Food and Faith is a blog of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
A few weeks ago my fellow YAV Audrey shared her thoughts on Roots, Beets, and Ashes at this time of lent. She describes Ash Wednesday with beets and the earth. Read it. I like the idea of focusing our energy deep inside to the parts where we are connected to the earth--underneath and unseen like the beet that is making this beautiful color inside to be revealed one day. I want to add to her image because I'm a botany nerd and I love leaves. Lent is in the leaves too.
It is spring in Boston and the greens are just making an appearance at the local farmers markets. There are plenty of apples, root vegetables, potatoes, cabbage, and beets around from storage from the fall, but the fresh greens from the greenhouse like the spinach, mustard greens, chard, even the kale are long waited for in the winter diet.
These greens can’t store all winter like the roots, why? With the exception of the tougher kale, cabbage, and collards, leaves wither and die quickly without the support of the stem, roots, and the rest of the plant to provide water, and nutrients. So to get greens before spring they need special care in a greenhouse. Spring greens are fragile. Temporary.
We are like leaves. Leaves work tirelessly out in the sun to support the plant life, they reach for the sun with their phototropism and with photosynthesis, convert the sun’s light energy into sugars. Plant sugars are stored, used for growth of the body, or traded with fungi and bacteria in the soil for nutrients. Likewise we spend a lot of time reaching out for things we want, working to convert our time and talents into money, fame, or more lasting treasures like honor, character, integrity. We either spend our resources and gifts for our own personal growth, store it for later, maybe we trade or are generous and let other people use it. We are like leaves making life happen for ourselves and those connected to us.
Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent prepare us for Christ’s coming by reminding us of our mortality. The season reminds us that we will one day die and fade away into the dust we are made of. Just like the fallen colorful leaves of deciduous trees in the autumn, or those fresh salad greens at the farmers market that will wither away without connection to the larger plant, we will wither and return to this earth.
But all those storage crops at the farmers market, the roots, tubers, winter squashes, the colorful beets, that last much longer are simply storing the energy each of their plant’s leaves made before it was cut off and died. The longevity of the storage vegetables relies on the function of leaves even in their brevity. Perhaps the earth, and the kingdom of God rely on the "sugars" we make in our temporary lives to sustain longevity...
When Jesus warns us not to store up treasures on Earth, but in heaven it’s like we’re the leaves, leaves can’t store all the sugar they make forever, it has to get used up or stored elsewhere in the plant. Jesus does not want us storing up everything with us. We’re going to fade away, but the work we do, our energy conversion should be given to the master gardener as we store it in our roots the roots that last much longer, The roots that are beautiful on the inside. The roots that bind us to the soil, to the dust, to the ashes, to Creation.
Isaiah 40: 7-8 (RSV). The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people is the grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God lasts forever.