essential worker: micah 4

I love the line in this passage from Micah about how, when the Lord’s house is established on the mountain, once all the swords get turned into plowshares and violence ends, everyone gets to sit under their own vine and fig tree.

For a long time, I didn’t really know what sitting under a vine or fig tree felt like, but I heard the prophet’s point: everybody gets to be at home, with enough. And for me, a homebody that spent a couple decades on the road, being at home with enough seemed ideal.

When I moved to Durham five years ago, my goal was to move toward a life that allowed for a dog and a garden. It feels like a small desire, maybe, but those years of travel meant that I was never home long enough to start a single seed, that any canine dependent of mine would have been abandoned every other week.

I moved here at Thanksgiving, and on February 1, Franny came home.

I still don’t have my own garden, but I did learn what sitting under a fig tree might be like. My friend Lauree – who was a part of my writing group already – lived here in Durham, and when I arrived she immediately included me in her circle of Garden Goodness. Lauree grew up on a farm, and her entire yard surrounding her little house here in Durham has been transformed into an orchard/vineyard/coldframe/garden/wonderland. She has four? Five? fig trees, yielding showers of the fresh fruit right here in North Carolina. Who knew that figs grew HERE, in the American South and not just on Mediterranean hillside terraces?? Have you ever tasted a fig fresh from the tree? It’s mind blowing. It feels like an exotic luxury to me, every time I bite into one. Fresh figs, straight from Lauree’s tree, have become one of my very favorite things.

And then, this spring, as COVID set in, a garden appeared. Not, of course, in my tiny second floor apartment. But down the road, at the Methodist church, where my friend Sharon had been working tirelessly to set up a (VERY BUSY) Food Hub for the neighborhood. Her wife, Lisa, had a vision for the backyard, a former preschool playground. Volunteers built raised beds, started seeds on porches, carted in soil, built compost bins, dug up and installed lasagna beds, planted and harvested and planted and harvested and planted and harvested some more. The ParkTown Food Hub Garden has become a sacred space. I have learned that I know very little about growing food. The vines and fruit there aren’t mine – they’ve all been donated and they all go back into the regular community food distributions. But I do get to glean, sometimes, and my fridge was filled with homemade pesto, beans, tomatoes, peppers and greens all summer and fall. And working together with whoever happen to show up on a Saturday morning to plant and grow and tend and harvest food that will feed our neighbors? Well, that’s even better than sitting under my own vine all alone.

The passage from Micah doesn’t stop there, though, with this vision of everyone enjoying being safe, unafraid and at home. This is a cosmic vision of justice and equity, and it is not just about middle-class white ladies finally settling down: “In that day, says the Lord, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away, and those whom I have afflicted. The lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off, a strong nation…”

This vision of a new world coming involves gathering in everyone who had been cast out. It means that the people on the margins get put in the center of our consideration. It means that the strongest nation is built when we put caring for – and listening to – the lame, blind, poor, the cast out and the essential worker at the top of our priority list.

I am grateful to have this small, settled life here. I am grateful that Franny was available for adoption – now *clearly* the center of every situation she enters, even though when I met her she had been cast out of someone else’s house.

I am grateful that Lauree brought her farmkid sensibilities here to suburban North Carolina and grows so much food that she hands it out like candy on Halloween. One day last month, I walked in her front door to see her sitting on the couch positively up to eyeballs in persimmons that a friend had picked from her trees. Basket upon basket upon basket FULL. While we chatted, the mailman walked up onto her porch, and before he could leave, she shouted out: “HEY! Do you like PERSIMMONS!?”

I am grateful to have been invited to be a part of a garden that helps to feed not just me and my household but our entire neighborhood. The Food Hub is currently feeding TEN THOUSAND people each month, and those tiny seedlings that I started and tended and harvested are a part of that.

Micah’s vision of the new earth isn’t just that we all finally get our own. It’s not that we can hole up with our hoarded wealth and feel secure. This vision – when the Lord makes Her ways known to all the world, when She lives here in her dwelling up on the mountain that we all stream to – is a vision of mutuality. It is a shared abundance. It is a world where no one has too much and no one has too little.

When I stopped traveling so often and managed to stay in one place for more than a couple of weeks at a time, what happened wasn’t so much that I finally got what I wanted; it was that I finally found people with whom I could be in community, friends who were excited to share out of their abundance, neighbors energized by working together to serve one another. The dog and the garden, the vine and the fig tree…they aren’t individual accomplishments. They are gifts, given by God, shared in community. These are gifts that grow when they are given away, gifts that multiply when we hold them loosely, with generosity and mutuality.

“…and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

(this is part of the #unmuteyourself #Advent2020 devotional)

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