Being Weeded

So yesterday I weeded the entire garden.  There are four different beds, the largest of which is fifteen by twenty five feet, so it can be time consuming.  When weeding, I’ve discovered that there are few ways to keep myself from going insane.  One is offering my kids a few dollars to do it for me, although that is tricky because they’ll pull up EVERYTHING.  Another is singing show tunes to pass the time, but the fact that the neighbors are often in their yard working on cars and playing the soundtrack to 8 Mile on instant repeat (alternating with insanely loud Mariachi) is a bit of a damper to that.  The third, and the one it seems that I am most likely to use, is going into a semi-meditative state and asking Very Important Questions and Listening To The Universe.

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a valley and questioning if my faith is productive and if I am becoming the kind of person I want to become.

(Disclaimer:  I’ve been in a bit of a valley and wondering if my faith is productive for the past 15 years, so this isn’t anything new.)

So, anyway, I’m pulling up weeds by the bucketful and hauling them across the yard to dump in Ye Olde Stinky Pile of Yard Waste (which was, at one point, higher than the fence) and pausing to eat a nearly perfectly ripe apricot (which makes the haul across the yard more bearable) and going into this very quiet place in my head where everything is rhythmic and all the scary stuff is tuned out.  I’m thinking about myself, and how I’ve been lately, and feeling pissed off and disappointed that I haven’t been better.  I’ve been stressed and overwhelmed and angry and everything feels like it is too hard of work.  This is a harmonious parallel to the weeding itself, which when all told took most of my day yesterday and left me absolutely whooped.  It was one of those times when I knew that as soon as hit the bed my entire body would cry out, and I wouldn’t want to be getting up in the morning.  There was a part of me that was angry and wondering if the garden was worth it and wondering why I hadn’t kept up with the weeds better, earlier.

Side note:  if you garden, you know that there are several stages of weeding.  The first is just turning everything with a hoe when the weeds are itty bitty and hacking them apart.  It’s tough on your shoulders and it can be a bit of a drag, but if you pretend you are a ninja or a giant terrorizing a teensy tiny village it’s not too bad.  If you go at it hard enough, you can FLY through the garden. The second is pulling up little weeds by the handful once they’ve gotten enough purchase to be hard to hoe.  If you do this well, it takes a lot of time but it isn’t hell on your body.  The third, which can be avoided by doing the other two, is having to use both hands to pull up weeds nearly as large as your plants, and believe me when I say it uses every muscle in your body and will make you rue the day you are born, and if weeds like that are all over all four of your fairly sizable beds that take up the majority of the side yard (ahem, like mine were) they will make you curse your mother and your grandmother and everyone who ever raised you to believe that things like Sustainable and Homemade were the great ideals, before hipsters made them fashionable.

I realized that it was all a tidy metaphor for my spiritual life.  See, our sins or foibles or what have you are like weeds.  If they aren’t deeply ingrown we can fly through them, merrily hacking to bits, and only feel it a little later on.  We realize that we are doing important work in our hearts and we feel good about it afterwards, but it only makes us cry a little.  We can see the benefits right away and our good fruit is growing faster than the weeds.  But if we put off working on ourselves a day, two days, a week…  that landscape changes, and it changes drastically.  Soon we are having to crawl through our hearts pulling up weeds by the fistful, and before we can get it under control our whole selves are involved in the effort and it feels like it will never end, and we lay down at night with our heart and soul crying out and feeling like we are dying.  And all the good fruit?  It’s failing, and we’re not seeing it as productive as it could be.

It’s easy to curse God, or nature, or life.  It is, but the truth is that what we produce in our lives is a result of our own effort, just like awesome bucketfuls of food don’t come out of gardens that haven’t made anyone break a sweat.

The truth is, some of my emotional distress in the past few weeks was entirely avoidable, if I’d dealt with my own shit while it was small.  It’s MY fault for letting it grow bigger than the good stuff.  It’s MY fault for not heeding the call to go out in the trenches when I should have.  It’s MY fault for thinking “I’ll deal with that later” and looking the other way until it was completely out of control.

I need to learn that when I’m going through this mega dark weeks that make me want to spit at God, I have to ask myself if I’ve been living in my faith every day the way I need to, or if I’ve just been wanting the fruit without the sweat and attention.  My grandmother walked her garden every morning, and while she did it she talked to God.  She didn’t only go out there when she wanted something.  She lived in it.

Faith is like that.  If we only go after it when we need something, we’re always going to find what we need choked by weeds.

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About fear.

I once attended a church where they taught that the sign of God’s spirit being in someone was that they spoke in tongues.  One rule, applied to every single person on earth.  At the time, I bought in.  And so did someone else I knew who pretended to speak in tongues because he was ashamed that the fact that he didn’t, naturally, meant that God’s spirit wasn’t in him.  At the time it bothered me, because I felt that the Bible showed God touching people in a lot of different ways than just speaking in tongues.

But some of the people in this church, they tenaciously held on to the belief that God could be defined in rules and patterns, that his ways could be traced out to a single set form, that life could be made to be predictable.  The other side of this homogenizing of God’s ways was the homogenizing of God’s people.  And the other side of this homogenizing of God’s people was fear.

Because as we all know, people often don’t fit within the strictures of our expectations, especially when the expectation is that God will manifest himself in someone according to a formula.  So there was this constant fear and questioning.  If Mary Sue was “blessed” and didn’t speak in tongues or start laughing with the “joy of the spirit”, people questioned why.  Maybe she was feeling God’s grief over some kind of sin, or… maybe she was being oppressed by a demon.

It wasn’t every single person in that church who thought that way, but there was a group.  A group my father described as having to cast demons out of their teacups before drinking.  There was a period of time where this sort of heightened spirituality was rampant, and there was a few times where good, decent, not demon-possessed people found themselves as the victims of exorcisms when people failed to come up with a good enough excuse for not abiding by the formula.

A good friend of mine was “exorcised” by a similar church when she had the bad luck of wearing a black t-shirt with a band logo that looked demonic.

Romans 8:14-15 says (paraphrasing) that those who belong to God are not given a spirit of fear but of belonging, and 1st John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment.

God doesn’t MEAN for us to be afraid.  And I think if we ARE afraid, it’s because something is amiss.  That something is amiss not in the world, but in our hearts.

The fear that the people of my old church experienced came out of a lack of understanding and discernment.  They truly believed that God operated by a formula- so anything outside of their guidelines meant one of two things: something was wrong, or they were wrong.  Either way, they were terrified.  And the church that tried to cast a demon out of my friend- they saw something they didn’t understand, something in her that they could not define, and it terrified them.

The same fear drives Biblically defended homophobia, isolates people in cultural minorities, and starts wars.

But that fear?  it is NOT God’s intention, and it is NOT okay.