The Gift and the Work that Follows
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If you’ve been around the Church of the Redeemer the last few months, you’ve likely noticed that our grounds have never looked better. This was no accident, and in fact there’s a beautiful story behind it. It started with a dying tree. One of the real centers of peace and joy for our community is the Cloister – the courtyard area at the literal center of our building. With its running water feature, it’s austere cross, ivy climbing up the walls, and views of the stained glass, steeple, and choir room, it is a beautiful space. Sitting outside in our cloister gives one the sense of being gently held by the church itself.
Except for the dead tree.
Yes, one of my favorite parts of the cloister was a tree in the corner back near the doors to the library. Its branches reached up to the second floor of the church building, and during the Fall, you could see the leaves changing from the office windows. And last year (2020, of course) the tree died. Our faithful group of garden volunteers – the Lay Weeders – immediately got to work to find the best solution for that space in the cloister. Sidenote: Lay Weeders is hands down the best-named ministry at Church of the Redeemer, and there’s no close second. Anyway, as part of their work they met with the Landscape Architect who had designed the plantings for the cloister at its creation.
Her name is Sharon Floro and she is a remarkable talent, a kind soul, and an amazing gift to our community as well as to the whole city.
When Sharon met with Lay Weeder Mike Krug, she remarked that she loved working with us so much before, she’d love to work with us again, and – unsolicited – offered to design the landscape for our whole grounds (and not just the cloister) at no cost. When I spoke to Sharon about this, she mentioned how meaningful collaborating with this community had been for her, how wonderful our Lay Weeders were, and she mentioned with great passion and gratitude her appreciation for the presence and ministry of our wonderful Associate of Pastoral Care the Rev. Joyce Keeshin.
Sharon wanted to give us a gift during a difficult time. This was an act of loving kindness: Landscape architecture as embodiment of God’s grace. The Lay Weeders were so excited they enlisted parishioners to donate money for the plants themselves, so the whole glorious transformation would not impact our pandemic-tightened operating budget.
How could we say no to this? Well, we couldn’t – but we still had to talk it over. Because that’s what organizations do: They talk over the things that seem obvious. But that’s how it goes. And, honestly, I’m so glad we talked it over, because it helped me see something about God’s grace I’d never really noticed before.
In the midst of considering the logistics, one member of our Administrative Committee asked the good question: Once we receive this gift of new landscaping, what is our plan for maintaining and caring for it? Will we expect our Lay Weeders (who are, of course, volunteers) to just do more work, or will we pay more for professional gardeners? And this is when a very simple idea took root in my heart. It’s been slowly growing ever since.
Appreciating a gift requires work.
That’s all. That’s the simple idea. But think about it: this magnificent gift of transforming our grounds doesn’t mean anything if we don’t take care of the things that are planted. They are alive now, and like that beautiful tree in the cloister, some of them will die and will need to be replaced, and all the while they’ll need to be fed, maintained, trimmed, nourished. This gift requires work.
To be as clear as possible, I am not complaining at all. How else could it be? What gift does not require work? If someone gives you a wonderful book, you have to actually read it. Children are a gift. And also more work than is conceivable. Come to think of it, every relationship that is truly meaningful and transformative is a great gift and requires work on your part if you’re to really appreciate it.
There is something deep within us, some unspoken default setting, that seeks neat and tidy solutions. We like to check boxes, measure progress, eliminate problems. It’s as if we think we can cross something off the list and not look back. Replace the dead tree and call it a day. We crave this on a spiritual level. We think that, with God’s help, we should just be able to get past some fault of ours, and never worry about it again. On a practical level, this has worked for us approximately zero times – but we keep believing that’s how God works.
What if we began to let go of the idea that our lives were problems to be solved? What if we saw them as gifts to be cared for and appreciated - with the acknowledgment that appreciation requires work? What if our life with God, our life with one another, what if that beautiful life was not like boxes being checked, but like a living landscape that is meant to be tended, cared for, admired and worked on with gratitude?
This idea is the gift that Sharon Floro gave to me when she looked with favor and kindness upon our beloved Church of the Redeemer. Her work is beautiful, by the way, and I hope you see it. Christy Borneman and Mike Krug and Kris Woolf and Mary Jo Schottelkotte and the rest of the Lay Weeders and the thoughtful Administrative Committee all responded to her gift with their loving efforts. I look forward to the work we do together to appreciate this gift in its fullness.
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