The first signs of spring began a couple of weeks ago and I’ve decided to plant a garden again this year. I close my eyes and can smell the dirt of gardens past. I can feel the muscles of my shoulders shrieking at the memory of so many rows of weeds. Memories can feel like loss, like grief, like heartbreak, like failure. The mere thought of starting a garden – just making a to-do list – creeps into my throat and unasked for, unexplainable tears stream down my face. I’m not sad, not really, but my body feels a familiar longing for maybe a part of me I lost somewhere along the way. Tears of grief, but tears also of joy. This is almost overwhelming and I nearly put aside the project for another year.
I push through this surprising sadness and continue to plan. Then, as a full list, and as detailed drawings become the plans for my garden, the war between my heart, mind, and body becomes more violent.
Mind — “You made a list, good for you. Too bad you’ll never actually plant it.”
My legs become leaden and glue themselves to the seat at my kitchen table as I look out the door at the earth ready to be ripped up and recognize the quickly fading availability of time to actually get out and do this. After all, this Northern California living means we’ve likely seen the last real rain. Already, the flooded soil has started to revert to its desert clay self – which will be so, so much more difficult to turn.
Heart — ”Please do it – please.”
Maybe I need a new plan: don’t think, don’t list, just do. Realistically, if I can make a list I already know what needs to be done. The words and checkmarks feel friendly and comforting , but these tears of sadness, the inexplicable longing for a memory, can only be assuaged by hard labor and toil. Pressing the tines over and over into the soil, and pulling out the unplanted weeds and leaves, a garden will be prepped. Planting the seeds for fruit and vegetables, for herbs and flowers. These small seeds will feed my family, spice a meal, establish beautiful and remind me I am part of this creative process that is life.
Cultivating requires a digging up of losses and a planting of saved seeds that may not even be identifiable anymore. The seeds will grow and become exactly what they should be – if only given space, water, and light to do so. I just struggle with getting started, the overcoming of memories that seem overwhelmingly lovely and familiar, and so unattainable.
As I press publish, it is one day past Transfiguration Sunday. A Sunday when we remember the story of Jesus taking Peter and James and John and going up to the mountain to pray. More than pray, upon the mountain Jesus is unquestionably revealed as the Son of God – all misconceptions, all misunderstandings of who and why he was among them werw clarified. His face “shown like the sun” and the voice of God spoke over him (again) and reminded the disciples that Jesus is the beloved Son of God and that they should “listen to him”.
Those disciples? They were filled with fear. Overcome by the presence of God.
Later, in the same chapter (verse 22), the disciples are “filled with grief” as they are told again that the son of man will be killed and then raised again to life. The glory and revelation of Jesus as the Son of God is followed quickly by the revelation that he will die at the hands of men and be raised from the dead.
On this feast day, we too are filled with fear, and filled with grief, but also with joy and hope because we know this story. We practice this remembering each year in preparation for the fulfilling of these promises at Easter. We practice feasting and celebrating and we burn palm fronds from last Palm Sunday (dried for nearly a year). These are the seeds of this season and our practices the embodied cultivation of memories that like my garden plans come every year and bring tears of grief and also joy.
Wednesday we will move from feasting to fasting, remembering with our hearts and minds and bodies the story that leads to death and into life again. We will gather and the ashes of the palm frond will mix with oil and be used to cross each forehead. We will be reminded that from dust we came, and to dust we shall return. This is how we prepare, how we remember.
This is how we prepare, how we remember.
One of the songs we will sing on Wednesday, comes from Psalm 126. As we are reminded of mortality, filled maybe with fear and grief, we will sing “Our mouths were filled with laughter”, “filled with joy”. My pattern matching brain wonders how all of these things can be possible.
What I know about being filled with grief, fear, joy and laughter, hope, and restoration is that all of these inhabit the same space. I can simultaneously be filled with grief and with joy, I can simultaneously be filled with fear and with laughter. I am all of these things, most of the time, and it can be overwhelming and make me want to give up until next year. There is no lack that waits to be filled by the elements, no emptiness, they are just part of a whole. These filling feelings, they’re not mutually exclusive friends. Not in Lent, not in gardening, not in cultivating whatever feels lost and waiting to grow in your life. These are all part of memory, part of hope for the future, part of being present and unabashedly human.
If you need a playlist to inspire your changing of seasons, your own living into the risk of being filled by so many feelings, you’re welcome to borrow mine: