I wasn’t really sure why the session was called “Playing in the Dirt.”
Drawing on Arthur Boer’s book, Living into Focus, Andrew Peterson talked about focal practices. He defined them as activities that 1.) demand effort, 2.) connect us with others, and 3.) put us in touch with powers greater than ourselves. Three men joined AP in his presentation — a beekeeper, a birder, and a pipe-maker — and each shared how their “hobby” brought them into a deeper relationship both with God and man.
I left the session wondering what my focal practice could be.
“What did you think of the session?” I asked Mary a little later.
“I think that it made me want to get my own printing press,” she answered.
Yes, I could picture Mary with her own printing press, setting type, learning the mechanics of the machine, playing with inks and papers, and connecting with other people who shared that interest. I envied her a little that she could so easily identify a focal practice.
In my notes I had written, “In that moment you don’t want to be anywhere else or doing anything else.” I have had moments like that, but they are very private moments, in prayer or study, where hours pass and I am unaware of that passage of time because I am so engrossed in what I’m doing. Unfortunately, those moments are so private that they fail in the criteria of connecting me with others. Others feel like an intrusion.
I came home from Hutchmoot pondering a printing press for Mary. Where could we get one? Where could we put it? The ready answer for her seemed an easier problem to tackle than coming up with a focal practice for myself. It’s not an easy problem, though. Where would we get one? Where would we put it?
As I stood at my window on Tuesday morning, looking out at the leaves that have fallen on our garden, I noticed that some of the zinnias were still blooming despite the hard frosts. I had cut what I thought were the last of them before I left, but there were more, still blooming. I grabbed the clippers to cut them so I could enjoy them on my kitchen table.
This morning, Friday, as I thought again about that focal practice, I looked at my little bouquet of zinnias and out the window to the still more blooming in my garden. I walked to the garden again and cut the flowers, smiling at the marigolds nestled in the leaves and flat out grinning at the daisy that dared to show her face in mid-October.
Playing in the dirt.
Ha! My focal practice may indeed involve playing in the dirt.
The joy I experienced this summer in growing flowers was one I knew that I wanted to enjoy again next summer.
It will take effort — sifting through soil, choosing seeds and plants, tending, weeding, watering.
It will connect me others — as I glean knowledge from more experienced gardeners and as I share what I know and grow.
It will put me in touch with a power greater than myself. It already does — pushing back the darkness in this aching world and bringing in some color and light.
Beauty and mystery in growing flowers, a focal practice I can dirty my hands with.