By Michael Rossmann
If you have talked to me for more than about 20 seconds, you know that I am from Iowa.
I have not lived here for the last eight years, though I am very proud of these roots and share this — perhaps a little too much, according to what people in Chicago tell me. I am from Iowa City and did not grow up on a farm, though I became fascinated with agriculture, and probably as some last attempt to try to be the farmer and the hippie that I never was, I worked on an organic farm in southern Oregon just before joining the Jesuits.
I then tried to continue this new passion for growing produce as a Jesuit, but there was a problem. By the time I entered the Jesuits, it was late August, and I was living in Minnesota, where winter starts really early. I could not do much before the first frost hit, so I grew radishes — the simplest, fastest growing vegetable there is. And, sure enough, in about five weeks we had radishes.
The following spring, I had the opportunity to plant the vegetable garden of my dreams. I planted many things, but after the excitement from that initial harvest, I made sure to plant radishes — a lot of them. It is really exciting to see such fast growth, and these radishes delighted me daily. But, who actually wants to eat hundreds of radishes? I had to become creative, using root vegetables in everything I could think of — not just salad but also soup and even dessert. The guys I lived with had to endure this for two years.
I so wanted to see growth that I planted what would grow the fastest, but it was not what was needed or wanted. To have some diversity in what we ate, we needed growth in things that take much more time.
And, in our lives, what we most need or want may not be something we can attain any time soon, and it is certainly not something that we can do on our own.
I may give myself pep talks about how I want to love better, though I do not always love like I want to, like I should. I want my heart to be on fire, though it can be pretty cold and stony. But, how do we love better, especially when pep talks alone only take us so far?
Thomas Merton writes, “The root of Christian love is not the will to love, but the faith that one is loved. The faith that one is loved by God. The faith that one is loved by God although unworthy — or, rather, irrespective of one’s worth.”
We have to rest in our being the beloved daughters and sons of God and let this touch our hearts. And, like any real relationship, this takes time — a lot of time. But I so frequently want to skip the intermediate steps.
In the novitiate, the place for our first two years of training, we had a beloved Jesuit who would tell us how the authentic spiritual life was the exact opposite of someone standing over a plant and saying, “Grow, darn it, grow.”
But we really want to grow. We want to be holier. We want to love better and have more patience. But, like growing vegetables, it takes time and work to prepare the soil, and there is always an element of mystery. While we do what we can — and we can add compost and water appropriately — we ultimately cannot shake something into growth.
Our growth in the spiritual life and in the ability to love is not about our independent striving. It is in the slow unfolding of our lives and in our growing relationship with the Lord that our God labors and produces the growth. We can patiently examine our lives and do all that we can and then allow God to do the rest.