The End of Ordinary Time

Guisto de Menabuoi, Zodiac

The sisters have been cleaning up the gardens, pulling up old plants, adding amendments to the soil as well as leaves and mulch, putting the beds to bed. I slowly made my way through the kitchen garden discarding seven wheelbarrows full of summer debris. The sun was hot this November day, and the herbs – parsley, camomile, calamint, cilantro, lemon-balm, rue, winter savory, thyme, all yielded scents like costly spices. Tired by the afternoon, during the last chore I sat directly on a mound of oregano, clipping the woody stems and sipping ginger tea. The warm sun at its low penetrating winter angle seems a bit disturbing for mid-November, nevertheless welcome while working outside today, the deep blue sky almost pouring through the bare winter trees. I know it’s winter. We’ve already had snow and the bitter days are coming back.

Advent is on my mind – getting ready for the Advent Retreat at Holy Cross as well as preparing posts for At The Edge of the Enclosure. Advent begins with apocalypse and I sat in the oregano thinking of the end times.

Supposedly Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew the world would end tomorrow. “Plant an apple tree,” he said. A similar question was asked of a holy man: “Continue hoeing my garden,” replies the monk. And in the hot scented garden, my hands in damp fertile soil, I thought, “Yes, I’d let the garden bless me for the end.”

Along with the end times, Dismas haunted me all this week, the “good thief” who recognizes Jesus as King in those last hours of torture upon the cross. Remember me when you come into your Kingdom. Bloody, grasping for breath, dying in unspeakable pain, he turns his head toward the similarly dying Jesus. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” A cynic might ask what Dismas had to lose by such a request besides precious air in his lungs. But Dismas saw through the horror into the kingdom. And Jesus managed to gasp out these words: “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Advent’s apocalyptic warnings accentuate the anxiety of the coming of winter. The church enters the apocalyptic time, a time of the contemplation of end times, between times, and the ongoing struggle of conflicts in real time:  the everlasting hopes of peace and justice and mutual compassion. And those scents of ordinary time rising up around me in the garden, savory and sensual and healing, will soon be muted, the plants hidden beneath snow and ice. O Christ, remember us!

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