Gardens of Delight

West Michiganians take summer pretty seriously. We noticed this when we moved here in June 2002 and found that church life retreats to a kind of summer hibernation. I think I now understand why: After long, cold winters, West Michiganians have only a small window to enjoy their gorgeous beaches, and so pursue summer with reckless abandon.

At the Smith house, what we relish most about summer are the gardens my wife faithfully and lovingly tends. Indeed, her planting of seeds in the basement in snowy darkness of February and March is a harbinger of a spring that is coming. She (literally) sows in hope, looking forward to the frost giving way so that she can transplant the seedlings into new soil, giving them new space and opportunities–and then patiently, with unparalleled attention, working to coax them into bloom.

Perennials have their own kind of “hope quotient”: after watching fall and winter diminish their life, spring becomes a time of waiting for resurrection. Which will return? Sometimes spring brings its own kind of heartbreak, as a plant hasn’t weathered the winter. But most of the time, faith gives way to sight, hope deferred is realized, and a garden teaming with color and surprises bursts forth. It’s the little surprises that are most treasured: like when a clump of stubborn lupines which has never yielded a bloom finally blesses us with a gift of color (though even those green stubborn lupines were a source of delight as we enjoyed the way that the dew and water rolled into a ball in the heart of its leaves). Or when the white and pink mix of some lilies surprises the one who planted them.

Deanna’s gardens are, without a doubt, a labor of love: love for beauty, soil, and creation, but also love for us–me and the kids. Deanna blesses us with a sanctuary of floral beauty right here in the neighborhood. And I have a sense that Dee also sees the gardens as a sacramental space–as a conduit for God’s love for us, as each leaf and bloom is received as a gift from a God who loves to play and delight and bless. Who could look at the teeming, lush beauty of our gardens and not think about the One who loves enough to “give the increase?” We awake each morning to a kind of horticultural morning office of prayer that channels unspeakable grace into our home.

Perhaps most importantly, Deanna’s love and attention to her gardens has taught me something that Norman Wirzba’s wonderful forthcoming book, Living the Sabbath, finally named for me: that at the heart of Sabbath is not so much “rest” as delight. Granted, it takes time to enjoy, and so one needs to make time for delight, and so there is an intimate connection between Sabbath rest and the delight it’s meant to engender. But the end of Sabbath, the telos of such rest, is delight in God’s many gifts–which is why Sabbath is not (just) about a day of the week, but rather a habit of being-in-the-world, a Monday-Friday way of life that knows how to, well, stop and smell the roses. Deanna’s day begins with a sort of dutiful prayer walk, beginning with the back gardens–looking for new shoots and leaves and blooms, mourning losses, lamenting the effects of predators–then culminating with coffee on the front porch, taking delight in a new morning glory flower snaking its way up the front railing, or the explosion of orange lilies, or the towering growth of a hunted-for larkspur. I’ve learned to enjoy this “morning office” like no other, and learn with Deanna to find in our gardens a sacrament of God’s love. And I love her for that.