Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tomato Plants All Over the Place

For the past couple of years as spring has come, I have purchased a couple of tomato plants. Where I live, the growing season is short and there are many perils to plants, such as deer, elk, squirrels, and other critters. Because of these adverse conditions, I don’t try anything ambitious – the odds of success are just too poor. Someday I would love to have a greenhouse and really go to town with veggies and flowers, but that will have to be down the road. For the moment, a couple of tomato plants are about right. Although I am pretty new at trying to grow vegetables and I make plenty of mistakes, I always begin the year with great hope. I enjoy that presence of possibility.

Last fall, I visited some friends who had some tomato plants on their balcony. They were covered with tomatoes! Some of them were beautifully ripe and looked like they would fall off the vine into your hand. Others were green. They seemed crowded on their stems, as if they were competing for the best place to hang. I was envious. Compared to my pathetic tomato plants, these were spectacular. I had one little tomato on my plants. It was about the size of a golf ball. I didn’t really expect to get any tomatoes for all my effort and optimism.  I had to admit that I had been more optimistic than my minimal effort deserved.

But now I had seen what success looked like. So this year, I begin again with even greater hopes. Armed with a little more knowledge, the determination to pay attention, a goal in mind, and the time to devote to my tomatoes, I have purchased a grape tomato plant and a regular tomato plant. I got them at a reputable greenhouse and bought ones that were slightly bigger than I had bought before. The grape tomato plant even had one tiny tomato already growing on it. I bought them earlier this year and put them in a sunny window so I could have a longer growing season. I even put them out on warm days and brought them back in at night to help them toughen up. Now they sit on my deck. They get plenty of sun but not too much. They get watered and fertilized regularly. I already have a golf ball sized tomato on my regular plant! No telling what could happen!

So many things in life are like tomato plants. Possibilities are abundant. With a bit of care and attention, needs are met, conditions are optimal, and growth comes. When critters attack, the caretaker becomes the protector. Eventually, fruit happens. It is a basic life experience. We have all participated in it in some way or another. We have all been nurtured or nurtured another or both.

Sometimes, though, we neglect the need for nurture. We are like beginners trying to grow tomatoes. We may neglect nurturing because we lack knowledge or hope or tools or vision. We may see no need for fruit. We may be forgetful or lazy. We not have been enlightened to possibility. Even so, we often expect fruit in the absence of nurture. It seems silly, now, that I expected to grow tomatoes when I knew nothing about it and didn’t pay much attention.

Without nurture, there is no fruit. With self, soul, and relationships a little nurture goes far toward bearing fruit. I don’t think it’s difficult, it just takes some attention and desire. When I look at my life, I look at the fruit that comes and then I can see what I am nurturing and what I am neglecting. Sometimes I am surprised, sometimes delighted, and sometimes disappointed. There are truly many different varieties of tomato plants in my life. Some do better than others. It’s up to me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I have always understood the value of taking sabbatical time be it daily, weekly, monthly or yearly. I have had a regular practice of some sort of Sabbath all my adult life. My last four month sabbatical was one of the most fruitful times of my life. Even though I worked hard, it was a time of rest and re-creation and was a lot of fun. I enjoyed everything about it.

But there is one Sabbath that few people, it seems, ever have an opportunity to experience. I feel very fortunate to be in the middle of it now – it is the experience of a jubilee Sabbath. The Old Testament promotes the concept of the jubilee. The jubilee happens every fiftieth year. Every seventh year, the Hebrews observed a Sabbath year.  The jubilee, being the year that followed seven times seven Sabbath years or every fiftieth year, was an extra full year of sacred rest consecrated to God. In the jubilee year (as in the Sabbath year), debts were forgiven, slaves were freed, and fields were left fallow. Social justice was renewed. Participants celebrated the presence of God and rested from mundane work.

At the age of fifty, almost fifty-one, I am celebrating just such a year of rest from mundane work. I suppose I should be freeing my slaves, forgiving any debts owed to me, and leaving my fields fallow, but given the realities of our time and culture, I have had to be creative about doing those things in different ways. For a long time, I was a slave to my job. I sacrificed a lot to it. I suppose I do feel like I have been set free from that. The debts I have worked on forgiving have been emotional ones. The fallow feilds have been areas where rest was needed.

Since I have had the privilege of not having to earn a living this year, I have found this to be a time of great creativity. Rather than focusing on performing in a job and all the stresses that go along with that, I have been able to focus on my creative energy and have followed where that has led me. It has been a wonderful experience!  I know the time will come when I will return to my work, but it will be with a jubilee perspective. I don’t fully understand what that means yet, but I suspect I will have a different sense of self and a different way of balancing my life. I have had the time to rediscover things about myself that have been buried under the stresses of my job. I suspect I will be much more creative and empowered when I do start back to some formal sort of work. I am looking forward to it!

The fields that have put food on my table for so many years have been fallow this year. My energy, creativity, empathy, and spirit are a few of those fields. My experience of fallow has not been unproductive but it has been wild and free. I would think that a fallow field might be like that. Something will always grow in a field, even a fallow or uncultivated one, but it may be untamed and unpredictable. After all, God is at work in those fields, perhaps in unexpected and delightful ways. The fruit is yet to be borne. I have no doubt that it will be abundant.