Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sprouting Seeds and Sandy Soil

We are in the process of buying a new house, and I'm intrigued by the questions that we've gotten.  Many people have asked if there will be room for a garden.

In our current house, we've had more success with container gardening, and I suspect the same will be true of our new house.  Our part of Florida used to be sea bed, and so, we try to garden in sand and coral.  We've spent years trying to mix good soil in with the sand, but in the end, it's easier to fill a pot with dirt and plant tomatoes there.

As we get to the part of the lectionary that appears periodically, and we work our way through the  agricultural metaphors, I have to wonder about their effectiveness. How many of us have seen wheat grow? For that matter, how many of us have seen anything grow?

Once upon a time, many generations ago, we were an agricultural nation. Most of us grew our own food. We'd have understood intimately the metaphors of good seed and bad, good soil and rocky soil.

Even when I was a child in the 1970's, it seemed that more people gardened. Everyone in my suburban neighborhood was growing something, even if it was just tomatoes. I remember going to church in the summer and seeing tables with the garden bounty that individual families couldn't consume. Church members were encouraged to take what they could use.

I am only two generations removed from my farming relatives. Had my grandfather not decided to go to seminary, I might still be on the farm--or more realistically, we'd be trying to decide what to do about the farm. My grandmother kept a letter that the seminary sent my grandfather as they tried to persuade him not to come to school. The seminary letter writer points out that at least on the farm my grandfather will always have food--and in the height of the Great Depression, this was no small thing. But my grandfather pressed ahead with his plans, and that's one reason why I'm not still on the farm.

I was lucky enough to be able to go back to the farms of my relatives as I was growing up. My grandmother came from farming people too, and I remember at a family reunion, we took a hay ride tour of the land, with commentary about which relative had farmed which parts of the land and what had grown there. As a teenager, I read about industrial farming and decided to become a vegetarian. But when we went to my grandfather's farming family, I got to see what a humane picture of animal husbandry could be. Everything we ate at Thanksgiving came from the farm. Everything we ate, except the desserts, had been alive just a week ago: the turkey, the pork, and the vegetable side dishes.

Most people these days have no memories like the ones that I have. And I wonder if the agricultural metaphors still work for those people when they read the Gospel. As an English major, we talked about readers having to understand both sides of the equation of the metaphor. If the reader doesn't, the comparison might be lost.

What would a modern metaphor be? Would we talk about good investments and bad investments in the stock market? Would we talk about exercise maybe? I need to think more about this.

In the meantime, I'll look for ways to enjoy the gardens that are part of my life. My spouse plants everything in the yard and sees what will happen. We have flourishing herbs and all sorts of tropical plants. My friend planted a garden in the planter boxes in the balcony outside of my office. It's a beautiful space, even if it's not the kind of garden that my grandmother would recognize.

Let's say a prayer of thanks for all the soil bewitchers in our lives. We may not be growing wheat, but at least we can still enjoy the sight of a seed sprouting out of the soil.

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