As I write this, it’s the “Time of Corona”— a season of global fear and pandemic, and my words have gotten jammed in my throat.
The chaos of the present moment keeps getting to me, no matter how I feel I have my feet securely under me one moment, the next I hear something else—another piece of news, another friend with a loved one who is dying, another hard-won business potentially being forced to close their doors—and the rug is ripped out from under me all over again.
I am on the pendulum swing. One day, completely fine as I scrub and clean and prepare food for my hungry children. The next day, an anxious woman weeping over the dishes she can’t seem to remember how to load in the dishwasher.
Last week I was such a woman, when my husband suggested I go outside and get some fresh air in the back yard.
“It’ll be good for you.” He said. And for once, I didn’t argue.
I shoved my feet in my old leather boots and grabbed my gardening gloves and spade in one hand, and the bag of sprouting garlic in the other.
And kneeling in the dirt, I found myself grounded like I haven’t been in weeks. I felt the tethers of my heart returning once again to the earth beneath my feet—my place to keep and tend as my favorite contemporary author Christie Purifoy would say. I feel the simplicity of clearing the weeds, smoothing the earth, digging a hole, placing the garlic in sprout side up. I remember that it is not for me to make it grow, but only to tend in faithfulness, the things which are mine to tend.
As an empath and a helper—the massive and un-meetable needs of the world right now are paralyzing. But I realize last week in the dirt, that what I am being asked to do is really quite simple.
Be here. Sow these seeds. Water this plant. Trim this hedge. Rake the neglected leaves. Cut back. Clear space.
Those are the words that kept coming to me all while I worked in the garden. Clear space.
And I am reminded of John the Baptists proclamation, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)
Prepare. Make way. Clear space.
What they thought they were to make was a highway for Messiah to overturn Roman rule. To be their triumphant warrior king who would once and for all squash those who had squashed them.
But instead, what was needed was a path to the cross—and space in a borrowed tomb for the Son of God to be sown like these seeds I plant in the earth.
It didn’t matter how many times he told his disciples that he had to die. It still came as a surprise. It doesn’t matter how many times we read the verse, “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16:33) —in times of pandemic and crisis, in one of the most well insulated countries in the world, it comes as quite a shock.
In the midst of this so much is being stripped away. We no longer believe we are invincible. Mortality knocks on every door. Fear holds us in its mighty grip. Loneliness is a mantle we wear when we rise in the morning.
But in my garden all this doesn’t feel as much like a loss. It feels like clearing space. Pulling up the weeds that have already started to grow though it’s barely April. Pull out the grass that seeded itself in the garden bed where it never belonged. Stir up the dirt and add the well-rotted compost, and make sure it’s fertile for all the good that will grow here.
I have dirt under my fingernails. Clear space. I hear the whisper.
And in my heart I know it; that even in the midst of losses piling up all around my feet, that my God remains. Here in this space when so much else feels like it is being taken away—even as we grieve those who are sick, who have died in the midst of this pandemic (whether from the virus or not), God is still here.
God is reminding me that what he sows will take root. Every space that feels empty and lost can be filled with more of him. And Good Friday reminds me that what is sown in terrible and devastating loss, is reaped to a new and fruitful life, For:
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:23 ESV
Maybe today I am being asked to clear space, for what looks like death.
We are told we will have trouble. Our Savior King road into Jerusalem in the triumph that the crowd expected of someone who could raise Lazarus from the dead—
“HOSANNA!” They shouted “Save us Now! O King of ISRAEL!”
Jesus hears the cries of his people. He answers our pleas for salvation in a way they did not, and still do not expect. Even the smallest among us question his methods.
“I didn’t know that…” she said, “that a King, would come to die?” The words of my then five-year-old-daughter Ellie. So obsessed with fairy tales and stories of Kings and Queens that she was properly amazed to discover the King of all the Universe let himself be killed for love of her.
“HOSANNA! Save us Now!” We shout. In the midst of this global crisis—the stench of death surrounding us.
The cross was not at all what they had in mind. But it is the very foundation of the life we live in the upside-down Kingdom of God. A Kingdom that God has been pointing to since the days that Adam, only just cast from the perfect Garden which had been his home, now was forced to clear space just as I do in this garden bed—making room for the seeds that look like death—believing that they will grow to a new and resurrected life.
Today is Good Friday. And the tension is all there in the name: How we call a day “good” that an innocent man was murdered and made to be crushed under the weight of all our sin, our diseases, and everything that makes this world so intolerably crushing. How his friends wept! This day looked to them like nothing more than death.
But God knew that this seed he was planting would raise more than itself to eternal life. The disciples could not have imagined the Harvest of Life that would come through the God’s own Son breaking the power of Death by his death.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”John 16:33 ESV (Emphasis mine)