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I’ve had this prayer poem from Julian of Norwich on my mind for the last couple of weeks:

Be a gardener.
Dig a ditch
Toil and sweat,
And turn the earth upside down
And seek the deepness
And water the plants in time.
Continue this labor
And make sweet floods to run
And noble and abundant fruits
To spring.
Take this food and drink
And carry it to God
As your true worship.

– Julian of Norwich

It was there as I noticed the zinnias blooming in our window box last week, planted from seeds we distributed and received from church just before Easter as a sign of new life. It was there a few weeks ago when my spiritual director reminded me that summer is a time in the natural world for deepening roots as well as blossoming and bearing fruit and encouraged me to deepen my roots this summer.

And it was there when the book I was reading this week (The Soul of a Pilgrim by Christine Valters Paintner) suggested practicing lectio divina with Genesis 3:23-24. Lectio Divina is a way of praying with scripture where you take a short passage and pray with whatever word or phrase catches your attention as you read it slowly, trusting that the Spirit is speaking to you as you read and pray.

I would never have chosen Genesis 3:23-24 for this practice – I tend to choose favorite passages, comforting passages and this is neither: The Lord God therefore banished him from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken. He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the Garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.

The phrase that I found myself praying with was “till the ground.” I’m not a farmer or much of a gardener. My husband tends our yard and garden and they are beautiful – he’s the one who planted the zinnias and waters them. My small part is a trip to the local nursery in May to pick out annuals to plant in the yard, and then planting them.

And truthfully, I love picking them out at the nursery, but I don’t like the planting that much. The kneeling hurts after a few minutes – my knees and thighs and back ache. The ground in our yard is hard to dig – first there’s shoving the mulch aside and then it takes a lot of effort to get the trowel to go deep and a lot of pushing with both hands to make room in the earth for plants to go in. Often creepy crawly things emerge. After the first few plants I find myself in a rush to finish up and take a hot shower.

I’m pondering what it means to “till the ground” in light of my spiritual director’s encouragement to deepen my roots and in light of Julian’s invitation to “turn the earth upside down and seek the deepness.” I’m aware of how often these days I avoid being still, going deeper, because of the effort, because of my unease with what might come crawling out. I’m aware of my impatience with the dirt and the aches in my heart. And I wonder what it would be like to take my time and welcome it all, to trust the Spirit to deepen my roots and till the ground with me, to plant something new. I want to accept Julian’s invitation to “continue this labor . . . and carry it to God as your true worship.”

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Elizabeth Vander Haagen

Elizabeth Vander Haagen co-pastors Boston Square Christian Reformed Church with her husband Jay Blankespoor.  They live in Grand Rapids, Michigan with their children Emma, Brianna, and Peter, and their dog Luna.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    In Acts, it was the persecution after the stoning of Stephen that sent the earliest Christians out of their idyllic community in Jerusalem, and resulted in the marvelous expansion of the church, the conversion of the Samaritans, the eunuch, the company of Cornelius, etc. So I wonder if sending Eve and Adam out of the idyllic Garden to till the soil for themselves was perhaps a dialectical gift within the punishment.

  • Karl J Westerhof says:

    Your closing paragraph is a treasure.

  • Deb Mechler says:

    I agree with Karl. “…my unease with what might come crawling out” was the zinger I noticed. Thank you for this offering of writing, of going deeper today.

  • Henry Baron says:

    And “the aches in my heart” connected it to all of us – thanks!

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