Who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in God.
— Elizabeth York Case
Gardening has never been a talent of mine. It is impressive how many plants, indoors and out, I have planted only to watch them slowly die.
Still, hope springs eternal. Whenever I’ve decided to just give it up, April comes around and I have the garden plowed and clear out the perennial bed.
Gardening is a spiritual practice. There are many metaphors that gardening provides for the spiritual life. Mine is invasive plants.
I’m not talking about weeds. Though, I grant you, the distinction is nebulous. My definition of a weed is something I never wanted in my -garden, never will want and can guiltlessly remove.
The crabgrass that got in my garden is a weed, and my emotions are neat and tidy when it comes to crabgrass: I hate it.
Invasive plants work the same as weeds, except, by my definition, invasive plants are plants that I want in my garden. Unfortunately, I can’t control them.
Consider mint. I planted it for its smell and fresh mint tea in the summer. But mint just won’t quit. It even propagates throughout the winter. Each spring I find healthy colonies at the opposite side of the flower bed.
Campanula glomerata (clustered bellflower) also launched an invasion in my flower bed. I first saw it at a friend’s house, and I just happened to be there when it was in peak bloom. All that deep purple color crowded together looked stunning, and I wanted some at my house.
I do enjoy the vibrant purple flowers for the two weeks they display themselves. For the rest of the year, I play jailer, trying to keep the campanula within its borders, of which it has no respect.
Weeds and invasive plants are both insidious. They continually put out their rhizomes, popping up in unexpected places, threatening to take over.
They require similar vigilance and constant maintenance, yet I find invasive plants more spiritually challenging.
Taking the metaphor into my life, weeds are things like bitterness and holding grudges. Keeping my bitterness at bay isn’t easy, but at least I never have to wonder whether I want it around or not.
In the physical world, weeds are those things I have no control over: tornadoes, cancer, wasps. They are undesirable, and I am allowed (even expected) to thoroughly dislike them and do everything in my power to eradicate them.
It is different with the things I want in my life but struggle to control. Anger is a good example. Anger is necessary for healthy human relationships and can motivate righteous behavior; it is also horribly destructive.
In the physical world, screens and technology are an obvious example of something we all chose to introduce into our lives (in varying ways) and continuously labor to manage its domination of our time, energy and resources.
Social media, a specific offshoot of modern technology, while a force for good at times, also fuels misinformation, insecurity, jealousy and sloth.
Certain relationships that were sparkly and new become invasive, spreading conflict and taking far too much energy.
The commitments we make to organizations, committees or social clubs can easily turn invasive. We anticipate a harvest of good works and relationships while forgetting to mind the spreading roots of lust for power, slights and petty irritations.
I think I could argue that nothing in my life is wholly good. Everything has the possibility of a shadow side. However, some things require more attention to keep them from taking over in a harmful way.
I’ll never understand why something beautiful and good can morph into unattractive destruction. Why can’t it simply be weeds or plants, with no overlap or confusion?
As winter approaches, I look at my garden, which is mostly crabgrass now that I’ve stopped tilling and weeding. I suppose, yet again, I’ll call the man who brings his plow, I’ll seed it in rye and have it plowed again in the spring. I’ll plant the seeds and wait for the crabgrass to come up, right alongside.
For centuries, the title page of –Martyrs Mirror included an illustration of “work and hope.” What else, after all, can we do?