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Fruits of our succulent workshop labors: a Lenten wilderness garden

The following post is a transcript of my opening remarks for a succulent workshop recently hosted by the Women’s Ministry at our church. I’ve had several people ask if I might make my comments available. I thought posting them to the blog might be the easiest way to do this. I hope you find them encouraging.


When Lisa asked me to come this evening and help frame our time together through a lens of Beauty, I knew immediately I would say ‘yes.’ I also immediately wondered what I had to offer.

It seems to me, if you are here, have paid money, and chosen to dedicate your evening to spending time with other friends and sisters-in-Christ, planting a succulent garden during the season of Lent—a time when we purposefully remember our own wilderness conditions that led our Lord to his Passion on the cross so we might live as flourishing succulent plants—drinking in His living water, unioned with him in new garden life … well… it seems to me you already understand perfectly well about beauty and this necessary way of participating in the beautiful life, delighting in the Lord, even through the wilderness seasons of life here on earth.

So, I prayed. And, because He is faithful and loves you each so much; two things came consistently to mind. They came to me as invitations; a wooing, even, from our Father.

The first invitation is to consider your time and activity this evening in terms of “husbandry”. It’s the old fashioned term for the work of the farmer; and an out of date idea in our modern world of industrial agriculture.

It’s a word—idea—we must reclaim and make new. It’s also the word and idea the venerable, Wendell Berry, agrarian poet, novelist, essayist and farmer, is stubbornly dedicated to for defining of what life—all of life, not just farm life—ought to be.

Husbandry is concerned first and foremost with nurturing. In farming terms, the husbandman—which, as Mr. Berry describes as nurturer and thus, “half-mother”–is fully involved with and committed to the particular flourishing of the land, animals, and community upon which he or she lives.

  • The husband-man or -woman’s standard is care, their goal is health—their own, their family’s, their community’s and their country’s.
  • Their vision is multi-generational, which makes their work fully embedded and participating in the physical stuff of the present.
  • Their competence—or specialty, if you like—is order. This is a human order that accommodates itself to a Higher Order and to mystery…. The mystery of character, condition, quality, and kind.

**The husband-man or -woman never loses sight of his or her necessary, obedient participation with the Higher Order if flourishing is to occur. More profound yet, the husbandman or woman recognizes that by this rightly ordered participation, a communion occurs—indeed a union—of inner and outer life.

Mr. Berry’s vision of husbandry has the fingerprints of Garden Eden life, all over it, does it not?

Our imaged lives—made in the Image of the Creator Himself—were meant for this very kind of unioned existence with the Lord. And out of that union, He designed and desired for us to live in communion with creation in a nurturing, gardener and artist relationship; sub-creating for the sake of our particular “land and animal,” “family and community.” In this way, we were to push out the borders of His Beauty—multiplying his beautiful image, and the beauty of Garden life, unto the ends of the earth.

Has it ever occurred to you that Adam and Eve’s rejection of their roles to be the Lord’s imaged husband-man and woman occurred three pages in? The rest of the 2,494 pages of the story is the continual and relentless pursuit of the Lord to be re-unioned with us through the real stuff of life. And this “real stuff” culminated in His REAL presence with us through his son, who lived a real, tangible life, taking what was in his hands—whether it be water, or bread or fish, or the very nails driven through his palms—blessing it, breaking it, allowing it to break him; ordering himself always to the Higher Order. By this intimate, real presence work, He made it all a splendor; more beautiful than what it could ever be on its own.

And He did it so you—in him—could live, today, as a splendor, too.

A splendor. This is the fruit of the Spirit; and it is the second thing I believe the Father is inviting us to consider:

Your lives, my dear sisters, have been designed for you–from the beginning—to be a beautiful, harmony of taking what is in front of you, naming and blessing them, and participating with them in real ways for making something new—something more than what their parts could be on their own, for Beauty’s sake: a blessing back to the Lord, and for the life of the world. This is eucharistic life. Like the Eucharist Christ instituted on the night he was betrayed. You, too, are called to live, every day, in a sacramental, eucharistic kind of life.

Tonight we are planting Echeveria, Ha-worthia and Aloe plants. Succulents all native to desert places:.

  • Echeveria is the one that looks most like a rose. It is an important host plant for a rare butterfly species found in the Southeast and down into South America.
  • Haworthia is native to South Africa. It’s one of the most tolerant varieties of succulents to stress. In fact, some varieties will change their color to red and purple hues—colors significant to the Lenten season—when under extreme desert duress.
  • Aloe is the one we might be most familiar with, especially if we had mothers who kept an aloe plant growing not because it is beautiful—though it is, in its spikey way—but rather for healing sun-burned faces and scraped knees.
  • Sedum is the one most common to our perineal flower gardens, with varietals native to our Southwest Virginia mountain area.

Sitting before each of us are extraordinary, tangible witnesses of our Father’s abundant love. Even in the driest places on earth, there is refreshment offered to us—in beauty!—waiting to be recognized and made something more of; and then offered back to the Lord as a blessing, and for his blessing to multiply and make fruitful.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control,” Paul writes to the Galatians.

My prayer for you this evening is that you grow in the fruit of the Spirit as you commit to slowing down and making room for beauty to thrive in and through your life.

  • Find joy of getting your hands dirty.
  • Slow down and delight in patiently arranging and then planting with gentle hands each of these wilderness succulent plants.
  • Remember: by your humble, care-concerned and rightly ordered (self-control) activity—your husbandry work tonight—you make a way for these plants to live into a kind of goodness more than what they are separately and on their own—whether that be a healing kindness for one’s hurting skin; or a loving reminder for one’s hurting heart: His promise of love and beauty even in the desert lands.

C.S. Lewis once said that art has no survival value but rather gives value to surviving.

Dear sisters, this is what you are doing here this evening: You are giving value to surviving. Never underestimate or undervalue the power of engaging in the husbandry work of being gardener and artist. It is a holy act. It is a necessary act. It makes ripples into eternity. The angels rejoice at the wonder of it. The Kingdom of God is made visible by it. It is his splendor here on earth—in you, through you, and for the Life of the World.

This evening, this particular moment, is the beautiful life. It’s what you’ve been saved for.