December 4, 2014

When my family first moved into our current house, I couldn’t understand why no one had taken care of landscaping the fence by the garage. All around the house were well-trimmed boxwood hedges and planters filled with impatiens, but over by the garage, there was just this mess of dead sticks sticking out of the ground.

I assumed it was some weed that the owners had sprayed with herbicide before we arrived. Through autumn, the stems fell over and were covered by leaves and then snow. I didn’t give it any thought other than to what I might plant there the next spring.

When spring came, daffodils started to pop up by the fence, and I decided to leave things alone — out of busyness more than anything else. As spring progressed, shoots started coming up through the bundle of dead stems left over from the last fall, and before I knew it, they had grown into a row of formidable shrubs. Out of a combination of laziness and curiosity, I let these be and waited to see what would happen. Maybe they were ornamental hedges, I thought; it certainly seemed like they were there on purpose. After a couple weeks, tightly packed buds started to form, and one day, I walked out to my car greeted by a hedgerow of huge pink and white pompom flowers, some of the most striking I had ever seen. They were peonies. I had never seen them grow before, and as everything clicked together, I had to stop for a minute to take it all in: the beauty, the gratitude, the irony.

Had I been efficient, I would have dug the peonies up before they ever grew, and that fact bothered me. How often had I dug up as dead those places in my life where in fact new shoots were forming underground? God’s wisdom has seen fit to let flowers push up from the ground slowly and bloom silently. But if we are patient and curious, and perhaps even a little ignorant, new life will rise in front of our eyes, life that we didn’t even plant. And we should stop from time to time to appreciate this miracle.

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Stewart-Sicking is an Episcopal priest and assistant professor of Pastoral Counseling at Loyola University, Maryland. 

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