil. Some will return wild and bushy while others seem to have fit themselves into their space. Part of my joy in gardening is waiting to see what form the plants and flowers will take each year.

Most (if not all) religious traditions remind us that death or losing one's life is part of the faith journey. In Matthew we read that "those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."

Rumi (in Mathnawi) adds this:

A man started to break up the earth with a spade.
A fool came and shouted at him, "Why are you ruining the soil?"
"You idiot!" the man cried. "Go away and don't bother me!"
Understand the difference between destruction and growth.
How could this soil become a rose garden or wheat field
Before its broken up and made ugly?
How could it become orchards and harvest and leaves
and fruit
Before it is utterly destroyed and torn down?

In preparing the soil, in adding fertilizer, in caring for each plant, I believe I am taking part in some very small way in the death and resurrection of life. It is my hope that as I prepare the earth for winter, I am preparing my own soul as well. I know that I too must be "utterly destroyed" and "lose my life" before I can find my life or become a beautiful rose garden.

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