Mr. Kierkegaard was very hard to take in the last two discourses of The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air. I was happy for the non-hearers of his non-sermons — you may remember, he was not ordained so he didn’t consider it appropriate to call them sermons — that they did not have to listen to him audibly, on and on repeating himself, and stretching the bird and lily metaphor into nonsense.
Or so it seemed to my small brain. I finished the book last evening, when my patience was already tried by my eyes that had been burning for two days, and for what reason? No one knows. By the late afternoon on Sunday I’d followed a doctor’s advice and used some very expensive eye drops that changed the burning to a sticky-scratchy feeling. The burning had made me want to keep my eyes shut, but with the latter condition open or shut didn’t matter, so I was able to distract myself with reading. (Today they are fine!)
I sat in the garden, because it is so delicious, I want to be there as much as possible, with the bees humming and sparrows singing and flying back and forth, eating the sunflower seeds I give them. It is true, what Kierkegaard says, echoing our Savior, that we must learn from nature. And in some way we need to be like the birds and the lilies if we are going to fulfill our humanity. But we can’t learn about thinking from them. Thinking is something we humans specialize in, to such a degree that our minds dominate our fragmented selves. And that mind tells us, among other irrational things, to worry.
Our mind is what we use to accomplish our daily lives, to plan and execute our work. But it’s also where swirl the same unproductive thoughts over and over again, thoughts of regret over the past, or anxiety over the future. Complaining and blaming and angry thoughts. How can we plan without worrying at the same time? How can we bring every thought captive to Christ? Lord, have mercy!
Kierkegaard says in the second discourse that the bird and the lily are unconditionally compliant with God’s will: “In nature everything is obedience, unconditional obedience.” Maybe he is trying to get at what I have heard from fathers of the Church, about how creatures other than humans act according to their God-given natures. Humans were made in the image of God, which means that our nature is to be of love, and unity. But we are typically at odds with ourselves, and with our Creator.
I haven’t been too successful myself of late, in thanking God for everything. For ten years now, I’ve found it helpful to use my writing to steer my mind in the right direction, but lately the load is too heavy to steer. Writing does not accomplish the task of “bringing the mind into the heart,” which is what Saint Theophan tells us we need to do. When my mind is burdened I can’t make sentences that would substitute for prayer, or other more receptive activities, say, watching a bee.
C.S. Lewis’s feeling, “Actually it seems to me that one can hardly say anything either bad enough or good enough about life,” comes to mind, but only weakly applies to my difficulty conveying a simple experience like picking peas this evening.
That Big Friendly Giant pea patch I’ve got is a wonder of my garden world. It just keeps growing and being green and lush, producing new baby pea pods every day. I wander around the edges of its kingdom and peer into the jungle of vines, trying not to miss any of the ripe ones, wondering if I should let this or that one grow one more day. I’m pretty sure that one day this week there are going to be about a hundred of the sugar snap peas all ready at once. Each pea pod is lovely and tender-crisp, and begs to be eaten the moment after being picked.
The day is filled with this kind of incomprehensibly good thing, which I would like to share. I think those are joys flowing out of my heart, so they are easier to express than sad things, though of course I can’t say anything “good enough.” I’ve tried taking pictures of the pea mass, but this is a case where you have to have your nose following your arm into the dim and cool interior, all the while the sun warms your hair. Pictures are worthless.
As to the other side of Lewis’s quote, saying anything “bad enough” about life — that’s not my calling. I think that line might have been from a personal letter that he wrote, expressing empathy with someone who was suffering. I know I have had experiences that seemed very bad. And my cry amounted to, “This is not what I want!” But at this time in my life, if I ever manage to “take them captive,” I try to put those thoughts in quarantine.
Kierkegaard finally admits that we do have difficulties that the bird and the lily escape, when he writes of an “…enormous danger — a danger in which a human being is indeed situated by virtue of being a human being, a danger that the lily and the bird are spared in their unconditional obedience, which is happy innocence, for neither God and the world nor good and evil are fighting over them…”
That makes me think that if the author were writing blog posts today, he might remind us that we do not war against flesh and blood, viruses, stupid humans, wicked empires, etc, but against “principalities and powers” in the spiritual realm. Every time I get distracted it’s a waste of time and a missed opportunity to use my mind to better purposes. The pandemic is showing me how prone I am to this.
I did have three more friends in my garden last week after my godmother’s visit. Everyone wore masks. They were on two different errands. My goddaughter Sophia had found some plum wood for my wood stove, which she and her new husband delivered. And my goddaughter Mary’s father and brother came to finish my garden icon project that I began five years ago. But you know what? — it’s past my bedtime, and this post is too long already. I’ll explain tomorrow about the elegant completion of my garden. ❤
(The cactuses are not mine.)
9 thoughts on “Picking peas without complaint.”
OK, the cactuses aren’t yours. But they are still beautiful. Alive. And worth sharing.
If I may: those thoughts you don’t know how to bring “captive to Christ”? — they dont belong to you either, do they.
But still they are there, prickly, an unwelcome gift, disruptive of a potentially beautiful life plan. And you can’t exactly weed them out, at least not permanently. But who ever said life is a garden. It WAS a garden once, we are told.
(Pardon me, dear Gretchen. Mostly talking to myself here, moved by your words)
Interesting thoughts here: so many of us are engulfed by a sense of helplessness combined with anger and frustration at our lot that this pandemic has thrust upon us that it is unsurprising you feel this way. The sameness of every day; the illogicality (in our case) of many of the restrictions; the frustration of not being able to ‘get on’ with normal activities that keep us healthy, busy and which make us happy. In South Africa we are now allowed to exercise from six in the morning (it is still dark then as the sun rises an hour later) until 9 a.m.; cannot visit or receive visitors; parts of some shops are open but not all merchandise can be sold (only winter clothing, for example) … and so it goes on. We need to dig deep into our inner reserves and work hard at maintaining an intellectual balance. You are doing well wrestling with this.
I was surprised how quickly this passage from Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek came to mind:
“Only children keep their eyes open. The only thing they have got is sense; they have highly developed “input systems,” admitting all data indiscriminately. Matt Spireng has collected thousands of arrowheads and spearheads; he says that if you really want to find arrowheads, you must walk with a child—a child will pick up everything.
All my adult life I have wished to see the cemented case of a caddisfly larva. It took Sally Moore, the young daughter of friends, to find one on the pebbled bottom of a shallow stream on whose bank we sat side by side. “What’s this?“ she asked. That, I wanted to say as I recognized the prize she held, is a memento mori for people who read too much.”
A lovely, thought-stirring post. I’m happy to have my nose follow my arm into the dim and cool interior of the pea patch. Takes me right back to my parents’ garden on the farm where I grew up and picking peas on a warm summer’s eve.
What a lovely and thoughtful post. Those peas look splendid. I remember when I grew my first vegetable — a tomato. I couldn’t bear to eat it — I just wanted to study it, look at it, see it on my window sill (till it rotted!). Nature is so beautiful and to grow things — whether they are flowers or edibles — is so divinely satisfying, thinking this lovely thing can come from a tiny seed!
I’m so glad you have had safe visitors. We will be spending more time in our own spaces. I’m glad yours is a lovely one.
What you say about distraction and the pandemic making you more aware of this: that really hit a chord with me. I suffer the same, and as much as I am trying to live with my eyes on Christ and not on distractions, I fail miserably! But then, that is a Christian: falling, and getting up!
Hello dear GJ! Oh that Kierkegaard. A friend and I focused on his work a bit last year and I was hard pressed to engage.
I do love your peas! Lovely! I planted sweet pea seeds and I go out to see if they have decided to brave the alpine coldness. Not yet.
I baked a cake for James’s birthday so I have freedom to savor a slice today!
I’m glad you’ve had visitors! Hooray!
Oh dear Gretchen ~ your post spoke to my heart and I thank you for speaking from yours. May you continually feel the loving presence of God flowing through and surrounding you. Love, hugs and prayers ~ FlowerLady
“Every time I get distracted it’s a waste of time and a missed opportunity to use my mind to better purposes.”
Absolutely true. I am beginning to feel that everything except prayer is a distraction and a waste of time.
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