Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Life in Unexpected Places

April 20, 2019

Jordan Durbin


Today is the very first green we’ve had this year.  I heard things growing early this morning.  Seeds buried deep under the gray soil, casting off their outer shells, nudging and pushing their way up towards the light.  Black-capped chickadees are fighting over the neglected birdhouse just out my studio window, planning space for new life.  I feel stuck indoors.  I have pounds and pounds of clay that require the hand of a potteress to form them, and today it’s not what I want to be doing.  I feel like one of those seeds: buried under mud, desperate to breathe fresh air, straining towards the light.  But today I am called to give shape and being to clay, making it into something that is more than the sum of its parts.  Growing takes many forms, and today it is happening on the potter’s wheel.

Spring is waking from its nap, inhaling the frosty air and yawning out life.  Nothing may be blooming, but there is no denying that warm winds and longer days are softening the hardened ground and bare branches, preparing them for leaf and blade.  If there’s one thing I have learned about this amazing masterpiece that God created, it is that it loves to grow things. 

In the bleakest, grayest, barely-above-freezing-temperatures day in January, I pulled a dusty neglected box from my mudroom.  I grabbed my trowel and threw on a hat.  It wasn’t really planting season.  At all.  But back in the late summer, I had ordered tulip bulbs with visions of spring bouquets and Dutch-inspired still-life paintings.  The bulbs have sat, waiting for a “better day” to plant them.  Excuses sprouted like weeds:  when I move the scaffolding, when it’s not raining, when the ground thaws.  Other labors always seemed more pressing.  Some excuses contained a degree of genuine substance, others not so much.

The January planting conditions were so far below ideal!  Tulips are meant to be planted in September or October.  They are supposed to receive healthy doses of fertilizer in each hole; these were unceremoniously stuck deep into the wrong ground at the wrong time.  I have no idea how well they will grow or bloom.  But I do know that they will absolutely grow better where they are now than in a box by my mudroom stairs. 

Things we don’t plant don’t grow. 

That sounds ridiculously simplistic, but I suspect that more often than we like to admit, we all look for and expect something good and beautiful to bud and blossom out of un-planted soil.  I know I’ve been guilty of waiting for relationships to grow the kind of fruit I’ve always wanted, only to realize that I didn’t ever plant those seeds.  I occasionally find myself expecting my little ones to know something that I haven’t carefully taught.   Fortunately, there is a much better Gardener at work.

There was another truth at work in the dark cold of that winter soil: in its most scientific analysis, it may be nothing more than humus and rock and minerals, but this earth was breathed out by the very words of God, and therefore, it is magic. 

It remembers the breath of One with power to make mountains and hills sing, and things sprout from it.  It was there when the stone moved from that tomb, and the hand that holds the universe within its grasp stretched into the garden dawn.

“Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. . . she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  “Woman, why are you weeping?  Whom are you seeking?”  Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” –John 20:1, 14-16a (ESV)

When Mary, draped in tears and grief and confusion “thought He was the gardener” (John 20:15, ESV), she wasn’t wrong.  I’ve chased those words around my brain for years.  What did she see?  Was the dark, broken world exploding with life around Jesus?  Every tree branch He brushes erupting from barren twig to heralding bloom?  Is the ground greener where He stands?  Is the fragrance of resurrection dripping off of Him, awakening things living and dead just by His nearness?  Maybe all my imaginings are a little too dramatic, but if there is ever a climax of the drama God is writing in all of history, this is it.  This is the moment that has never been before: life has re-entered what was dead.

We live and move and have our being in the midst of decay.  That fall, the one right at the beginning? It wasn’t messing around.  It didn’t just sprinkle some ashes onto the last few weeks or years of life.  It wasn’t cordoned into dark corners and old drippy lettuce.  It steeped its power into every single grain of sand and drop of dew.  Whether we like to think about it or not, all of living is dying.  Many of our delights are funded by death: houses and furniture are built from trees that no longer grow; feasts are crafted from harvested vegetables and animals; clothing made from flax and cotton’s dying breath. 

Decay is always pushing – even in our attempts to preserve or grant new life where death has happened.  Our old house has withstood 200 years, and I can only guess at how old the trees were that were used to build it.  For the 4 years that we’ve stewarded it, we’ve pushed against the power of decay, replacing window sills, re-glazing antique windows, reinforcing sagging floor joists, waging war on insects and time itself.  Most days it doesn’t feel like we’re winning, and there’s a good reason for that feeling.  No one and nothing has beaten the grave.  All of creation is groaning day by day with death. 

No wonder Jerusalem rang with “Hosanna” at Christ’s arrival.  No wonder it echoes still in our streets and fields and cubicles and kitchens.  We need saving.    Death, from the moment Adam opened the gate for it, was undefeated.  But its perfect record was perfectly defeated in its own territory!  Jesus broken, decaying body lay in death’s stronghold, not surrounded by healers and doctors and those who seek to preserve and give life, but sealed into a stone tomb. 

Those very first blessed witnesses of the power of the Risen Christ were amazed that the stone was rolled away.  So am I! I’m amazed that the stone was in one piece, and that the entire universe hadn’t split right in two! 

In a hostile, barren world where death begets death, a tree that was only ever supposed to bring more death had just exploded with blooms of life. 

No wonder Thomas questions it. “’If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the mark of his side, I will never believe.’” (John 20:25 ESV) In the midst of a crumbling world, from the wrong ground, comes life.  “Unheard of! Absurd!” to quote from Tevya from Fiddler on the Roof.

We call lots of things by the name of resurrection: spring growth, restored relationships, baby lambs.  And while there is poetic beauty and truth that God has written resurrection into so much of creation, there is only One who can call Himself by the names of Resurrection and Life. 

He is Firstborn from the dead, leading all of this captive creation in His way.  He plants life into our broken relationships, restores minds and bodies, raises the dead.

This weekend, the sun shone, and the wind turned from frosty to a warm.  The daffodils showing golden tips on their buds and all the maples are sprinkled with red.  And peeking out of a shelter of last years’ leaves, are the tips of tulips. 



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  1. Kris Camealy says:

    Oh Jordan…this is breathtaking.

  2. Jordan Durbin says:

    Thanks so much, Kris!!

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