A couple of weeks ago my family and I began to provide some much-needed attention to our yard. Working and going to school full-time for the last three years created a void in the level of concern that I had for things like landscaping (which, as a term for what I’m even capable of, is a stretch). But I finally laid my scholastic burden down last month (*cue music and dance team) and I have now turned my attention to these more important, and grossly neglected, matters of flowers, bushes and domestic beautification.
Though my wife and I had worked throughout the month of May it was on the Monday of Memorial Day that the kids got to truly get involved. Obviously by involved I mean that my children invested their Memorial Day digging holes in random places, dangerously hitting golf balls with zero accuracy or concern and spending two-thirds of the day complaining that the work was too hard. But despite all of that we had a great day planting flowers and attempting to recreate impossibly well-put-together things that my wife found on Pinterest. At the end of the day, despite the twitching in my lower back and the constant threat of cramping in my hamstrings, I was filled with a sense of unique satisfaction at the events that had transpired.
I can’t say for sure, but there is a verse in the fourth chapter of Genesis that might help explain my satisfaction. In Genesis 4:1 the Bible says,
Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.”
Richard Elliot Friedman, in his commentary on Genesis, points out something quite profound about the end of that verse. He says,
…the first person to pronounce the name of God in the Bible is the woman. Adam, Cain, Abel, and Seth are never quoted as saying the name.
– Richard Elliot Friedman
The first person, it seems, who referenced God by His personal name, thereby indicating a unique intimacy with Him, was Eve after she held her son in her arms. It was in the act of creating something, and not just that but partnering with God to create something, that someone felt the kind of nearness required to call someone by their personal name. He was “Mr. God” when they were in the Garden, and He was “Mr. God” when they were being put out of the Garden, but when Eve realized she had made something, created something in a way that reflected the creating nature of God, she called Him Yahweh.
Memorial Day was a day filled with digging and planting, lifting and moving, laughing and singing. All of this done with those people who God has gifted into my life. We created flowerbeds and bench, we moved dirt with shovels and with our hands, we poured water on brightly colored, freshly seated plants and watched the soil darken and expand. God moved dirt around too. When He made the first humans He fashioned them out of soil and then breathed into them.
I’m pretty convinced at this point that my aching body couldn’t steal my swelling joy that night because we’d spent a day doing things in the way that God did them, and we did them with the resources and people who He’d given us. As I’ve reflected on that curious feeling I have not been the least bit tempted to offer overly theological language for it. I simply believe that the loving Father of the earth invited us to spend time with Him and with each other creating new spaces, thankfully we accepted His invitation. And in that acceptance something joyful happened, something sacred took place. He wasn’t just the gigantic God of the universe who will someday call us into the sky, but He was also the loving Father who met us in the dirt.
Maybe it would do all of us a great bit of good to build something, to plant something, to create something; and to do it with each other. Maybe we are doing more than landscaping or building a bookshelf, maybe we are stepping over the threshold of a door that has long been standing open to us; a door that leads not so much into God’s throne room, but into His workshop. A place where we exchange stories and get dirt and sawdust on our hands while we revel in the kind of life and intimacy that He created for us in the first place.