Sunday, February 17, 2013

Blood, Bug Bites, and Dirt Under My Nails

         I know spring has arrived when I get the irresistible urge to trim the shrubs in my yard and till the soil in my garden. It has nothing to do with the swelling buds and greening grass and lengthening days: it is about whacking bushes and hacking at dirt.

         I know spring has arrived when my arms are bloody and covered with scratches, my ankles itch from fire-ant bites, and my muscles are so sore I can barely get out of my recliner to eat or do any of the myriad chores required around a house on a given day. It has nothing to do with flowers blooming and birds singing, and warming afternoons (we had those all winter – it is Texas after all): it is about blood, bug bites, and dirt under my nails.

         The arrival of spring comes a bit differently for those of us who are connected to the land. The pleasantness of the season comes from a much deeper place than just the arrival of better weather and the return to life. For me, spring allows me to become more involved with the earth, producing fruitful bounty from the garden. I watch physical change take place through the course of my labors. For a person whose career focuses far more on mental labor than physical labor, such physical exertion and reward provides a dramatically different sense of satisfaction.

         At my job it may take years before I see any tangible result of the work I have done.

         In my garden it only takes weeks before I get to enjoy the tangible results of the work I have done.

         When I experience the results of my job, I know I have done a good thing.

         When I experience the results of my physical labor, I taste a good thing.

         This year the irresistible urge to pull out the garden shears corresponds with the beginning of Lent. The coinciding of the time for spiritual rebirth and growth with the time of rebirth and growth in the natural world (in the northern hemisphere) today helped me have the alone time I need to focus on both physical and spiritual growth of the season.

         As I trimmed the shrubs I noticed how the trimming from previous years led to more lush plants. Just below the previous cut two or more sprouts had come forth. Cutting those, led to even more sprouts. Lent reminds me that I too need to be trimmed. Removing some of the clutter that clogs my mind and consumes my energy frees my mind to take up a new spiritual discipline.

         The cutting away does not just remove; it allows for adding on.

         One shrub, one I treat most harshly when it comes to the trimming, was this year the tallest in my garden. I cut it to the ground each year hoping it will die because it does not make a very attractive plant. It has beautiful blooms in that brief period of summer when it does bloom; the rest of the time it is a gangly overreaching bush. Perhaps it is fittingly called “esperanza.”

         Translated to English, esperanza (Spanish), means hope, expectation, promise, anticipation, and confidence.

         Isn’t that just like hope – to be so resilient? Despite being easily thrown away hope keeps coming back. During the season of Lent as I seek to renew my spirit and come even closer to God, I want to grow my hope. It may not be the prettiest gift around, but it helps me through when so many other qualities are found wanting.

         A little more time digging in the dirt and shaping the plants in my yard are just what my garden needs. Those are the same things my spirit needs.

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