With the setting sun and sleeping children, I steal off to the garden. Nestled to the side of our house behind our garage, the garden provides a piece of sanctuary. I hear the chirps of birds and the hoots of owls, crickets begin their songs, and children laugh and squeal at the playground across the street. A car passes and beeps. Neighbors walk their dogs in the crisp evening night.
I see tiny shoots of green peeking forth from the newly tilled soil. A bucket of weeds sits off to the side. Underneath the soil seeds lay scattered with prayers and hope for the plants to reach to the light. Yellow and orange marigolds line the garden. I close my eyes and picture the bounty that is to come. The produce I hope to feast on in the weeks ahead.
I grab my gloves placing them over my fingers, kneel, and begin to pull the weeds. An endless task. It’s rhythmic and melodic work, the pulling of the weeds and the throwing into the bucket, the moving of the dirt, the feeling of the earth between my fingers. To my left I quickly steal a glance underneath a rock. I realize I’m not alone. Two tiny eyes stare back at me with no other movement but their blinking. I stay still, too. A frog and I stare at one another. I’m not alone this night.
A few minutes earlier I texted my friend: “I’m in the garden tonight if you want to join and get your fix in the dirt.” I know she’s been missing the chance to garden in her new home and I know I have plenty of work that needs to get done.
The text comes quickly: “Sure!”
The sun continues to set and we work side by side. Turning up the dirt and removing the weeds we work in silence and share in conversation. We talk about the joy found in working with our hands, the lessons we’ve learned from the garden, and our children’s delight at getting that first bite of a vine-ripened tomato. There’s nowhere else we need to be at this moment. Here with each other cultivating this small piece of land is enough.
It feels good to do the physical work of tending the garden. But more importantly, it’s good to do it beside someone else. With my friend next to me and even the frog silently hiding under the rock, I think that we’re not meant to grow alone. In the company of others we flourish and grow best, learning from others, delighting in shared laughter and joy, and holding one another through the sadness and grief of life.
That’s the beauty of Christian community – the reminder that we are never alone. In the presence of others we bear witness to the God who came to this earth in the form of Jesus to know and love us. To literally walk with us. To be God-in-the-flesh. I feel that oneness with God in the earth planting seeds, tending the earth, and offering prayers for the new life that lays just beneath the surface, the life that will rise above with the pull of the light. And I give thanks for friends and family who work, live, and play beside me. The friends who grab shovels and gloves to get their hands dirty too.
The garden continues to teach me this lesson of being in community, the reminder that we’re not meant to grow alone. Sometimes it’s hard to trust that truth and feel the presence of others. But sometimes it just takes a few moments amidst the plants and earth, a quick invite to a friend, and a tiny seed sprouting, and I know I’m not alone.
Kimberly Knowle-Zeller is an ordained ELCA pastor, mother of two, and spouse of an ELCA pastor. She lives with her family in Cole Camp, MO. You can read more at her website: http://kimberlyknowlezeller.com or follow her work on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KimberlyKnowleZeller/