Twisted Persistence

Morning glories have always been one of my favorite flowers. Their simple faces, turned towards the dawn, seem to rekindle forgotten promises. I used to take early morning walks along the dirt road near Koinonia’s chapel, and the blooms of purple, white and periwinkle would brighten the slowly emerging light.

Now that I spend more time in the garden, I’m coming to despise the sight of morning glory vines. They are fast-growing weeds, prolific producers of seed, and they quickly swallow garden beds and crape myrtle bushes in my back yard. No matter how diligent I try to be about weeding, every summer there comes a week when I cannot keep up, and by the end of that week the morning glories are trying to show me who’s in charge.

On a recent morning in the kitchen garden, I had set my sights on the tomato cages. The tomato plants are already over six feet tall, producing well, but the new growth had started to be swallowed up by an intricate web of morning glories. It’s a delicate matter to remove the tiny twists, because if you pull too hard, you risk severing the tomato plant’s tender leaves.

The twining ends of the vines reach out to grab anything in reach...

As I slowly untangled each arm of the weeds, I was awed by the nature of my nemesis. What struck me first was how quickly something that I had once found to be beautiful could be transformed into an exasperating nuisance. The context of the plant’s placement where it was not wanted had caused me to deem it a weed, and rather than enjoy the colorful blossoms I began to attack it with a vengeance. I wonder how many people are stuck in situations where they are considered a nuisance, but given the proper context they would be allowed and even encouraged to bloom and proliferate.

Another lesson from the morning glory is persistence. Morning glory vines can grow up to 20′ long, with several arms coming from each plant. Each vine bears dozens of blossoms, and each flower can then produce from 4-8 seeds. In 5 years we have never planted morning glory seeds in our garden. Yet they are prolific because they scatter seed throughout the season in every direction.

I did not manage to remove all the morning glory vines from all the tomato cages that morning. In fact, I probably didn’t even remove half of them. In the end, I resorted to getting rid of the ones that were causing immediate problems to the tomatoes, and I had to settle for leaving the rest for another gardener on another day.

Morning glories are victorious...at least for today.

Which brings me to my final lesson: at the end of the day, it turned out that the mostly harmless vines were more of a distraction than anything else. Rather than spending my time prepping new beds or harvesting the tomatoes, I got bogged down in trying to bring on perfection. And while it’s important to keep up with the patches of weeds, at the end of the day, every natural garden is going to have some tangles, some grasses, and some briars to contend with.

Maybe some day I’ll come to live in harmony and balance with the morning glories. But until that day comes, I pray that I never forget the simple wonder that such life can exist at all.

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Peel Back the Layers

Yesterday we harvested some of our onions, and while cooking with and preparing to cure them I was struck once again by the powerful metaphor presented by these simple bulbs. Often I have heard people refer to spiritual growth as “peeling back the layers of the onion.” The implication is that the inward journey is slow and multi-faceted.  My revelation today was that the layers represent much more than I had once imagined.

I had never cooked with onions that fresh before, and was surprised at the moisture in the outer skins. Onions we purchase from the supermarket have already been cured for storage. The thin outer membranes must dry out for several weeks before they are ready to be kept in a cool dry place. When properly cured an onion can be stored in a root cellar for months. But if the outer layer is not allowed enough time to dry, then rot will set in after only a few weeks.

I also learned that onions are not just for flavoring foods; they also contain powerful medicine. When eaten with fatty foods they help to reduce blood cholesterol, and they can be made into tonics for treating colds and flu.

The papery skin of a well-cured onion at first seems like inadequate protection from a world full of insects, bacteria and fungus. But these layers, less than a millimeter thick, are crucial if we are to get any use out of the harvest down the road.

The same holds true in spiritual terms. We are offered abstract, invisible tools to protect us and help us to grow. Prayer and meditation might seem unimportant when we are faced with a week’s to-do list, but without the thin veil of these protective measures, we won’t hold up under the pressures of daily life. Spiritually speaking, I’ve learned that it’s important to preserve my “onions” until I’m ready to unlock their healing powers.

As my story unfolds, I journey deeper within, seeking truth in the many facets of the one I know as God. Each layer has significance and meaning, pungent and spicy and sweet. I used to rush through each bulb, seeking some truth at the center. But at the core there was always just another potential layer. As I age and mature, I find that the peeling process takes me longer, I take more time to notice the distinct differences in each segment of my onions. I consider its use carefully; suddenly a taken-for-granted staple becomes medicine and vitality.

Peel back the layers, yes. But don’t expose the fragile center too soon, or the harvest might spoil before you get to enjoy the reward.