Rebirth is a Process
I grew up in the desert. The February I was in second grade it rained. It rained four inches (a whole year’s worth of water) in one month. Plants greened and blossomed in this profusion of life-giving water. Right now, I feel like those plants waiting and waiting for the rain. My introverted self has loved many aspects of this last year’s hermit-like existence, but I’m longing for a glorious season of blossoming and connection.
I currently live in the Midwest. Being outside, in the garden or in the woods, has been one of my family’s coping mechanisms for dealing with the stress and changes of the pandemic. Playing in the forest is almost as new to me as it is to my children. My childhood outdoor play largely involved riding bikes in vacant lots, trying to avoid whatever prickly shrub managed to grow in the caliche soil.
In my present location, the woods have enchanted me. A maple grove bursting with new leaves. Muddy boots. Goslings by the marsh. Inchworms descending on silken threads. Turtles sunning on a log. A pair of ducks at the confluence of two rivers. Gifted acorns overfilling my hands. A gigantic fallen leaf. Fresh snow. Crystalline ice clinging to the trunks of trees. Tiny creatures swimming in seasonal streams. Trilling redwing blackbirds. A spider that stretched out its arms and hunkered down on its twig to look exactly like the dark buds waiting to pop out leaves. Mussel shells found near racoon paw prints. Hard, white, shell-shaped mushrooms growing on a fallen log. A preponderance of plants and creatures I don’t know the names for. During the first lockdown, when the playgrounds were still closed, we ventured on a new trail. My littlest one ran along the path with wonder and delight yelling “We are getting even more lost!” In a year with so much uncertainty, her words remind me that the unknown doesn’t have to cause fear.
I planted a garden last spring, but I don’t have much experience. I put seeds in too early, and not much grew. I transplanted seedlings, but crowded them because I did not believe all the sprouts would survive. I ended up caring for a friend’s garden for a month or two. She had created a large plot, thinking the pandemic would not allow her family to take their usual extended trip. Her garden felt like Eden, spilling out baskets of peas, more zucchini than seemed possible, and hundreds of cucumbers. I’d never grown cucumbers before. I didn’t even know they grew on a vine, no less one covered in prickles. Moses 6:63 teaches that all things bear record of God. When Jesus said “I am the vine” I’d always imagined an indulgent trellis of grapes, not something that covers my forearms with shallow scratches. Jesus is good at surprising me like that. The cucumber vines were bountiful though: I canned over fifty pints of pickles. My grandma’s deviled eggs have pickle juice in them. Our Easter dinner will feel more like the sacrament, with her recipe on the table.
In autumn, there was an oak tree by the riverbank that dropped a ridiculously abundant crop of acorns. They made the most delightful “plop PLOP” when we flung them far into the water. Acorns are marvelous sensory playthings. I love turning them in my hands like meditation balls, or popping off the caps and running my thumb around and around the perfect circle of the rim. I even savor the intensity of a sharp poke from the bottom of the smooth nut. I reflected, all amazed at the bounty of this mother tree’s offering. Acorns feed squirrels, racoons, birds, deer, and more. Acorns can feed people too: they have been a dietary staple for some American Indians. I’ve started to think of acorns like the bread of life: they feed so many. Seeds are a wonderment. They can store for months, or even years, just being themselves. But their purpose is transformation. At what point does an acorn, buried and sprouting in the mud, cease to be an acorn and instead become an oak? Or was it always an oak? What about the acorn that serves as a squirrel’s snack? When is acorn transformed into squirrel? Rebirth is a process.
A path in the woods taught me something about this process. I was in the forest on a lovely autumn afternoon. Through the shady path I could see a clearing shining golden in the sunlight. I had to chase it. As I came closer, the sunlight seemed less and less brilliant. By the time I reached the clearing, the sunlight wasn’t stunning. It was completely ordinary. To me, Easter is about feeling the contrast: the difference between where you are and where you want to be. I have so far to go. The gap between what I want to do and what I know how to do sometimes feels very big. Becoming takes time and space and nourishment.
I am trying a garden again. I planted tomato seeds with my preschooler today. She said, “We are being Jesus, making new plants!” Her words put new context to our simple chore. I felt, for that moment, that I was being a part of the creator I’m becoming.