For the Religion Page

Up From the Darkness

(This is the piece that will run in the local paper on Saturday, with a few pseudonyms added!)

You would think they were the first daffodils anyone had ever planted.

I haven’t been much of a gardener, really a plant-killer when it comes to indoor plants, and knowing my limitations, I choose outdoor plantings that are as hardy as possible. When we moved into our house ten years ago, I planted a forsythia beside the garage; it is still going strong! A year or two later I put in two lilac bushes, also apparently Songbird-proof!

But in front of the house grew many shrubs beyond the point of pruning to a reasonable size: two aged rhododendrons on either side of the front steps, numerous yews, low-lying green bushes I never identified and a quince drooping over the driveway and threatening to scratch the car. When the rhododendrons threatened to meet over the front steps, I finally took action. Last summer my husband cut them down, and the quince and the unidentified growing objects. The trunks of the rhododendrons, unearthed, stood in front of the house for some time, a kind of de-gardening performance art installation. Early in the fall, he removed them, and left me with a blank slate, ready for planting.

I must repeat. I am a notorious plant-killer. I consulted my sister-in-law, who knows what will grow where and what each plant needs to thrive. We went to the nursery together and began our planning. Over the course of several weeks, we worked together, adding various bags of nourishing things to the soil, planting two mini-rhododendrons that will never grow as large as the previous variety, and preparing to put in (hopefully Songbird-proof) bulbs.

When I was a little girl growing up in Virginia, we moved to a house one fall that brought us a springtime backyard surprise. In a hidden corner of the yard, behind a bush where leaves had been left in a pile, we began to see a glint of yellow. I asked my mother, “Why did the flowers grow in such a funny place?” She told me someone must have tossed old bulbs behind the bush instead of re-planting them in the flower bed. But the bulbs had ideas of their own. They were not finished in this world. They were not finished being beautiful. Jonquils arose from the darkness and would not be ignored.

Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of God’s praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip. (Psalm 66:8-9)

Last fall, I told the story of my planting efforts at Main Street Church, but this spring, our time together has ended. The church I left behind will welcome its new pastor this weekend. Although I am not with them, I trust they are blooming.

Now I am working a new garden, north on the highway instead of south and west. Now I am pacing the boundaries of a new community. What will grow here? Are there “shrubs” we will remove? How shall we prepare the ground to best suit what we hope to plant? I don’t know who their long term gardener will be, but I trust God to bring pastor and church together just as the turning of the seasons brings the green shoots from the bulbs in the dark earth to the light above ground.

Bless our Creator, O flowers, who has brought us up from the darkness and has let our petals unfold in the sunshine! (Songbird 1:1)

At my house, the flower beds are a riot of daffodils. When I saw the first one open, I ran outside early in the morning with my camera. You would think no one had ever successfully planted a daffodil bulb in the history of the world! I remember the way my knees felt, and the hard work of digging each hole with my little spade, the prayers invoked over each that the squirrels would not take them.

What is God working in our lives right now? What rests in darkness, seemingly, when in fact it is preparing to emerge? That darkness may be depression, uncertainty, grief or disappointment, but it may also be the quiet womb preparing to support new life. In the winter of the spirit, and in the quiet workings of the heart and mind, we may feel we reside in darkness. But if we can be patient, we will wait faithfully for the changes a season or two will bring, observing each little thrust-up blade of green, watching for the signs of further growth and rejoicing in the flowers’ eventual opening.

And don’t stop there. The work continues. Today I am planting pansies.