I found a metaphor growing in my garden over the weekend.
It’s been hot and dry here. Really hot and dry. And though I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to keep up with the watering. About Thursday last week, I noticed my potted pansies were just webs of tangled tan stems, so I basically gave up.
I was telling Ann about it on the phone and she said something wise about not trying to fight the inevitable, about yielding to the unrelenting weather. Hearing her words, I felt a little better about the wilting and the dying going on outside. But still. I had worked hard to plant my vegetables and flowers. I hated to see it end this way.
On Saturday, I decided to survey the damage, clean out the dead stuff. But to my surprise, not everything was ruined. In fact, the tomato and banana pepper plants looked better than they had all summer. The carrot tops were still green and perky. And though some of the leaves were yellowing, I found my pole beans loaded with pods.
I did have to toss the pansies, along with the pea plants and the zucchini vines. Though it wasn’t the heat that got the zucchini. The dreaded squash root bore was to blame for their demise.
And there are a few plants that I watered good and pruned hard that I think might pull out of it if we get a little relief from the heat. And a little rain. In fact, the basil perked up quite nicely after a good soaking and a couple of cloudy afternoons.
With each sprinkler can full of water and each handful of dead leaves I hauled to the compost pile, this metaphor of dryness and death and watering and life became fuller and richer until I couldn’t slosh the soil without feeling my own heart soaking it all in.
“I prayed for water for you,” Claire wrote to me last week, after quoting Job 14:7-8.
For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground, Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.
And since that time, I have been overwhelmed with water. Friday, I watched a movie about a boy in Ireland who was nearly drowned by the water. Saturday, I started watering the garden and ended up washing the back porch and the back of the house and filling Tilly’s pool with water and letting her play and play and play in the cool refreshing stuff.
Sunday, I was preparing lunch with my mom and step dad and we heard thunder and looked out to see the skies open. It rained and rained, and we commented about how green everything looked. We laughed when we remembered the Spring when there was too much water and had wondered if it would ever stop raining. Nearly half an inch, we concluded, when the rain had stopped and the rain gauge sighed with relief to be useful again.
Luci Shaw writes a whole chapter on metaphors in her book, Breath for the Bones – Art, Imagination, and Spirit: Reflections on Creativity and Faith. First, she defines them.
A metaphor, because of its implicit reality and force in one arena of life, can transfer or carry over its meaning into another arena. The image acts to bring sense and immediacy and relevance to the real-life situation it parallels.
How many times have we understood truth not by its definition, but by its illustration. Life is a tree, a river, a highway, a box of chocolates. Love is a battlefield, a flower, a poem, a song.
Although some truth can be laid out bare in its essence, to be properly propositioned in a statement or two, the rest of truth, the “azeotropic” truth, as Luci Shaw calls it, is caught up in pictures and symbols and images of things that seem to have no relevance, except in this case, they explain everything.
Where proposition truth twirls the table model of the globe, imagination focuses on the single blade of grass, on the grain of wood in a floorboard, on the helical unfolding of a shell, or on the spears of frost across a window. This is where the artist, the writer, finds a way through to understanding – in the pictures, the details.
And particularly the Christian artist and writer can follow the pattern of God’s word and his world and His Son to use pictures to explain even the most essential truths.
This bread is My body,
You are salt and light,
I Am the Living Water.
I don’t water my lawn when it gets hot and dry like this because, for one thing, I have more weeds than grass, and it’s the last thing I want to do, water weeds.
But my dad has told me that it’s often just better to let the grass go dormant, let it hunker down and focus on its roots rather than trying to stay green and vibrant when the sun is baking the ground hard.
But even in dormancy, the lawn needs a little water. It won’t make it beautiful, but it will keep it alive.
That’s all the water I need right now. Just enough water to live on.
I am writing in community today with other members of theHighCalling.org, considering together over the next few weeks Breath for the Bones – Art, Imagination, and Spirit: Reflections on Creativity and Faith, by Luci Shaw. Visit theHighCalling.org today to see what others are saying about chapters 3 and 4 of the book. Then, pick up a copy for yourself and read/write along with us. Next week we will cover chapters 5 and 6.