Unfurling

Hello again. I'm here, tending soil and finding quiet. And failing at the latter a lot more than I'd like you to know. But here I am. 

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After two growing (a term used loosely in light of the results) seasons of squash vines given over to boring (tunneling, not dull) grubs and single eggplants and a handful of okra...paltry results for the work of tilling and weeding and waiting...we dug out one of our four garden plots. It's got to be the soil, so overused and tired. We needed to start all over. 

By "we" I mean my husband. Digging out the plot became such hard prisoner type work that he determined only one plot per year could be excavated. Southern red clay petrifies, roots hold fast. He dumped a pickup truck bed worth of rich, bought soil in its place. Loose and loamy. 

And then I planted, the same as ever. Nothing is as faith-filling as planting a garden. Seed to sprout? To full fruiting plant all the way to our plates? Yes and yes and yes. Amen. It will happen, I blindly tend every Spring, not a doubt in my mind even after a few summers of drout and duds. Hands in the soil and sun on my neck, the small and still voice is Present, audible and amiable.  

Oh, but this year! That soil we traded out? The plot of tomoatoes and squash erupt with such enthusiasm that I confessed to my friend Emily the other day that I'm half afraid of it. The way it climbs and clings and produces is so unabashedly vigorous I'm baffled.  

In the compost mix must've been some cast-out squash of some sort, vines growing beyond borders, greedy for space and sun, spitting and squeezing out ovals of fruit nobody can identify. It's not a melon, wrong stem for that, though I cut one open and the fresh smell of honeydew had me convinced except the seeds are wrong. Maybe a gourd? A spaghetti squash? Whatever it is, we are good at growing it...there's at least 24 of the things expanding before our very eyes.  

I didn't come here to talk to you about gardening really, though this is typical of the South this time of year. You talk about soil, you walk up to check on things, you report on pests and fertilizers. Proud and perplexed, at least that's us.  How's your garden, we ask. Y'all getting any tomatoes yet? 

I came here I guess because with this season comes the tug of words. Not for an assignment but just for the sake of the thing itself. Not unlike planting something and just walking away. Not expecting much in return save the feeling of dirt underneath your hands and the sun on your neck. The feeling of being once again a part of something. Bigger and smaller all at the same time. Remembering the cycles of the moon as we tilt and spin on a sphere of rock and water. Held and tended.  

For some of my friends this year has been hard and root bound. The world is all impermeable edges and there doesn't seem to be much color. Sweetness and growth seem impossible and improbable, but yet even now they feel tendrils pushing up. Out of our miniscule microcosms...damn if we don't keep growing even when it's dark.  

I can't believe it really, it scares me how green and wild and ALIVE things can be. Out of my hands, hidden and rooted, a sprout bows and bends and unseen--its two hands reach for the sun.  

 

The way you make a bed

So precise.  

Sheets and blankets at hard angles, 

taut to the edges, everything  

tucked within an inch 

of its life. The way 

it is supposed to be, the way

your mother does it.  

I tug up the sheets and pat

down the bulges

trying to hide  

what I was too lazy to actually do.  

Hiding me.  

Then I go and look  

at how nice your bed is made

How rumbled is mine.  

But your bed is my bed and we make

it our own ways. One day mine

one day yours.  

Others, we forget and meet across

a swarm of sheets a damp towel 

a curled up cat  

and still each other.  

The precipice of Silence

I need some quiet.

Need? I know it's a need, but I treat it like a luxury, like something "distinct," as my five-year-old says. Like dinosaurs.


But for a couple of years now--that long--which is maybe a little scary to me, I've spoken about and listened to others my age long for quiet places, for breathing room. Our pastor once preached a sermon about margins, about leaving space in our days not just for rest but for room. Such truth in that, it resonates today.

Such truth in that, I can't seem to make it happen.

Because really, the truest things are often the simplest, starkest actions. Breathe, sit, listen. That's it, no other directive needed. And because it's so simple, the world's got to go and complicate things.

I want to write you and tell you that because I can't seem to find quiet anywhere and I desperately want to listen to what God has to say. I want you to think that I've tried being quiet through guided breathing, yoga practice, solo hiking. But that's not true. I haven't tried lately because I want to be good at it right away. I haven't tried it because I know that it's going to be hard and that the first thing I'm going to step into is a well-built, murky muddy wall of lies I believe about myself.


I just read that there are three parts of a dark night of the soul, and within these words I see that there's a way through this wall I've crafted. Not a light, but the promise of light one day. Maybe that's enough. 

Saint Joan of the Cross wrote this in the late 1600s, and over hundreds of years it breathes new and fresh as if she emailed it to me this morning:


"These three parts of the night are all one night; but, after the manner of night, it has three parts. For the first part, which is that of sense, is comparable to the beginning of night, the point at which things fade from sight.

And the second part, which is faith, is comparable to midnight, which is total darkness.

And the third part is like the close of night, which is God, the which part is now near to the light of day."


I enter into night, into quiet, into His presence through total darkness. I leave behind what I've crafted as truth, what I cling to as distraction...and slog through not even seeing the hand in front of my face, not even knowing what the hell I'm doing.

Which is the way it should be.

I want to leave behind the way things have been, I want a new thing. I want to find a dwelling place and immerse myself in it. Not in work, or perfection, or beauty, or love. But this unlike thing, this quiet where He waits.

So as most things of the spiritual life are, I first have to realize that I can't make silence happen, I can't create stillness, I often tease myself into thinking that if I just made a space or read a book or lit the right candle I'd find quiet.

I have to shed it all, I have to enter in and slowly watch as what is familiar and comforting slips from my shoulders.


But then there's this: as I stand at the cave's entrance--at a precipice of darkness and unknown and cling to this: at the darkest point comes the dawn. When I cannot see to the point that I've forgotten what's in front of me...there He is, there Love is.

It's not a stepping off place, it's a stepping within.