The ministry intern at St. Mark’s preached yesterday, so I have no sermon to offer to the Internet this morning. Instead, I held on to the following for just such an occasion, and I am glad to share it today. In August, I attended a training event called Living in the Green up in Hartford. It was a lovely training, which paired personal storytelling and deep sharing of convictions, values, hopes, and dreams with some nuts-and-bolts activities designed to move abstract conviction into concrete action. We had some time to journal following a session on the second day, during which I had been caught by the phrase “to pay attention.” That phrase was the genesis of the following poem which I wrote over the course of the hour or so following the session. I shared it with my colleagues at the training and now am happy to share it with you.
The Box Garden (August 20, 2015)
The tomato plants in the box garden
are fruiting right now.
When I walk up the back steps,
I see, peeking among the shoots,
a slippery red – here and there –
and my heart rejoices.
And before I pick the ripe ones,
before I even walk to the box,
I can taste the acidic sweetness
and feel the pulp roll around my tongue.
Each day, I anticipate seeing new ripeness,
and some days I am rewarded.
But not every day.
Some days the tomatoes are there,
but they are still green,
still growing, still emerging.
And from the back steps I can’t see them.
The next day a shock of red arrives,
and I know the tomato was there yesterday, too,
but it wasn’t ready yet.
The tomato was there, but camouflaged,
hidden until its taste blossoms
to meet the bite in my imagination.
Other days I have my head down,
and I trudge up the back steps
with the weight of too many lives
leadening my feet.
On those days, I don’t lift my eyes
to survey the box garden.
The dash of red dances on the periphery
of my vision, but I don’t acknowledge it.
Instead, I go inside and slump down.
And the next day,
the red remains, but its luster is gone.
It has rotted on the vine
like stored up manna.
And all because I was too caught up
to pay attention.
It’s a curious phrase.
There is a transaction at stake,
A cost to be paid.
That cost is my “attention”;
my willingness to engage
If I have paid this cost,
I wonder what I get in return.
A life lived in God, certainly.
But there is no quid pro quo here.
The presence of God abides always –
Awakens in me, awakens me.
And so the goods I receive
and the cost I paid
are one in the same.
My capacity to remain awake to God
is the first gift,
which allows the tasting of all others:
The acidic sweetness, yes,
And also the saltiness of tears,
the meaty savoriness of ragged love,
the bitterness of brokenness,
The broken bread, the cup poured out.
I pay attention when I lift these gifts to God,
or at least I try to.
I smell the flour
stuck to the round loaf
to keep it from sticking to the pan.
I smell the wine, too,
redolent of celebration.
I pay attention to each pair of hands
that receives the bread of heaven,
and I know that as I place it in those hands,
it is the Body of Christ.
But today is not Sunday,
And so I try to pay attention to other things:
The seagulls cartwheeling overhead,
the tangled man asleep
on a stone bench in the town square,
the box garden as I climb the back steps.
And for today, I know the reward
for my paying attention.
Today, it is one ripe tomato.