Published: June 2007
If Adam and Eve's first face-off with God had been in a kitchen instead of a garden, I might be convinced to become a biblical literalist. As it stands now, the fact that paradise is described as trees and flowers rather than cake and ice cream makes the story just too unbelievable for me!
In my years as a priest, there have been a couple of scriptural stories that consistently have caused many of my parishioners' dismay and alarm; primarily, the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Vineyard. Apparently, the message in these stories is patently unfair. True, but how many times did one or the other of my parents tell me, "No one ever said life was fair. Get used to it!"
For me, unlike for these parishioners, the alarm bells are set off when summertime rolls around and the Sunday gospels are packed full of those wretched "garden" stories. You know the ones: the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the sower, to name just a couple. I say, "Bring on the unfairness of the prodigal any day of the week. Just don't make me read those agricultural stories Jesus so loved to tell!" I wonder if any of you have any inkling how hard it is to be an Anglican cleric who detests gardening? Have you any idea of the profound impact our English cultural and religious heritage, filled as it is with bucolic images of agricultural bliss, has on someone whose only response to the feel of rich, dark dirt beneath her fingernails is an obsessive compulsive need to scrub her hands raw to rid them of such dirt?
For so many years, reading those garden parables left me feeling guilty because I would rather have done almost anything other than dig weeds and plant flowers. Even though there was nothing about tending gardens in my ordination vows, somehow I couldn't help but feel that to be an Anglican priest, I needed to learn to love all that dirt! I can't tell you the number of vegetable patches I have planted over the years as a means of overcoming my distaste for gardening. At least if there were vegetables, I surmised, I could use these to great advantage in the kitchen, my much-preferred choice of environment. Yet, even those vegetable gardens had a way of becoming the enemy, rarely producing enough for much more than the odd salad or two.
When Robin and I moved to St. Catharines, we chose the house we did for a number of reasons, not least of which was the amazing garden it had in the backyard. Recognizing that neither one of us liked to spend our free time digging in the dirt, we thought discretion would be the better of valour; so we bought a property that was already landscaped. It took us about three summers to destroy the magnificence of the landscape that had been created by the previous owners. It was about two additional summers before our neighbours began to wonder if, in fact, it had been a nice, quiet clergy couple that had purchased the house on the street, or were we Brock University students in disguise, swiftly lowering their property values?
The only saving grace in those years was our almost 90-year-old next door neighbour, who kindly said to me one summer day as, with shovel in hand, I grumbled my way down the property line that divided our two homes from one other: "I don't know why you even bother pulling out those weeds. They're only going to grow back tomorrow!" God bless the wit and wisdom of senior citizens who have lived long enough to figure out that there is much more to life than what makes us all look pretty!
Today, however, I am happy to report that the gardening tide turned for me a couple of years ago when two people at Transfiguration offered four hours of yard clean-up as their donation to our bi-annual Talent and Gift Auction. On the night of the auction, I found myself in a bidding war with one other parishioner for the acquisition of this talent. I was bound and determined to purchase these four hours of clean-up. Indeed, I whispered in the ear of my bidding opponent that there was no way on God's green earth that anyone else was going to win the item; she might as well give up right then and there. The ante was raised just slightly above its estimated value, and Robin and I became the proud owners of what I believed was my ticket to paradise. By the next summer, the neighbours once again might consider speaking to us....
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