“Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace that we are allowed to live in community with Christian bretheren.”
–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
On Saturday we all knelt, thankful in the dirt. I dug holes with a hand trowel as Lilly and Isaac followed behind me, dropping cabbage tricots into the ground. Lilly’s dark brown skin glistened in the sun; the African-American transplant from the Napa Valley offered small talk to my son, a six-year old who has known little of this earth save for Arkansas. Isaac told her we were planting this garden for the community, that Christians serve that way. Lilly smiled. “I know,” she said.
Faith is simple to Isaac.
I didn’t know Lilly from Eve, but she seemed like a good woman. She had the appearance of a hard worker, a hard life liver. Her history may have been as straight as an Arkansas row or as crooked as a California vine. I’m not sure. But in her small-talk I could hear hard-won desperation—the desire to be called good.
The two worked like brother and sister—one world-wise and weather beaten, the other naive and unworn. From time to time they giggled, but mostly they just dirtied their hands together. I watched them, both unsure exactly how deep to plant, how much soil was needed to cover the roots, whether or not to give a drink to freshly planted cabbage. We were all unskilled laborers, but laborers nonetheless.
Isaac knelt, placing a runt plant into a freshly dug hole. A leaf snapped as he covered the root-ball with burnt-brown earth. “Oh no, Daddy,” he said, paralyzed as if wondering whether he had stolen life from the runt. “It’s okay,” I said, pinching the leaf at the base of the stem. “Things heal.”
Lilly paused, mustering up deliberation. And with the soul of a Mississippi choir woman, she slowly lulled, “m-hmm.”