Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Gathering Leaves

September 18, 2020

Jordan Durbin


I believe that how we approach the tasks and labors of life that we view as vain or insignificant is a defining part of our character.  It’s a chance to hunt for meaning in places we do not expect to find it.  Gardening creates many opportunities to challenge our perspectives on such tasks.  Weeds pulled today will return within just a few days; my ol’ daddy and I agree that green beans ripen in the time it takes to pick from one end of a row to the other!  The cycle of gardening spins ‘round with such voracity, it can often feel like the blink of an eye and another season turns. 

It’s a funny thing in the life of a garden how every ending is a promise.  Maybe because there is so much life breathed into the fiber of this planet that even in death and passing, life is pushing forward.

In just a few more weeks, we will enter the season that claims one of my least favorite gardening chores: gathering leaves.  There are a million things I love about fall gardening, from planting bulbs and the last explosion of riotous color from chrysanthemums and maples to the gathering in of pumpkins and an easing back in weeding some lovely cool weather crops like broccoli and collards.  But raking leaves is not high on my list of enjoyable tasks.  I have yet to come away from a yard cleaning session without blistered hands and sore back muscles.  One year, when I was pregnant with my youngest, I felt compelled to move mountains of leaves from the yard to the compost pile.  The job wasn’t horrible despite the cold until it began to rain.  The rain-soaked those leaves, and the tarp I was using to move them became at least six hundred pounds heavier (or so it seemed!).  And finally, to add insult to injury, the rain turned to heavy, wet snow.  Obviously, since I’m sitting here writing about the experience almost eight years later, it was scarring. 

So why?  I’m not so desperately in love with perfect grass that I feel compelled to remove every leaf that might smother it.  Why bother with all this raking and piling and pain, just for some decaying remnants of summer? 

Dry Bones

In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet is picked up by the hand of God and set in the middle of a seriously creepy valley full of bones.  Ezekiel 37:2 says that the Spirit leads him around the valley, and I imagine that the crunching under his feet was at least a little like the crackle of fall leaves, just way more morbid.  There’s something final about a bone.  It’s the last remaining trace of something that was once brimming with the breath of God. 

And here, wading through skeletons, God asks Ezekiel this amazing question, “Son of man, can these dry bones live?”  The only thing better than the question is Ezekiel’s answer, “O Lord God, you know.”  As I work through life and clay and meals and school assignments, I imagine that has got to be the rightest answer any of us could give to any task or question God puts before us: “O Lord God, you know.”  It is a response of absolute, childlike faith, that no matter what our eyes see or what our natural experience has been, regardless of how perfect our theology or what vast stores of common sense we may possess, what happens tomorrow or in the next five minutes is utterly in the hands of God.  And those hands have no limits!

Reading this tale of Ezekiel some two thousand years later, it leaves me speechless and awestruck.  Even with my vivid imagination, I cannot conceive of standing in that valley and seeing flesh and blood, skin and sinew cover over decaying bone and every dry skeleton stand upright, a complete restored human being.

End of Season

Leaves are one of the most valuable ingredients a gardener can add to the mix of their soil. 

They can be piled on top of a vacant garden bed and will cover it gently from snow and ice; in early spring, they are as easy to pull back as an old quilt, revealing earth that is ready for planting with little to no work.  They can be chopped or mown finely and stirred into a bed, creating a perfect environment for earthworms to nest and flourish through cold months.  The very happiest potatoes grow in a bed heavily amended and piled with dry leaves.  They create rich compost, amazing mulch, and a great seed starter soil if decomposed into leaf mould.  I always think you can tell a gardener in the fall by noticing which driveway lacks piles of leaves waiting for the vacuum truck!  Gardeners know leaves are golden, and not just when they’re still on the birch tree!  If there’s one picture in the created world of dry bones coming back to life, it’s the myriad of ways those dead, crackling leaves produce a good harvest.  The raking, however, can feel futile.

End of season work is hard work.  It can often seem fruitless and empty, as if we’re laboring for a harvest we’ll never see.  I am not a prophet nor the daughter of a prophet, but I do know that we are drawing ever closer to the end of the season, friends.  I know two things only: Jesus will return, and we are not getting further away! 

In days when it seems the end of this age is near, it can be challenging to hold fast to ordinary tasks that don’t seem to carry a weight of legacy with them.  Maybe that’s because we’re looking at the wrong legacy.

When the old, old story is told in the new Narnia, I want it to be said that I planted and harvested, created beauty, and proclaimed the Gospel, that I gathered leaves and believed they would live with all the strength God gave until the very last.  When people ask if we believe we will harvest from the trees we plant today, may we answer, “Oh Lord God, only You know”, and then go back to work gathering and planting.

The featured image is courtesy of Aaron Burden.

You can see more of Aaron’s remarkable images here and here.


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