Down to the Roots

heart made of roots

Spring in South Texas is the time to make the most of it.  Before this precious window of lovely weather closes, before the Heat with a capital H sets in, I give myself to long hours spent outside with gloves and spades, with dirt and roots.

For me, gardening is a spiritual practice, an opportunity to reflect and deepen my relationship with first things, with the root matters of life.

Whenever I put spade or blade into the rich, dark earth, whenever I see winter dulled roots stir awake in a soft spring rain, I too am stirred. Crouching down, moving soil out of the way to make room for new life, I sense a line of ancestors standing behind me, touching me on my back and my shoulders, bringing my attention to the many roots of farmer, rancher, gardener, wild-crafter, and plant healer from which I descend. I hear their whispered voices and songs on the breeze as it blows through leaf and branch, as it blows through my hair — remember how to sow and reap, remember how to grow and tend.

Who were these people? I can make some educated guesses based on the scattered stories I have collected, but in many cases I really don’t know. One thing I do know: they were wonderful storytellers and they could tell you what kind of a plant you were looking at and six ways to work with it in one minute flat.

Among my dead are also thieves and murders, philanderers and neglectful mothers, cheaters and liars. It is quite possible that one side of my family stole land and home from another side of my family. Among those who came before me are deeply wounded ones who, because of skin color and native tongue were not seen or heard or included in so many ways. There are names and lives that have been forgotten because the people who came before me did not see fit to remember them and pass them down. There were ways and traditions that may be native ground for me, but that I must learn or remember anew because they were not ever part of my inheritance.

Here is the truth: every single one us descends from broken, torn up, and bruised lineages.

Each family tree has suffered many droughts, many fires, many windstorms, and deep wounds from the axe. Every single one.

Because we all come from fractured lineages, it is all-too-easy to fall prey to two traps. On the one hand, we easily romanticize those roots or lineages. On the other hand, it can often seem more soothing, more immediately satisfying to forget, to cut ourselves off and distance ourselves from those crazed roots.  But both are errors of seeing and recollecting correctly.  Romanticizing the past or cutting the past off from conversation with present and future — both actions trade momentary peace of mind for long term healing.

We find our blessedness in and among what is broken and that means that we, those of us living right here and right now, we, are the medicine that is needed, the medicine that pours right down to the roots.

It is through the ways we live our lives, the actions we take, the words we speak, the choices, we make and the ones we love that we make our stories, individual and communal, we make our roots, whole, healthy, and holy…or not.

And one more truth to keep with you as you go forward throughout this day: as long as the root is healthy the plant can come back, it can and it will return. Tending to the roots of things — be they family, idea, creative work, physical health or spiritual practice, is exactly the act that allows for new life, for the new shoots of tender green leaf, for a vital, healthy, and lush garden.


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