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The Desolate Made Green: Lent 2022

by Gregory Thompson

Let every Christian be a gardener so that he and she and the whole of creation, which groans in expectation of the Spirit’s final harvest, may inherit Paradise.  If we Christians truly treasure the hope that one day we, like Adam and the penitent thief, will walk alongside the One who caused even the dead wood of the Cross to blossom with flowers, then we must also imitate the Master’s art and make the desolate earth grow green.

Vigen Gurioian, Inheriting Paradise 

This weekend marks the Church’s groaning turn into the final week of Lent.  It is raining outside, and gray, and colder than I think it should be. But such is Lent: a sodden season with a mind of its own. I am weary of this season, weary of the bereft reality to which it so relentlessly attests, weary of, well, just about everything that reminds me again of the pain of deferred hope. In this situation, while there are many things I’d like to do, there is only one that I know that I must do. And that is to somehow, in the midst of this personal and civilizational desolation, continue to grope toward this hope and to root my life in it.

It is for this reason that I force myself to put on my boots and jacket, grab my gloves and trowel, and squelch down to the garden. I confess to dreading it; I know what I’ll see. Dried vines from last year’s tomatoes hanging barrenly on the green wire of their cage. Overgrown okra pods fossilizing on the ground. Shards of the clay pot we used to contain the mint lying broken beside the offending baseball.  Weeds rising to begin their annual assault on my repose.  And bags of compost drooping listlessly into the Virginia mud.  It is an unmistakably Lenten site.

But it is nonetheless mine. These beds. These weeds. These shards. This desolation. This is my small space of Lenten land, and my work is to work it.  And so, I dig out the old roots. I pull the known weeds. I rake the remnants of gardens past.  I mix the compost. I turn the soil. I space the seedlings and cover them.  And then, having cleared the brush and cleaned the tools, I stand in this tended patch of apparent emptiness, say a prayer, and walk away to wait.

For what? For the warming of the world. For the emergence of the hidden. For the affirmation of the living. For that moment when—on some warm afternoon—my boy and I walk out back and instead of the gray of tears and the reign of death, we step into a world ripened into wholeness. Yes, for this. For the tomatoes, the okra, the peppers, the mint, the onions, the basil, and the flowers. But not only for this.  I also wait for the world to which each of these unerringly gestures, an Easter world springing from the life of Jesus Himself.

This is the work of these final days of Lent: Going into the barren places, clearing the remnants of death, tending the seeds of life (fragile though they are), and waiting for the moment to come—as it surely will—when all that is desolate is at last made green.

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