What is joy in 2020? Joy in the midst of a global pandemic?
I can remember the exact day that the shutdown happened in Philadelphia. That Sunday before we had altered our community meal to serve 10 people at a time, two individuals to a table, rather than the 90 people we usually serve in our fellowship hall. On that Monday, government regulations largely shut down our country and the world.
We are still operating our community meal serve “to-go,” and we will for the remainder of the year and leading into the new year. I do not recognize the world that we are currently experiencing.
However, that same week I planted seeds in our garden in North Philadelphia. In that little lot, creation has persisted. We now have 18 raised beds for gardeners and four communal plots for free produce on Thursday afternoons. Every day I would check on my seeds, emerging from starter trays and egg cartons, green sprouts bursting forth, leaves opening up to catch the sun in our living room. What began as little seeds matured into tomatoes, peppers, okra, sunflowers, cantaloupes, cucumbers, watermelon, beets, carrots, kale, and cabbage. Aided by two peach trees planted in the fall, our community garden grew larger while the world remained closed. In those early months, I would be out in the garden nearly every day, watering our plants, weeding and adding support systems so they would properly bear fruit.
Typically, I find joy in seeing my family, friends and church members, and even being among people on my subway ride into work. All that was taken away with COVID-19.
Yet, I have found joy in the creation that abounds in our garden. As Jeremiah told the Israelites in exile, “They have sent this message to us in Babylon: it will be a long time. Therefore, build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” As we proceed forward, it seems that this is our new normal; social distanced life, mask mandates for personal and communal safety and limitations on seeing loved ones. However, we must plant our gardens and invest in the future where one day we can harvest together and become reconciled once more.
Until then, I am finding joy in God’s creation. Those seeds planted in March have produced their fill and we will soon turn the garden over and prepare it for winter. I have been blessed to see the arc of life in the birth and death of our community garden this summer. Yet, death is not the end. Those plants that have died provide nourishment for our compost. Produce left on the plants dry out and we harvest seeds for next summer. Our peach trees’ roots will mature in the colder months and in two years, we can harvest. I will not be here in two years, but the garden will.
Find God in a garden, continue in mission and find joy where you least expect it.
Benjamin Lasley, a Global Mission Fellow, US-2 missionary from North Carolina, has served with Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania since September 2019. His job with Arch Street UMC includes coordinating the Grace Café community meal and the People’s Community Garden in North Philadelphia.