For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey…”
DEUTERONOMY 8:7-8 (ESV)
The thunder rolls, the skies loosed with yet another steady afternoon shower drenching the tropical paradise we call home. Early this morning, before heat rose from the always steamy earth, I gathered the mango picker from its perch along the back fence rail. If you’ve never seen such a thing, a mango picker consists of a long metal pole, ending with a metal basket. Curved metal tongs hook the mango, plucking it from the tree, and capturing it in the basket to avoid dropping and bruising the fruit.
While I had the pole in hand, I pulled the lowest dead branches from the papaya tree, noticing a dozen baby fruit hugging the trunk on their way to maturity. Finally, I passed the gardenias and turning left towards the fence, lifted tiny branches from the newest garden addition. Plucking a half dozen key limes from the tree puzzled me. It’s not yet clear how to discern if they’re fully ripe, so I just pick them when they’re forest green and fragrant, hoping for the best.
I notice three of the white orchids still bloom from the notch of a live oak, the others at rest, waiting. And I mark a question regarding the jasmine, when to expect their perfume to wrap the yard once again. There’s so much to learn when tending a tropical garden. Quite unlike the predictable, Midwest forsythia and lilacs of our childhood gardens, each morning opens to miracle and mystery in this island paradise by the sea.
It occurs to me that God busies herself every morning with us humans in just such a way as this. God, la fermiere, like a lady farmer gathering and sharing her fruits. She checks us all for signs of flourishing or rot: plucking and pruning here, fertilizing there, gathering with joy our ripest fruits in due season.
Neighbors drop by the church with holy treasures, a beautiful dragon fruit, a box of grapefruit, a cluster of tiny bananas, or any number of strange creations that never made it to the produce section of Hinky Dinky in Omaha.
Of all the things that give me pleasure, the poinsettias please me most. After the last Christmas Eve worship ended months ago, I set them in the garden by the front porch, intending them for the trash after the holidays. Forgotten there, they took root, sending shoots down through the holes in the bottom of their plastic pots. Now five feet tall, they cling to summer as if their Christmas debut was but a foretaste of their potential glory.
It's curious isn’t it, that God births us into being, setting us down here and there, and waits. We humans sometimes grow in the most unlikely of places, and sometimes at unexpected times, while the ones we think will capture first place at the county fair simply wither away.
I like to imagine that God takes as much pleasure curating our human garden, as we take curating our own plot of Eden. When God prunes us, dropping the detritus that no longer serves us well on the compost heap, it isn’t tragic, though it may pain us, it’s a gift. And so, it thunders, and so it rains, as la sainte fermier makes of all of us, so much more than we could ever make of ourselves.
Prayer: For gardening us towards paradise, thank you.
God’s grace, mercy and peace,
The Rev. Dr. Anna V. Copeland
Senior Minister, The Community Church of Vero Beach, Florida