Lenten Gardening 2010

My Backyard Garden - Dallas

One of my key activities in early spring is cleaning out my flowerbeds and the flowerpots in my deck garden. I cut back dead plants and clear out the dead leaves on my perennials. I clear out the areas that will need to be replanted removing dead plants and beginning the preparation of the soil to receive new plants and flowers. I prune rose bushes, the butterfly bush and shrubs to make room for new growth. Spring is a time of preparation and dreaming about what is to come. It is my favorite time of year in my garden!

This year it has been extra cold here in Texas. We had close to a foot of snow a week ago, so my yearly gardening rituals have been delayed. As often is the case, the delay has heightened the yearning to begin this activity. The garden is calling me! Come on spring!

I was reminded during Ash Wednesday worship this week that if you take the word ‘Lent’ back to its roots it means simply ‘spring’. I know spring! Clearing, cleaning, pruning, and hauling off debris. Hard work, yes, but work full of promise, buoyed by occasional glimpses of the first signs of emerging growth. Growth indiscernible, until you are on your knees and carefully removing last years’ dead and decaying debris.

It struck me that as much as I love the Lenten work of my garden, I have never been a big fan of Lent in my faith journey. It is just something I tend to pass through on my way to Holy Week. Truthfully, I am more of an Advent pondering and waiting person.

Lent on the other hard is work! Yes, Lent is the spring time in our lives of faith – it is a time of clearing dead and rotting parts of our lives: dreams that have withered and no longer fit, half hearted spiritual practices, angers and resentments that slowly eat away the life in us, and disappointments that have taken root and that threaten to choke out new life. Lent is a reality check on any saccharine sweet notions of the faith that we may be harboring. Lent is not for the faint of heart.

At its most effective, Lent requires us to be tough in our assessments – if it is not growing it must be cut back or removed entirely.  Even if it is something that has grown amazingly in the past, Lent is the time for pruning it back. Pruning is counterintuitive in its effect. We cut a plant’s limbs back significantly in order to bring the limbs back to closer to the central core, and while it might seem that this would mean we would end up with a smaller, less healthy plant at end of the summer, the opposite is actually true! Not pruning stunts the growth and health of the bush. Go figure! This is true in our spiritual lives as well.

The work of Lent in our gardens and in our lives is work done ahead of the growth, hoping that this work might even speed the emergence of life from its dormant state. (Dare we hope!) So this Lent the question I am asking myself is: what in my life needs to be cleared out, pruned and hauled off to make room for growth and more importantly God?