Yesterday I played in the dirt.
Monday was the last morning of our vacation. We didn’t go away. All my daughters have been some place grand this year: Pawley’s Island, Yellowstone, Florida and Vegas (I am aware I sound a bit jealous, but I just want to see the ocean!) Steve and I have remained here. We have, however, been on vacation.
We got up early. This is not unusual for us. Our internal clocks seem to know when the hands mark 7 a.m. no matter what day it is. If our internal clocks do not chime then Molly (the smallest of the trio of dogs) wakes us up with her incessant whining. We got up and ate our breakfast on the front porch. We wanted to start working in the yard before the force of the Kentucky heat and humidity began.
This week Steve planted grass seed in our front yard. One day it was just a patch of soil—bare and naked. A few days later there was a mist of pale green skimming across the top of the dirt. And then there was visible grass. Sparse and thin, but growing.
We also planted marigold seedlings my daughter had grown from seeds. I sat on the porch and filled seedling trays with dirt. My hands loved the cool, loose moist dirt. It was black and rich. I pushed the tiny seeds into depressions made by my pinky finger and then covered them with more black, dark dirt. Then I sprayed them with water. I have a black thumb, but yesterday my fingers felt green.
I thought of Jesus. He told us that unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. BUT if it dies, it produces many seeds (John 12:24).
I buried the seeds in order for them to die. I covered the seeds; I buried them in order for them to germinate and grow and become plants—and produce more seeds.
Steve also dug up a rotted tree stump from the front yard. The tree died long ago and was cut down and taken away, but the stump was left behind. It was a nuisance to mow around and an eyesore in the yard and a potential hazard to someone as clumsy as me. So, he dug it up. When the main part of the stump came up out of the ground it disturbed an enormous ant hill. I have never seen one so large.
The ants began to scurry and I plopped down in the grass. I was enthralled. The stump thrummed and rippled with movement. The ants were aware they had just experienced destruction. The flipping up of the stump had exposed their nursery. All their little eggs were suddenly open to the sun, and the ants immediately went to action. In just a few minutes they transported eggs, as large as themselves, out of sight. The ants kept trying to move down into the grass, but were having to navigate the length of the wood to get there, so I built them a little bridge. I propped a leaf against the stump and they found the shortcut quickly. Their energy and efficiency was amazing.
Steve laughed at me. I am sure I looked like a child (at least in attention and posture). I was utterly absorbed. I laughed too—simply from delight.
And I thought of the proverb:
Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! Proverbs 6:6
I am not a gardener. I am not an entomologist. I don’t plant flowers in the spring and I don’t pay attention to ants unless they are in my house. I have never considered their ways. I have read the mentioned verses before, but they had always simply been deep words and an interesting proverb. I understood them in theory—but now I had experienced them.
And isn’t that the difference?
As I sat on the porch with the dirt and seeds and on the ground with the rotted stump and ants Jesus’ words shimmered before me as if alive.
They were no longer theoretical metaphors and similes.
The Kingdom of Heaven, that Jesus came to explain and declare, was and is not a theory. Not just another dogmatic doctrine. Not just another sect’s or denomination’s perspective on the Divine.
While walking down the road, Jesus would turn to his followers and say, “You want to know what the kingdom of heaven is like? Then consider this…” And he would point to a field of flowers and they would be the day’s illustration. Why? Because they were walking through the field—it was available.
Jesus wanted them and us to consider something completely familiar and common in order to see the kingdom. He constantly taught them using what they encountered every day, perhaps even several times. Why?
Jesus wanted his followers to understand that his Father was not a far off mystical being. He is not a disembodied deity who sits unconcerned with the daily toil of his people.
No, the God of Jesus was and is near; Jesus made him approachable.
So near, in fact, that he wants us to see him in what we consider the common, mundane and profane. We have been trained to see him in the sacred; but Jesus wants us to encounter his Father in the common foot trails and daily chores and raw realities of life.
Real, true and authentic spirituality plays in the dirt—it sees the Father in a kernel of wheat sown into the earth; it sees the Father’s economy and efficiency in an ant hill.
And for a brief moment, yesterday I experienced it.