Monday, August 8, 2011
Weeds, Pineapples and Love Bigger than Big
The midday sun called giant drops of sweat from my brow as I attempted to weed the steep, rocky and neglected slope of our backyard. As I wrenched the weed-trees from the hard, dry dirt I took a birds-eye view on my own bent back. Years of intermittent attention to the yard trains the eye to know which weeds will require a dandelion puller to coax the roots up and which ones, tender and not yet tangled with the soil can be pinched out with ease. Weeds growing in the shade are easily plucked, having grown lazy in the protection of larger things. The ones which have had time to grow under the life-giving, yet cruel, eye of the sun take more work; they have struggled to survive and have sent their roots down deep.
There were lots of those kind.
So, as I struggled against the things I let grow, I thought about weeds and what they teach me about fear and hate.
Those ugly twins also grow in places were nothing else seems able. They put down roots fast, and pop up, unwanted, in the corners of the gardens I neglect. They flower boldly in the sun, and are ever-focused on sewing their own poisonous seed, usually with great success. Sometimes, like the weed-trees that are ubiquitous around our town, they decorate themselves with delicate flowers that color the hillside misleadingly in Spring. Then, the purple and pink petals give way to thorny stocks and wide, green leaves, which sting and scratch my arms in Summer.
Working in the yard today to stem the tide of unwanted thorns and thistles sent my mind to the Rwandese sisters we met at the Pineapple Cooperative. On the day we visited they had just elected a new leader. They told us through an interpreter that they had been having some problems. The interpreter later explained that the root of much of the conflict in the cooperative was deeply social and deeply personal. The farm has been built and is kept up by Hutu and Tutsi women, and the scars of genocide tug and rip in the closeness of community. The seeds of healing, where they can be found, send up fragile, tender shoots. Only some are blessed with fertile soil and an accommodating sun. Others are trampled. Some wither, break and blow away.
Thinking about those women working side by side has me thinking again about community and our profound misunderstanding of it here, at least in my neighborhood. The bedrock individualism that defines us, makes it impossible for us to understand or even imagine the lives of those we do not know or conceive of how our lives, in actuality, are tethered together with unbreakable cords. Thinking again about those women is challenging the basic premise of my “me”-ness. Can I really exist as a soul before God, without responsibility to others? Is there, in the end, any part of me that does not grow out of someone or something else? If I accept that I am a small part of something larger – how big is bigger? That is not a question I really want to ask; or at least not an answer on which I am really willing to wait.
But what these women are teaching me is that the land needs to be farmed. The babies need to be fed. The people need to be healed. And those tasks must be met with linked arms. As Reuben Welch says, we really do need each other. And that need leads us to places of contact that blister. Father Gregory Boyle sees that “finding some spaciousness for the victimizer, as well as the victim, resembles more the expansive compassion of God.” And I am starting to see, to my great horror, shame and joy that I have walked in both of those sets of shoes.
I remember the first time I heard the hymn The Love of God. It warmed my bones and made them hungry for the grandeur of God. Thy hymn was written by Frederick Lehman, with lyrics based on the Jewish poem Haddamut by Ben Isaac Nehorai, from the Aramaic, circa 1050. Lehman says that the lines of the third stanza (my favorite) were found scribbled on a wall of an insane asylum. They paint a picture of God’s love that I could not have imagined:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
When I hear that hymn, I cry because it reminds me that the love of God is terrifyingly immense; big enough and strong enough and gentle enough to cover women who farm with the wives of men who killed their brothers, husbands and children. And yet the love of God is close, like a breeze, running over the upturned face of a man locked away for spilling the contents of his tortured mind. The love of God is bigger than my biggest fear and deeper than the roots of the things I hate in secret. It is intimately close, like sweat on my skin. It can grow beautiful things in rocky soil.
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:11-12