VIDEO: My Sunday Farm: After Emmaus — Rosalynde Welch at Restore | Faith Counts

VIDEO: My Sunday Farm: After Emmaus — Rosalynde Welch at Restore | Faith Counts

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Discipleship, like gardening, can feel tedious. We dirty our hands, toil, labor, and only after a season might see the fruits of our labors. In this Restore address, Rosalynde Welch speaks to the cycles, dynamics, and insights available to us we cultivate, sow, and reap in the Gospel of Christ.

 

For about 10 years, I lived in an old house with a beautiful southern exposure, full sun all day, every day, all summer long. It was perfect for growing vegetables, and I decided to plant them just out there among my shrubs and flowers. I planted cherry tomatoes. They love the sun. They grew over my head. There was a wrought iron balcony that he decided would be perfect to train squash vines up. I started a tradition with my son to plant pumpions every spring. He loved to watch the vine Sprout, the flowers develop, see the baby pumpkins at the base of the flowers, and then watch as they turned orange. It really was just as magical as that sounds. But there was an enemy who hated wholesome family fun, and that is the evil squash, vine, borer, moth. You’ve heard of this? It is the enemy of all gardeners. It lays its eggs at the base of the pumpkin vine. The larvae hatch burrow inside the stem and then hollow it out from the inside, killing the plant. There’s only one way to get rid of the squash, vine, borer, moth. That is how one hot, humid, August morning, I found myself fully laid out in the compost of my garden with a magnifying glass, tweezers, and a razor blade.

Yes, I was performing surgery on a pumpkin vine to save the baby pumpions. Cut into that vine with my magnifying glass, searching for the baby larvae, extracting them one by one with the tweezers. I had one of those moments where you go outside of yourself and you see yourself down there and I could really only laugh. I could laugh and wonder what a powerful love could make me such a fool for pumpions. Oh, here we go. There you see my pumpions and my cherry tomatoes. A few years ago, I recorded a conversation with Tarroll Givens for Faith Matters, and we called it, My Life on the Road to Emmaus. In this conversation, I tried to articulate my religious sensibility, my way of sensing God in the world. I compared myself to the two travelers on the road to Emmaus who encountered Christ. They recognize his divinity. They feel his divine power, but they see it in the form of a fully human being, not as a supernatural God from another world. In the same way, my spirituality, my sense of God, I call it more religion. Religious than spiritual. It’s of this worldly sensibility rather than an other worldly sensibility.

My experience of God tends to root me more deeply where I am. As our friend, Patrick Mason has put it, and he plants me in the here and now rather than uprooting me and pointing me towards a different world. My sense of God is local and at small scale. My most compelling religious experiences happen at the ward level, not at the general, large-scale level. I have come to think of my way of experiencing God as a spring that bubbles up from the ground rather than as a rainstorm that drops a blessing from another world. The challenge for me and for people like me is how to find God over the long term after Emmaus. I’m walking that road. It’s long. It gets dusty, it gets rocky and steep, and I need to find sources of divine water. I need to find them in this world. But this world is full of sin and suffering and evil, as the last week’s events have shown us. So how is it that for people wired like me, we can stay connected to God in this world? Here’s my suggestion, and it might seem counterint, but I think for me, for people who find their spiritual sustenance rooted in this world, you’ll find it at church.

I know church can be hard. It can feel artificial, can feel formulaic. It can feel like the opposite of the garden, which is organic, cherry tomatoes and sunshine. Inside the church, it’s all polyester and scratchy wallpaper. How do we get the garden into the church? I’m convinced, though, that the same spiritual sources that show me God in the garden are the ones that will show me God at church. But there’s a catch. When I go to church, I have to go looking for this world. I can’t go to church looking for another world. I have to go to church expecting to find God in the spring that wells up from below, not in the rainstorm that comes to me from another world. The sources of the garden and church are the same, the same key concepts enlivened those two places, and they are light, life, and love. In the garden, what does life look like? I understand how this is working. Thank you, Kay. In the garden, light. Light is the sun. It’s the transformation of energy in local cycles of creation. As my friend, Melissa, said, says, trees drink water and they eat sun.

What does life look like in the garden? Well, life is the cycles of fruitfulness, of growth, of decay, of the plant life that dies and then becomes the seed bed for germinating next year’s seeds. Life in the garden is interdependence of pollinators and nectar, of soil and microbes. What about love? What does love look like in the garden? Well, in the garden, love looks like work. It looks like dirty fingernails and aching back. It looks like lying out in the compost, performing surgery on a pumpkin vine. It looks like attention. It looks like pulling out my magnifying glass to find those grubs and pull them out one by one. What about at church? Light, life, and love at church. Well, at church, light is the divine energy that flows through particular relationships of family and friends and transforms them into a covenant fidelity that’s sealed together. What about life? What does life look like at church? Well, life is the human flourishing and the collaboration and joy that we experience in the common life that we share together as saints, as we share meals, as we share laughter, as we share tears. Life includes death, and so life at church includes grief, grief for brothers and sisters who have gone on before.

And here I remember our sister, Kate Holbrook. But also the death when needed of our collective stories and fantasies, as my friend Adam Miller often says. Love is also service, right? Love then, just as in the garden, love is work. Just like me on the ground performing surgery on the pumpkin, love is work. It’s service, it’s reciprocity, it’s the sacrifice of our time, so much time, but also our pride and our self-image. To the same springs of divine energy bubble up in the garden and at church. They’re local, they’re small scale, and they come to us from the world. I love this poem by Wendell Berry, and I think he captures just this connection here. The man born to farming. The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming, whose hands reach into the ground and sprout. To him, the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death yearly and comes back rejoicing. He has seen the light lie down in the dung heap and rise again in the corn. His thought passes along the row ends like a mole. What miraculous seed has he swallowed that the unending sentence of his love flows out of his mouth like a vine clinging in the sunlight and like water descending in the dark?

Isn’t that wonderful? What I’d like to do now is walk us through a typical church service. Try to connect each element of our worship together on Sunday morning to this rooted framework that I’ve laid out. How do we get more sunshine in pollinators? Pass the frosted glass and the cinder block of our meeting houses. Well, let’s start where we start every Sunday, and that is with prayer and hymn, which together are praise. In the garden, light comes from the sun. At church, light comes from praise. When we praise God, we glorify His name. In the scriptures and in the Biblical lexicon, glory means the divine radiance that emanates from the presence of God. God invited that light into this world on the first day of creation. And when we praise Him in song and in prayer, we send and reflect that glory, that light back to Him. We complete that circuit of divine energy. We witness that we eat sun and that we drink water, and we witness that we are in the divine presence. Now, all the usual caveats apply, it’s true. Our hymns are too slow and they’re out of tune. Our prayers are bumbling.

They are anything but eloquent. But one as one, we return that glory to God. We call His presence to be in our midst. We’ve completed that cycle of divine energy exchange. What about the sacraments? Sacraments as life. In the garden, life is fruitfulness and regeneration. At church, what is it that is reborn? What’s the fruit? I would submit that it’s nothing less than the body of Christ. The body of Christ is born as when tens or dozens or thousands of individuals sprinkle along the padded green pews together, partake of the emblems of Christ’s life-giving death. We ourselves die and rise in Christ. We’re resurrected as the mystical body of Christ. In the garden, life is also interdependence. And in the administration of the sacrament, we see, in sometimes hilarious, always adorable fashion, the clueless deacons doing in microcosm what as a church we aspire to do on a global scale. Working together, collaborating, figuring it out, making mistakes, nourishing one another. That. Finally, proclamation as love. So far, so good. We’ve been through the scripture in prayer. If we’re lucky, there’s been a baby blessing. We’ve had the sacrament. Now, what comes next? It’s time for the sermonizing, which I’ve here given the elevated title of proclamation.

This is sometimes where church gets hard. When it’s time for the talks, that is sometimes where the alienation, the division, the boredom, sometimes the politics, as Governor Cox was saying, that’s where it can set in. In the garden, we know that love equals work. What does that look like at church? Well, at church, work looks like acceptance. It looks like the ritualized practice of love. Now, from behind the pulpit, the work of love looks like preparation. But from in front of the pulpit, as those of us who are sitting and listening, no less work is required to receive from the mouths of imperfect saints, the gospel of Christ. Sometimes that requires us to get down into the dirt to pull out our magnifying glass and to start searching to find one thing, one baby pumpkin that can be redeemed from this talk. And that’s work. But it’s the work of love. Failure, offense, diversity that is so not ready for Instagram, that confronts us in the proclamation. Nevertheless, as Elder Gong taught us two weeks ago, church is the place where we can say that love is spoken here. My friend, Melissa, wrote this in her new book.

Difference, even between those who share ideologies, beliefs, and rights, is not a symptom of brokenness or disease. Instead, a bracing encounter with the difference built into the world is a remedy for the selfishness that keeps us small. These encounters are regularly gifted to us by a loving divine parent who wants us to think big. Thinking big, that same light, life, and love that grew my tomato plants over my head will grow Zion, wider and more capacious than any of us can imagine. Behind me, you see a picture of the lovely Gunnison Valley, a tiny farming hamlet in San Pete County. This is the village where my father and Melissa’s father were raised together, farm boys. In the afternoons, they would harvest alfalfa on their tractors. During the day, they would study calculus together at Gunnison High School. On Sundays, they worshiped together on their Sunday farm. The differences between their two families almost can’t be overstated. Mine, a generational Mormon family of Danish extraction, farmers for almost 100 years in this dry, high valley. Melissa’s, a family of Japanese intellectuals, recently released from an inhumane internment, landed in this unlikely place. But the light, life, and love in this little valley was able to transform those differences, raise a beautiful crop of strapping in a way in France and sons who forged a lifelong bond.

Now, in God’s goodness, Melissa and I are farm girls, the next generation working in the fields of academia. By way of conclusion, I wanted to return to that Wendell Berry poem. The scholar, Eugene Peterson, said about Wendell Berry, If, when you read a Barry poem or essay, you substitute the word church every time you come across the word farm, you’ll have a very fine piece of theology. With apologies to Barry, I’d like to read my revised version of The Man, Born to Farming. The wringer of bells, the soul gardener, the one born to chapel, whose hands quicken to grasp the smudged glass door. To her, the common life is divine ground. She enters into death weekly and comes back rejoicing. She has seen the Sun’s light lie down beneath the polyester shroud and rise again in the mechanized podium. Her thought passes along the row ends like a lost deacon. What miraculous word has she swallowed? That the unending sentence of his love flows out of her mouth like a vine clinging in the sunlight and like water descending in the dark. If you’re like me, if for you God bubbles up, you have to find the local springs of divine water.

If you’re feeling disconnected from God, look for Him in this world. But if you’re feeling disconnected from this world, trust my hunch and look for Him at church. Thank you.

 

 


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