This year saw the rare confluence of Good Friday and Earth Day. As I talked about earlier this week in an interview on the Nick and Josh Podcast, this confluence offered a great reminder of the necessary marriage between spirituality and ecology. Environmentalism without some sort of solid spiritual framework and practice leads to doomsday thinking, finger-pointing, and burnout; religion that has no imaginative and literal roots in the natural world is unhealthily disembodied and dualistic.
I had been wracking my brain about what to do to mark such a great alignment of two significant days. In what I think was actually an answer to prayer, in the afternoon of Holy Thursday a package arrived, containing two dozen fruit, nut, and other trees I’d ordered to add to our orchards. It was a kairos moment, and suddenly the plan for Friday became clear: I would spend the day planting apple, pear, peach, plum, cherry, apricot, hazelnut, Chinese chestnut, pecan, and honeylocust.
As is often the case when I’m anticipating a big project, I slept poorly, and so I began the day in a sleep-deprived fog. The weather was also fog-like: another gray and rainy day in what has been a very wet spring. But with plenty of work to do, I got going at first light.
The day took on a plodding, methodical pace. For one, I realized that slow and steady was the only way I could coax my tired body through the day, intact and without injury. Even more importantly, I wanted to make sure I got these trees in properly. I’ve planted scads of trees in our almost dozen years on the farm, often with too much haste and too little care, and many of them haven’t made it. I’m going to do everything in my power to help these trees thrive.
At one point I had some help from our farm-tenant-become-friend, and our kids also came out and milled around a bit when the rain let off, but for the most part I spent the day in solitude. Part of the time I spent listening to mp3 audiobooks (I got through Lao Tzu’s Tao de Ching and made some headway on Dante’s The Divine Comedy), but I also had plenty of time to let my mind rest or wander as it would.
I didn’t put a lot of energy into making the day “spiritual” in any explicit way. I did try to pay close attention to what I was doing, which I find to be one of the best (and most difficult!) spiritual practices. And I asked God’s blessing on each tree (to save it from my inevitable mismanagement!). Our twin daughters also got into that, running around and signing the Cross on each little whip, once I had them all in the ground.
Only today, Holy Saturday, after a better night’s sleep and a little time to reflect, did I realize just how much convergence there was between Good Friday and my Earth-Day tree planting. The Gospel reading for Good Friday described how Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ dead body and laid it in the dark of the tomb – not unlike, it occurred to me, my committing the roots of these dormant, lifeless-looking bare-root trees into the dark of the soil.
I have to admit that I sometimes cringe at the parallels drawn between Easter and the season of spring, with its flush of new growth after the deadness of winter. While the similarities are striking, the comparison often sounds a little pat in my ears, as if both the Resurrection and springtime are tame, predictable events that fit nicely into our liturgical or planting calendars. Those who have been through really tough times don’t speak too quickly or glibly of hope in some sort of new life. The truth is that the dark tomb is a place of waiting, of not being rock-solid-certain about what’s going to happen. That was certainly true of Joseph of Aramathea and Jesus’ followers, who were as surprised as anyone to find the tomb empty on Easter morning. I think it’s also true in terms of the health of our planet: with myriad ecological challenges, very little is certain anymore about the reliability of weather and seasons.
I planted the trees, then, not knowing what will become of them or the Earth in which I planted them. I planted them with hope for their future and our own, but with little certainty. We are all waiting in the dark.