At Their Feet

These plants on my windowsill
watch me day in and out,
looking about my office, they
track my comings and goings,
sniggering at my sweltering
sense of self-importance.

These plants are close to the earth
and hold the long view, knowing that
instantaneously – in a geological sense – I
will be in the earth feeding their fellows.

These plants also cheer me on, when I
close my laptop and play with the rocks
in the silica-now-glass container on
“my” oak tree-now-desk.

These plants weep when
I fail to taste my apple, when
I forget to thank them, when
I refuse to listen to their call
to pinch myself
alive.

These plants are poets of the first order:
Aloe Vera and Christmas Cactus – and when
I am wise, I sit at their feet, in a manner of speaking.

Succor in Solitude

Some months ago, after visiting my middlest daughter, I brought back from her Ottawa home two aloe vera plants. They were about the same size, and I planted them in two available pots, one about two thirds the size of the other. The plant in the larger pots has done well, looks healthy and grown a bit. The plant in the smaller pot is going gangbusters. It has swollen to twice the size of the other plant, and produced a whole host of babies, some of which are nearing the size of the other plant.

I don’t know if these plants are a metaphor for life, or not. But it is interesting that the plant with the most room to grow is the least productive. I read an article the other day about a writer who took a furlough/sabbatical for writing a book. He left the big city and made his way to a cottage, where there were little to no distractions. He set up a plan of how many pages he would write each day for a week, free from the burden of his job, obligations at home etc. for a one-month spacious period of time. But he produced nothing aside from some writing on the first day.

Maybe it isn’t space we need in order to be productive but intimacy, small places and times where we can feel our edges and experience our breath bouncing back at us. Intimacy comes from a Latin root that is the superlative of “inner.” To be intimate is to be utterly within. Our common parlance often understands this word in relationship to sexuality, or perhaps in reference to a special kind of comradery. But there is an intimacy of knowing the self, of being in the presence of our own interiority.

This is not always an easy place to be. Here we see our fears, our rages, our deaths. But these are rich materials for the project that is being ourselves. In this kind of intimacy we see beyond the self we project in the world and we begin the journey of truth. The philosopher Martin Heidegger writes that the word truth in Greek is related to the verb of disclosing or laying bare. In intimate relations the other is disclosed to me; in intimate spaces, I begin to see myself.

In the Christian church today is the Reign of Christ Sunday. The image of Jesus as King of Kings is celebrated. But the story of Jesus begins in a stable, and moves to cross, and ends in closed cave where the story begins again. This so-called king was really a master of intimate spaces, and places us in the same, where we discover the love that reigns in the heart. From the intimate heart comes healing balm, an aloe vera like salve, our succor in solitude.

Lawn Tall Bean

There is a bean to be seen
growing in the middle of our lawn,
there by grace of a chipmunk who squirreled
away a pod found in the ground of my garden;
my three sisters garden.

This bean would not be save for
the drought that stopped my lawn mowing,
without which it would have been a has bean.

I’m contemplating what kind of a bean pole
might serve as a lean-to for this lawn tall bean.
Maybe a stick that it can stick to while it rises
in our yard, or maybe a rod, stuck in the sod,
iron graced with the green of bean.

I’m watching this plant with bated breath
as Creator works wonders despite,
or rather because of,
Chip’s plunders.

Dirty Fingers

One of my plans for Christmas holidays was to replace the plants in my office. They have served me well for a number of years but have grown weary. So yesterday my wife and I went plant shopping. We pulled into Sheridan Nurseries on Ottawa Street in Kitchener. It is really rather magical place to visit at this time of year. The air is moist and warm, calling to mind summer’s luxuries. A display of orchids welcomed us in and invited us into a different space, a different time in the midst of January, with its own peculiar pleasures and pains. Some song birds flitted about. Water features babbled. Shoppers entered a kind of dream state in this womb like locus, this place called “nursery.“

We wandered around a bit, finally settling on a couple of smaller clusters of Codiaeum plants (what a delightful string of vowels in that name!) along with a coupler of smaller plants (a cactus and small rubber tree like plant with yellow speckles – alas I don’t know the name). I happily paid a modest fee for joys both experienced and anticipated. We chose a good day for plant buying with a break in the weather after the week’s record lows in Southern Ontario. Yesterday the temperature hovered a bit below freezing – much warmer than the day before – but still, I sensed that these tropical transplants shivered a bit in the car as we made our way home.

My wife and I worked to pull together the two batches of the Codiaeum plants into one pot. This was really rather marvelous. Digging in dirt in January is an unusual luxury. We bought some potting soil, which simply smelled like the life that it is. It is not accidental, in my estimation, that the ancient Hebrew word for the human is Adam, which can also be translated as earth, or soil. As I gently pressed the soil to work in the newly potted planter, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had a fundamental source of life in my hands; outrageously complex, and yet sublime in its utter lack of pretension. The moniker “down to earth” is well suited for the character the phrase plays! While playing with the soil, my mind went to the Bible.

The creation story in Genesis Two has the Lord forming a body of dirt, and then breathing spirit into this shape formed from what has been called lifeless dirt. But soil is anything but lifeless. Indeed, Adam/soil is potent with life. As I read these ancient words, I imagine the Holy One bending down and putting mouth to dirt as new life is born. My lips didn’t touch this soil that hosts my newly acquired plants, but my fingers are still tingling with the experience. I sometimes wonder if something of God’s vitality landed in the soil itself, as well as the soil made human.

Next time you have occasion to get your fingers dirty, don’t pass up the opportunity. And as you indulge a little dirt, see if you sense something more – that Excess that leaves traces for those with eyes to see, with ears to hear, and with fingers to caress life itself.