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Martin Luther is attributed as saying, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” It’s most likely apocryphal, but nevertheless I find the statement beautiful. It’s a confession of hope; a yearning for fruitfulness, solidity, even abundance; a proclamation that despite the present circumstances there is also something greater at work. It’s about faith, the kind of faith described by the writer of Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Planting something is an act of faith. Sure, there’s the biological potential contained within the seed itself (or seedling, or sapling, what have you); yet there are so many externalities to deal with: weather, climate, pests, soil conditions, light, and other pressures. And perhaps the most basic and most significant is time itself. It takes time for something to grow. This time demands a kind of faith.
This is the season of fresh garden produce here in the northern hemisphere where the peak of summer is waning. Zucchini is abundant, sometimes obscenely so, and the peppers and chilies and eggplants are also at their production apex. Tomatoes are coming on strong now too. And for many who spent late winter and early spring nurturing little seeds into soil mixtures to start the nursery stock that has since become summer vegetable gardens there is a joy and satisfaction that surpasses the quality and quantity of salads and stir-fries one enjoys or the quarts of sauces put away. There is a confirmation of faith experienced in the fruit that has resulted. And this from many months in but one year: planting something takes faith.
Then how much more faith to plant something which requires more than one season to bring a harvest?
When I was a child my family planted a small blueberry patch. Just beyond an asparagus plot, not too far from some rhubarb, generally between an apricot and an apple tree in the backyard of my grandparents’ ancient farm house, about a half dozen plants were placed neatly within a trio of old railroad ties. I generally remember that occasion and the many years they have produced and am startled to confess that was well over thirty years ago, (maybe even thirty-five!). That apricot tree with beautiful blooms almost every Spring hardly ever produced and had long ago been fallen. The apple tree came down in a storm. The asparagus and rhubarb relocated for reason of a nearby well and windmill. And even the ancient farmhouse was replaced by a more modern ranch style home in the late ‘80’s or early ‘90’s. But still, a few of those blueberry bushes remain within those old railroad ties and they produced a bumper harvest this year. (This happens to be a very good year from blueberries.) The photo above shows just one of the many gallons of berries taken from them this year.
On the other side of the house stands a menagerie—if I can use that term here both in its meaning for variety and wildness—of fruit and nut trees that my grandfather planted over the years. He was a livestock farmer and not an orchardist. Still, he seldom left much open yard space without a food-bearing tree being planted into it. He planted a variety of peaches all over the place. Those pictured in the photo above are just a small portion of the abundance that this season is bringing forth. In northeast Ohio, this is a good peach year. Not so in much of the country. I should add that while they are spotty and not perfect to look at, they are most sweet and gooey delicious.
Which brings me back to the idea of it taking faith to plant something. My grandfather has long-since passed away. And as I’ve shared here before, he was not a religious man by any measure. Yet, I believe he had tremendous faith. He planted seeds and trees and even still today they are bearing and bringing forth fruit.
This year it is objectively in the blueberries and peaches that our family farm is enjoying. But to anyone with faith, with the ability to imagine, and to plant, and to nurture, and maybe most basically but instrumentally to invest time, you can see it in other ways.
Maybe even in me.