Once in the garden, basking in the restorative glow, feeling nurtured and inspired, it is often difficult to drag oneself back into the world. Sometimes I feel a bit like Moses might have felt after his encounter with God on the mountain, unable to enter the everyday routine before shaking off the effects of the blazing glory of God’s being. They call it the “shekinah glory”, this highly illuminated, other-worldly, transfiguration. The English version of a feminine Hebrew word meaning dwelling or settling can also mean nesting, but in this instance it is a word we use to try to describe the divine presence of God. We cannot take in all that God is. We are told that God answered Moses’ request to let himself be seen by flashing him with his backside , anything else would have been more than a human, no matter how spiritually mature, could possibly handle.
Peter, James and John must have had this same “how do I come down off the mountaintop” feeling after being with Jesus . As a child, I really wanted to know what it would be like to catch a glimpse of shekinahness. That is my made-up word for what I guess we only come close to when we have some sort of up close and personal experience with something that touches us so deeply that we are never the same again. Maybe a runner has something akin to this after a 10k or a half marathon or a sports enthusiast or rock fan after enjoying the privileges of a backstage pass with their hero. I, like Peter, who wanted to pitch some tents on the mountain and just hang out for a while, have a tendency to want to hang on to any little bit of my mountaintop experiences. I have prayed for the effects of a retreat where I have had some sort of spiritual epiphany to stretch out a little longer. This is what happens to me in the garden, I want to stay, hang out with all the critters and smell the soggy soil some more.
Eventually, most of us will have to come in. Knowing this, I try to find ways to bring some token of my time in the garden with me. A votive if you will, brought from the other side of one of these thin spaces that will not only remind me of my time in the garden, but also somehow enrich someone else’s life. A gorgeous flower, some juicy ripe fruit, or even an interesting shaped rock. This helps me cross the threshold, and journey back to take up my space in the world. It reminds me that I am called to this ministry, of seeing a certain way, and then sharing it with others. That hospitality really is a gift, a fruit of the spirit, and my work in the world. As such, I am to do this work to the glory of the Lord, making it a sacred act.
There is a wonderful relic of Medieval art that you will find in some books of hours, those little prayer books which often were made for wealthy women and used to guide their prayers throughout the hours of the day, a way of marking time and seasons. Within the margins of these books were elaborate and highly detailed drawings representing the work of rural life commonly done in a given month. They were called “Labours of the Month” and often were set against the signs of the zodiac. These things happily co-existed within the realm of Christian art alongside Christ set inside a mandorla, a sort of heavenly frame and central to the whole configuration. You will find this same expression in large sculptural figures or stained glass in cathedrals, or marking the entrances of churches. For the Medieval or Renaissance Christian, this did not pose a theological problem. These charming images were easily recognized by a medieval agrarian society, but not so much today.
The principle remains the same, honoring the seasons, the times of day with our work, and with our bodies is a much more natural way to live. We would do well to follow the customs of our predecessors in this way. Forcing ourselves to work into the wee hours under artificial fluorescence, growing bionic vegetables with mechanical heat and light in chemically enhanced soils is a bit like trying to swim upstream. If we can allow ourselves to follow the seasonally ascribed activities found in these Labours of the Months, we might discover greater joy in our work.
This is how I find the sacred in the ordinary. Especially in the fall, during the abundance of the harvest, it is easy for me to understand the ways of my Midwestern ancestors who planned for cold hard winters by “putting up” the fruits of their harvest. If I really listen out there in the garden to what my body is telling me, I hear it saying, take, eat, this is a bountiful harvest for you, and for your neighbors. Make good food, share it, it is a sacred gift. This brings me out of the garden, into the kitchen, and the world where I can be God’s hands and feet. I am rested, rejuvenated and inspired, now I must go and be His servant in the world. Thanks be to God, and my garden.