These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.
Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, NRSV)
I preached last Sunday about how coming to Maine to live felt like going into exile, so far away from my accustomed flora and seasons that it might as well have been Antarctica or Timbuktu or Caprica. 23 years later, the way the seasons change here is simply the way they change. I've given up grieving for the lovely early springs of my Virginia childhood and reconciled myself to mud season. I don't think there's any question I managed to bloom where God transplanted me.
That's not to say everything has gone smoothly. At the moment, my personal life is rough and unsettled, at the same time I am experiencing the natural bumps and joggles of learning a new church family, its ways and its history and its needs and its expectations. It's not the first time in my life I've had a lot to handle, and I look back on those times and I am trying to remember what helped and what I lacked to remain upright, to keep breathing, to hold onto hope. I remember how after the end of my first marriage I could not seem to organize myself to fix dinner, and how hard that made life with three children. Right now every meal I prepare, even one reheated and originally cooked by someone else, feels like an accomplishment.
Babylon, the city whose welfare God asked the exiled Israelites to seek, contained one of the seven wonders of the world, the Hanging Gardens. And it occurs to me that wonder matters because it reminds us that not everything is easily achieved or explained, and that's okay. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Maybe some days it's okay that our purpose simply be to gaze in awe at a beautiful sight in nature, or to ponder the effort put in by a master gardener. The act of wonder makes us right-sized, gives us perspective on our own place in the world and perhaps inspires us to create beauty at our own level.
I'm not that successful at planting gardens. A few years ago I put a lot of effort, with help from stronger arms and backs, into a bulb garden and a few perennials and shrubs in front of my house. I waited eagerly for spring and was rewarded, but the next two years, instead of naturalizing, the daffodils grew thinner and sadder. Earlier in the year, when I thought I might relocate, I put those flower beds on my mental list of failures. No point trying to fix it now, I thought. I'm just a failure at gardening.
But I'm staying, and when spring comes next year, I want to see more flowers. So today I asked a certified Master Gardener in my new congregation what he would suggest to a person who had a major Daffodil Fail in a place where yews and rhododendrons used to thrive?
Lime, he said. You need lots of lime.
The soil retained too much acid. I suppose it burned the bulbs.
A Google search tells me that fall is the appropriate time to lime the soil. I can find instructions about what sort of lime to use and how to apply it. I'm sure the Israelites figured out the way to plant their gardens in the foreign land, to feed themselves and the families they not only brought with them but continued to make anew. I'll be doing the same, in a sense, seeking the way back to center, to balance, despite the burn I feel today, seeking the increase and not the decrease of love and faith and hope.