I plant seeds on a cold February day, imagining a garden some months in the future. I pinch the tiny seeds out of their packets, some no bigger than a flake of black pepper, carefully pushing them beneath the soil in the miniature peat pots. I water them “generously,” as the Farmers Almanac suggests, then cover them with plastic and sit them on the desk where the afternoon sun pours in.
Seeds become seedlings, which become plants that produce tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers, I imagine. My mouth waters just thinking about it, and I urge the seeds to germinate. But it’s only the first day, and I know I have to wait. Day after day I rotate the covered plastic box from the fireplace hearth, where they rest overnight, to the front of my desk, where the sun can do its thing. Day after day for more than a week, but still no seedlings.
I feel myself losing hope. Gardening should be in my blood with all the growing and producing my parents have done over the years. But it’s never been that easy for me. Plants don’t shoot up as big or develop as much fruit as my parents’ always did. Maybe this is the year to say I’m not really a gardener.
Instead, I brainstorm: maybe the seeds were old or bad. But all of the packets? Maybe I watered them a little too generously. But the Farmers Almanac is rarely wrong. Maybe they aren’t getting enough light. But the seeds start in the dark. The light will be more important later.
Finally it hits me. This room where I work sits at the back of the house. It was added on decades after the house was built and continues to be drafty and cool. I use a space heater pointed directly on me just to work in the winter. I suspect it’s too cold even for seed starting.
I carry the plastic container filled with the pots to a warmer part of the house and place it directly over the floor register. As the furnace cycles on and off, the moisture from the soil creates condensation on the lid. I pop it open, and the whole thing is warm, including the generously watered little pots. Within a day, a cucumber plant peeks through the soil. After a few more days, I see green shoots in most of the pots. I buy a grow light, and as the red and blue bulbs glow over my nascent garden, I dream of salsa and bruschetta and all the other things I’ll make with the tiny tomatoes, peppers, and herbs growing in my office.
Though I grew up in a gardening family, I don’t often hold in the front of my mind that the food I eat, the food that nourishes me and keeps me healthy, grows from seeds that are planted and grow in dirt. When I open the little paper garden packets each spring and find the same tiny seeds there that are in the tomatoes I slice for sandwiches or the cucumbers I chop from salads, I am reminded again. This seed must be buried, and in a sense die to its life as a seed, before the miracle of water and heat, soil and sun, can give it life again as a seedling and eventually as a plant.
I never put seeds in dirt without thinking of Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal” (John 12:24-25, The Message).
This is the countercultural message of Christianity that’s stamped onto the rhythms of nature and woven like a pattern into the fabric of our lives: That death precedes life. Winter comes before spring. The cross had to be first, then the empty tomb. And everywhere, if we look, we see the signs of Resurrection playing out again and again.
We are the seeds that must fall to the ground, fall lower than the ground in fact, and die to the selves we think we are. We are the seeds that grow only with the warmth and nourishment of God’s love poured out generously on us. We are the people of the Resurrection, who know that life, true life, never comes apart from death. In every death of a dream and every end of a relationship, in the suffering of bodies and the agony of minds, in the job losses and empty bank accounts, we find seeds of hope that life is possible, even likely again. But first the darkness and difficulty and waiting. First the believing that God can make something new even out of what seems over, dead and buried.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that if Christ were not raised from the dead, if his resurrection were not real, our faith is useless and we who are in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. In other words, Christianity goes all in on this one point.
But it’s not just in death that we hope in the Resurrection. To the extent that we lose hope in this life—to the extent that we let failure and discouragement and anger and offense defeat us and keep us down—we also are to be pitied.
Resurrection doesn’t shield us from pain or suffering, but it reminds us that there is always more to the story. Resurrection doesn’t keep us from grieving and struggling, but it keeps us from doing so in vain.
Thankfully, spring has come, and the office where the plants grow finally warms them sufficiently on its own, without moving them to the kitchen or even to the desk. I keep the grow light on, hoping for healthy plants that can weather the outdoors. And when Mother’s Day rolls around, I’ll transplant the seedlings into their final home out in the garden area, according to my dad’s trusted schedule. With the right conditions, and a little luck, we’ll have a bounty by August, with lots of sauces and salads and sandwiches at the peak of ripeness.
And when the weather cools and the last of the fruit drops before we can eat it, we’ll also have more seeds, if we choose to save and dry them. And with the seeds, comes the promise of another spring lurking just ahead in the pages of a new calendar.
Photo by Joshua Lanzarini on Unsplash