Sowing Seeds

An Annual Tradition Coming Full Circle

Fifty years ago, my best friend from high school and I drove five hours with her father into the Adirondacks to newly rototilled soil. Her dad, twenty years younger than I am today, had a vision to grow vegetables for those staying at the house he and his wife had just built in North Creek, New York.

We labored for three days on a 24 foot by 24 foot patch of dirt on a site that used to be a farm (before the farmhouse and barn burned down twenty years before). It was an amazing rural weekend for me as I had been consigned by my parents to live in downtown Buffalo for the last two years (for reasons that are still not clear to me).

Over the years, the vegetables and the garden grew, becoming five times as large as it was on that 1972 Memorial Day weekend. Our fantastic dinners included scores of various participants (including our children). After two days of hard work we would have an award ceremony for all of the planters at joke night. It was bliss that survived through college, romances, children, grief, and even the maturing of our offspring — most of whom still show up.

I have attended 44 of those 50 weekends, including one in 1975 when my friend’s father picked me up at midnight from the Syracuse bus station. My wife has been there for about 40 of these weekends, and our children attended through high school, one of them almost every year since. We even went when my friend and her husband were away. Her father and I concocted a “Screw It!” planting weekend, full of shortcuts and humor at our cavalier technologies (chemical fertilizer!).

That first planting weekend was redemption for a child without much love in his life in 1972 — a rare sustaining moment in my youth that extended through a wonderful adulthood.

This year, the tide had turned. The death of the greatest generation participants and the aging of the baby boomers meant that the millennials were in full force. Over half of this year’s planters were within a few years of being 30 years old, either way. They were delightful, funny, smart, thoughtful, and eager enough to make their time productive without it being debilitating for the boomer bodies.

We prepared for a boisterous communal dinner after a hard day of work. All of us gathered to sing grace before we ate, something we always did at the direction of my friend. We crossed arms, clasped hands, and looked each other in the eyes as we have always done for 50 years.

The millennials looked just a little terrified.

The elders then belted out a fully godless grace: “Thanks for Woods” — with those thanks being given to, well, something. The millennials smiled and looked at the singers: the old. Sensing this odd moment of collision between two worlds, I launched into singing the doxology, the Episcopalian version of attenuated phrases, in which the full presence of God was fully part of our singing. The millennial looks turned into the wide-eyed apprehension you have when listening to someone speaking in a completely foreign tongue.

Because it was a foreign tongue.

These terrific young adults, doing wonderful things, loving and living well through the pandemic (largely in New York City) had simply not had the type of connection as we old Episcopalians were bathed in — neither a tradition nor faith.

And then I remembered. I had not been a part of anything but my own desperation in the years before my first planting weekend — even in college. It was only through a completely random connection that we met the young curate, Paul Zahl. That meeting was the first time in a decade that I had stepped into a church. I simply could not participate in something beyond myself because I had nothing beyond myself, even in a time when ”everyone went to church.”

The love from planting weekend and from the family who took me in allowed me to explicitly know the love of God. What followed was marriage, children, and singing (in tune and with harmony) to the doxology.

The northeastern part of America is losing its tradition of religion, 60 years after Europe lost touch with the religions that were once fully meshed with their own countries. The 21st century will see even more change and sing far fewer graces. Who knows if any of these best and brightest will ever have the connection that I have had — beyond the intelligence and great humor of their lives. But there are fewer of those that find the love that passes all understanding in the tradition of church and in the doxology. Faith now happens in a fact-checked world of memes and diametrically opposed certainties.

Whether boomers, Gen-X, millennials, or Gen-Z, we are all prodigal sons. Everyone lives a life in the hope that we are more than just doing what we want to do. I footballed, romanced, and architected through a decade in which those realities were the only realities I could handle. The earth-shattering reality of children, and soon before me, the earth-ending truth of death, have become the truths of my life. I could not escape Jesus, for he is there, whether I like it or not.

I know that some of those who so full-on sung the doxology that night were atheists, loving the tradition, but simply not finding a reality of God in their lives. But the prodigal son reality is who I am. Profane falling headlong into the sacred, with no plan, perspective, or even understanding. Because love needs no understanding. It is just the center of every life — if we can hear it beyond the noise, perhaps in the din of singing grace.

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2 responses to “Sowing Seeds”

  1. kim morris says:

    It must be such a blessing to be part of something so full of such love. I envy you all.
    Please bottle it, and pass it around.

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