By Barb Arland Fye
My husband Steve left for a road trip regretting that he hadn’t had time to weed the garden in our front yard. No problem. I’ll do it, I said, out of guilt for neglecting garden duties this spring. That evening, stepping into the garden, I could barely distinguish plants from weeds.
Where to begin? Steve left a slip of a brown envelope with a drawing of the garden and the location of the cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, green peppers, kale and strawberries. Quite literally, it was my turn to labor in the Lord’s vineyard!
The most urgent weeding needed to be done around the cucumbers. I knelt down in the damp, spongy soil and began pulling fistfuls of weeds from the garden, striving to avoid uprooting cucumber plants. A memory drifted into my mind. Patrick, my younger son, at age 16 had done some volunteer work with a seminarian at diocesan headquarters. One of their assignments was to pull weeds from the garden of a retired priest. The “boys” inadvertently pulled up plants instead of weeds! I did not want to make that mistake.
Weeding is not my hobby, but reveling in God’s creation uplifts me. The magical moments of childhood come back, the seemingly endless summer evenings when I played outdoors with my brothers and our friends and inhaled the aroma of roses and honeysuckle and listened to crickets chirping. My love of the outdoors and amazement at the miracle of trees budding, flowers blooming and carrots emerging from the earth give me a deep appreciation for Pope Francis’ new encyclical on stewardship of God’s creation. The Holy Father conveys beautiful imagery in a passage citing the bishops of Japan, St. John Paul II and Paul Ricoeur:
‘“To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope.’ This contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us, since ‘for the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice.’
“We can say that alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in sacred Scripture, there is a divine manifestation in the blaze of sun and the fall of night.’ Paying attention to this manifestation, we learn to see ourselves in relation to all other creatures: ‘I express myself in expressing the world; in my effort to decipher the sacredness of the world, I explore my own’” (Laudatory Si, No. 86).
Earlier in the encyclical Pope Francis speaks of the value of every living creature, including creatures we might consider pests. As I pulled weeds, one of God’s creatures — that darn mosquito! — feasted on the tender skin of my arm. I felt helpless with thick gloves, a hat falling into my line of sight and piles of weeds in my hands. I’ve been scratching two plump pink mosquito bites ever since. Perhaps a reminder that all of God’s creation has its place in our common home, whether I like it or not!
The pope’s encyclical also reminds us that every human being has a God-given right to share in earth’s bounty. Those of us who have more than enough are obligated to ensure that the poor and marginalized have the ability to meet their needs. Our garden’s excess belongs not to us, but to all who are hungry.
Weeding the garden left me dirty and sweaty but, strangely enough, satisfied. The work isn’t finished, but it felt so good to labor in God’s vineyard.