Ballad of Hope: Farming and the Miracle of Resurrection
By Hallie Bates
As I stumble through the steps of making our morning coffee, I look out of our kitchen window to see thousands of strawberry plants basking in the light of a new sunrise. I smile to think of all the hands that have helped plant, prune, and harvest this crop. By seven o’clock, the coffee is made, and I walk out our back door past my mama’s garden, which resembles more of a safe haven than a home for our daily food.
Hollyhocks stalk the four corners of our garden with their towering beauty. Cabbages continue to unfold their leaves as they reveal their hidden heads. Nasturtiums weave red and orange flowers throughout the garden in luscious abundance. The salvias dance in the wind, and the bees can’t resist their sweet nectar. The calendulas are beginning to dry up and produce seeds, meanwhile the statice is just beginning to peak its head above the rose bushes. A thousand analogies meet me in this garden. As one plant dies another finds its temporary residence. We are daily met by death and resurrection.
Past the garden, I start up my ‘02 Dodge pickup truck. There are seeds scattered across the floorboard, some zinnias, some cosmos, a few basil seeds. There are planter cups and old cardboard boxes that I need to throw away. The sun sets too quickly each day to make time for cleaning my truck. I keep telling myself that I will get to it one of these days, but right now I’m packing up my backpack to head to another day of work. On the road, wildflowers blanket the highway as spring continues to unfold. Baby calves frolic in the pastures that line the windy dirt roads leading up to the farm where I work.
We have animals and attractions on the farm, but I walk past these toward my area of management: the flower fields. I gaze at this familiar field and am astonished anew by the changes taking place within it. In December, my crew and I planted thousands of ranunculus corms, and I’ve watched these flowers grow every day since.
Now, it is April and those once beautiful flowers have died, leaving behind thousands of corms to be dug up and dried in preparation for the next season.
I’ve grown up in this dirt, alongside older farmers, watching them toil and talk since before I can remember. It never fails; old farmers always bear the marks of their profession. Their faces have been permanently burned by the sun. They often have skin that is worn and wrinkly, and hands that are calloused. Dirt has found its permanent home in the beds of their fingernails. Hard work takes its toll. It seems like their lives are a constant battle against weeds, bugs, and weather. The effects of the Fall are ever-present with every farmer. He daily curses Adam’s name.
A farmer might spend hundreds of hours weeding and then come back a week later to find that all the places where he spent so many hours are once again overgrown in amaranth, nightshades, and a host of other weeds. Sometimes it feels like climbing a mountain that has no summit.
I once thought that this summit-less life was unique to gardening; seasons of life and death are constantly cascading down before our eyes in a rushing downpour. We try for a moment to grasp it, to embrace the brevity of life, and then we are reminded again of how quickly the flowers fade. We attempt to revel in the joy of our kale finally blooming only to realize that bugs have eaten it up. We craft bouquets of flowers to faintly capture their glory, and then remember that they are slowly dying within their vase.
I once thought that only gardeners experienced these constant reminders of life’s dilapidating reality. But recently, I’ve looked up from my little life and realized that our whole world is cascading swifter and harder than I could ever imagine grasping. I dare not blink, lest it should all dissipate before I open my eyes again.
When I contemplate these thoughts, I am beckoned towards sadness. How is it that time bites so ravenously into our life on earth? It devours every materialistic pursuit, so I ask again, what is worth pursuing? Every embrace ends. Every flower dies. Every life is on the cusp of death. How do I reckon with my finite time? I am overwhelmed by all that I will never accomplish and the brevity of that which I will accomplish.
Growing flowers has been my haven, shielding me from the hollow loss I feel as a sojourner in a land awaiting redemption. Perhaps this is why my own heart breaks to watch their slow descent towards death.
Will death always win?
Will it forever swallow the beauty that I find such solace in?
O’ that beauty might last long enough for me to embrace it fully before it slips from my grasp.
Our digital culture makes it easy to ignore the groaning of creation. We are distracted by everything from the buzzing of our phones to the chaotic busyness that we often find ourselves enveloped in. It is easy to distract our mind from the pain of time’s consuming appetite for all that is truly beautiful.
Sitting in my garden, void of distractions, watching the seasons take their toll on the work of my hands is hard. Yet, even in the moments when death seems to surround me on every side and creation cries for something more—there, in the sandy-loam soil, lies a seed.
There is a seed in the dried stems and worn petals of my garden that whispers, “Hope, hope is alive, do not abandon your hope.” Life speaks to me from the seeds of my garden, “Do you not see the Redeemer at work?” I hear creation groaning for redemption—it echoes in my ears. Death is ever present, but my garden seems to say, “Don’t you see that death only leads to life?” For a seed must die in order to live again.
And this is the place where the groaning is no longer idly echoing in my ears, but instead has taken a new shape. It has become a symphony of praise to the King of Creation. With all its might my little garden seems to shout, “Death has been turned to life! There is still hope!” And here in this place, I finally see clearly all that I had questioned before.
Here, Christ meets me in the weeds and the dirt, and I see that His resurrection is written into the DNA of Creation. “Death has been turned to life!” When God planted Eden, before creation was doomed to decay, he knew that man would choose himself over the very God who breathed life into his lungs. God knew that death would be the result, but in his loving kindness our Creator gave the flowers seeds. He gave them corms, roots, and tubers to keep growing as creation kept groaning.
I still see a world that is ever changing and rushing past me. But there in that beating chaos, I see the loving gaze of my Creator. I see He who waters the oak trees and tells the sun when to rise. He is the Unchanging One, steadfast throughout every season. Christ beacons me to come walk with him in the garden, and as the song goes, “The joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” Jesus invites me to look at the world through his eternal eyes. He replaces my restless sadness over creation’s decay with an abounding hope for the redemption story that he is daily weaving. Our hope is not wholly for some future day when all sadness dissipates. It is for right here. It is for right now, for today’s daily bread.
The familiar words of Gandalf come to mind: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” And Christ tells me that however long my time on earth may be, I have only one task to decide about: to be faithful to him. Any labor that is done unto his glory is not in vain.
In this season, his call of faithfulness to me is in my garden. I plant seeds and he makes them grow. We are co-workers, he and I. We often delight together as each seed matures and then produces a flower. I even find joy with him now when the flowers return again to the dust from where they came, for I’ve learned that life will soon follow.
I sit now, writing these words in the light of a fading sunset, my pants covered in soil from digging in the dirt all day, and my shoes damp from the rain clouds that have spread a display in the sky more magnificent than any painting I’ve ever seen. My brother’s peach tree stands in the silhouette of this heavenly expanse and the crickets crackle their familiar tune. As the sun sinks under the horizon and stars begin to beam amongst the clouds, my Redeemer sits with me here, too. He whispers softly in my ear, “Hope, do not abandon your hope, my love, for I am alive, here and now.”