Dear Mary Magdalene,
About that woeful, bone-lonesome dawn. The gaping tomb. I have questions . . .
Take the man you mistook for the gardener. Was Jesus wearing unfamiliar clothes — perhaps on loan from a kindly local, out watching the sun rise? The risen one minus His seamless robe might have looked visibly chilled.
Or did a vestige of hell’s filth linger beneath broken fingernails?
Was His face weathered by heartbreak?
Perhaps those dark eyes blazed bold with hope: a visionary gaze, consecrated to growth.
But no, you recognized God when He called your name. I’ve read the stories. I wish you could tell me more.
Freed from your hellish past, when did the flashbacks finally cease?
Did your thoughts break into blossom whenever He spoke? And when did your dear, new, sapling-self first begin to flourish?
Between the early and latter rains and seasons of drought, your prayers must have overflowed: sorrows and shocks and joy-sprung awe. Was it hard to embrace such rigorous training?
And did Jesus ever mention espaliered trees? Ancient Roman gardeners would curb a plant’s growth to maximize yield in a limited space. Picture a fig tree growing in one plane, like a hieroglyph on the wall of a tomb.
Mary dear, imagine the process . . .
First, choose a sunny spot, bounded by a trellis or wall. Plant your sapling beside it. Clip away suckers; they siphon strength from the roots. Snick.
Shear off any limbs thrusting themselves forward. Lop.
Gently now, lest a bough break, bind the remaining side growth to the lattice at the key cross points.
Does this sound familiar? The cutting back. The unrelieved stretching. The waiting, waiting, to bear fruit. Pears or citrus, perhaps. Or figs, first grown in Eden.
Mary, Mary, how did your garden grow? Inch by inch, I imagine, as natural tendencies conformed to the chosen framework. Espaliered trees, like disciples, abound via tender, vigilant patience. Care is paramount. Consent is all.
Dear Marry-the-moment Magdalene, first to herald the resurrection, you embraced the reshaping. Again, and again.
May I do no less. Alleluia, amen.
Friends, what would you ask Mary M?
To learn more about espalier (from 1400 BC tomb paintings to present-day practice) start here: https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/espalier/
From the archives: Reflections
“S” espalier photo, yours truly
Thanks to Kate Bowler for her thoughts on the Easter gardener, in her new book, Good Enough