Tending the Roots

| September 1st, 2023

Dear Beloved Community,

As I have attempted to become a half-decent plant parent over these adulting years, I figured that in order to shed my “accidentally kill all the plants that enter my house except for that one Christmas cactus from 2016” track record, I’d better learn a thing or two along the way. A few Instagram follows here, a book or two there, and a certain handful of plants that just couldn’t survive my mediocre attention and met the compost pile, I’m rather proud to have kept alive a healthy two dozen or so plants in and outside of my house! Yet no amount of living pothos plants on my bookshelves (which are, I must admit, just about as easy to care for as falling off a log) convey the deeper truths I’ve learned along the way.

One such learning came as I discovered what one plant guru calls “the gap of death.” The gap of death can develop over time when the soil becomes so dried out, that it shrinks together and pulls away from the inside of the container leaving a gap between. The plant has become, I’ve learned, hydrophobic, meaning no matter how much water you give it, that plant will reject it, causing the water to flow right through the pot’s drainage holes and never touch its roots. But don’t give up on that hydrophobic plant! Instead, you have to insist that the plant receives water, doing so by putting the whole container in a larger container, watering it until the water rises in the container too, and letting it soak for at least 30 minutes. Once the soil is rehydrated and happy, the plant is ready to be placed back in its spot.

The metaphor for life just writes itself, doesn’t it?

I had to laugh at the irony a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed an aforementioned pothos plant in my church office window that had, with lots of sun and a bit too much neglect, grown dry, and yes, the gap of death was unmistakable. I sighed loudly, and dug around for a container in which to soak it, smarting that I couldn’t even manage an easy peasy pothos.

Yet it wasn’t until I came back in on a Sunday morning that the lesson sunk in. (Pun intended.) I’d had a frustrating stretch of days, feeling like the tasks were far too numerous and my capacity was far too less. I had stressed about this and that, worried about this relationship and that goal, all while a bout of anxiety flared up and surprised me with its immediacy. Over the weekend, I’d finally insisted on some margin, some breathing room to tend to my spirit. I did the things I know to settle my soul: reading, yoga, time outside in my tiny garden, praying in prose and questions, long walks with good podcasts, unstructured time with my family, exchanging an open laptop for a snuggly pup. Well wouldn’t you know it, that anxiety loosened its grip on my chest, and my perspective shifted. My spirit had soaked in the good waters of nurture and attention. The gap of death loosened. My roots hydrated once again.

That Sunday, I came back to my office to find water droplets hanging on every leaf of my pothos, almost as if the abundance of the soak couldn’t be held captive by veins and blades. Tending, it seems, had led to life – not just surviving, but thriving.

This school year at First on Fifth, we’re focusing on the theme of “tending.” We’ll imagine: what does it mean to tend to our lives, our relationships, our souls, our world, our communities, our spaces, our hearts? What shifts in our attention would bring intention to our living? What should we do when patterns of distending keep us apart from God, from each other, from the self we long to be? Where is God inviting us to tend to the soils of our living, in order that the proverbial “gaps of death” might abate and abundant life might flourish?

In today’s newsletter, you’ll find examples of tending everywhere you turn. From tending our common life together in recommending Deacons and surveying our interests, to tending across the ages with new gathering spaces for children, youth, young adults, median adults, and older adults, to tending our imagination in a fall film series and our presence at Bookmarks, to tending our neighbors with a host of opportunities to serve, to tending our minds with a story from Pastor Amy and classes that will meet your needs… tending abounds. Thank you for your place in the garden!

Together, we rest in the living waters touching the depths of our life’s roots in order that all creation can thrive!

Together in God’s work of Love,

Pastor Emily

P.S. No matter if you’re a member or longtime visitor, don’t forget to send a picture of your family to Olena for a special Startup Sunday surprise!