It is Tuesday afternoon in the fourth grade. A student sits alone looking down into the pond for minutes. A bucket at her side and a net in hand, she is determined to catch the next fish foolish enough to swim near the water’s surface. Her head does not flinch as two more fourth graders walk by, excited to show Mr. Gilliam the chrysalis they discovered while uprooting carrots. As he explains the differences between “complete” and “incomplete” metamorphosis of critters to these students, a handful of others are daring one another to jump across the creek before Mr. Sikkema finds out – and shows them how it’s done.
Regents Science and Nature Center – the “Garden” to students – is perhaps the most beautiful classroom on campus. Its beauty is easy to showcase with stories or in a picture – especially when that picture is taken with an iPhone 7 Plus and processed through multiple Instagram filters. What isn’t easy to showcase though, is the struggle and work that exists behind the beauty.
In the Garden, students must struggle with the weeds and work against the weather as they plant seeds and tend their plots. While they hope for a bountiful harvest of vegetables, they soon understand that life is not a given and a humbling truth surfaces like a fish in the pond: Each living thing is dependent on innumerable other living things for survival. This is as true of the earthworm as it is of the teacher.
Norman Wirzba, a professor of theology at Duke Divinity School says that “Gardens are places of struggle, surprise, and deep mystery – places where we are often reduced to silence and awe.”
Considering the snapshot again, I’m encouraged to lean into the struggle of life like a gardener. I’m encouraged to appreciate life with the attentiveness of a fourth grade fisher. And I’m hoping that my joy in the deep mystery of a creation that is dependent on the love of Creator is as unbridled as the joy of a child finding a chrysalis in an overturned garden.