We would run around in the concrete cool basement of the church while our Dad was getting ready for the service. We’d get into the boxes of sugar cubes in the kitchen cabinets, or into the storage area where college kids’ old clutter was left as a sort of lost and found. There was a grand organ, some kind of historical antique important piece that I’d play after church getting to lean my feet down to play pedals and to pull and push all the knobs to see what kinds of sounds would come out. The bread was real baked loaves of bread and the wine was in enormous earthy chalices. Once in a while we were told to be quieter, but mostly we did whatever we wanted to do. The churches were not unapproachable spaces where we felt we should be sedate, showing only formal reverence. The churches (the Wellesley chapel and Grace Lutheran Church in Hartford, CT) were where my Dad worked. They were places we spent time waiting before and after church. We had bell choir and choir-choir rehearsals, standing around while photocopies were made, and grabbing cookies and running up to the office to hide out during many, many coffee hours.
The best time to walk around in the garden is early morning, before the bugs (or the heat) get too nasty. Of course, if there are ready-to-pick green beans, I’ll grab one to crunch on as I look around. Maybe there’s a super-ripe cherry tomato, easy to pop in my mouth. Snacking from the garden when I’m in it is what I do and what I’ve always done.
When my three-year-old wanted to pick something (after my nine-year-old had picked our first cucumber) and I didn’t see anything immediately ready, I turned to the squash plants and pointed out one of the little yellow ones whose flower hadn’t even fully browned into the soggy flop it would as the squash grew to a more reasonably pickable size. I encouraged her to pick one of them, helping her some when she wanted to pull without any twist in her motion. We then saw a large zucchini (those things are sneaky and fast!) that she got and could barely carry.
Later, when she wanted to pick more, I showed her what kale looked like and she helped herself throughout the morning to torn off pieces of the kale leaves. She also munched on handfuls of parsley. There’s not a lot ready for picking, yet, but in a vegetable garden there’s almost always something edible.
No church or vegetable garden is too precious for me. None are somehow more important than any other living space in my world. They are a part of the meat of life; they aren’t fine unusable crystal to be placed up and out of reach behind a locked cabinet door.
My gardens’ products are a part of their process. While I have learned to be respectful of the gardens of other people, I have to regularly remind myself that not everyone feels as flowing about their gardens. What is a garden, if not to offer its food? I am in relationship with it. I care for it and it cares for me. Even in the long-distance gardening I do, where other caregivers (my parents) do the organic pest control and watering required when I’m not there, the garden is a part of me and my family. It is ours and we belong to it. The harvest will be so plentiful, there’s no reason to hold each tiny yellow squash as off-limits to an eager and interested three year old just because it might be… what, better to cook with or prepare for a meal if it were a little bigger? Isn’t that presumptuous? How can we know the best time to pick that squash? This moment. This now is when it should be picked.
My church spaces are homes to me. Even when I’m in a new church, I feel immediately connected and comfortable. This is a place where I won’t be forced into polite restraint. I enjoy celebrating the absence of fear I feel in churches. My comfort makes each church feel as awesome as a sunrise viewed from a mountain top. There is no beginning or end to the church, in my experience. It is another one of my holy places, like the vegetable garden. Who says only eyes cast down and low hushed tones and slow movements belong in these spaces? Just as in the garden, there are times for special reverence and celebration. There are times when peaceful meditation flows through the space and the eternal becomes living.
My gardens and churches are just as relevant in my life as the feeling of climbing into bed after a long, exhausting day. Feeling the physical release of exhaustion, pulling up the covers just-so. My gardens and churches are as holy as preparing a meal with the vegetables we picked earlier in the day, or picked last summer then cooked and froze to use later. My gardens and churches are classrooms and long bubble baths and playgrounds. They are complicated and simple, holy and earthly; they are life.