Every Lent for the past six years I have gone off Facebook. It began the year I got married, with our wedding one week out from Easter, and was a powerful way for me to detox spiritually as I prepared for this new life. I found it so refreshing that I’ve actually looked forward to this Facebook detox every year since.
But this year I thought I would do something different. Having been more conflicted over the last twelve months about the power of social media for good or ill, I’ve decided to exercise a new discipline this year: to stay on social media during Lent, and commit to only being a positive voice. This means no doom-scrolling and no incessant checking for likes. Instead I’m going to do something I’m calling “Five Minutes for Lent”. What this means is that I’ll be posting a picture on Instagram from everyday life and a very short Lenten reflection related to the image, drawing on one of the three themes of Lent: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. I’m seeing it as a kind of daily soul maintenance, like the five minutes I might spend watering the garden, pulling up weeds or pruning. I might be thinking about something that needs pruning or uprooting, something that needs the nourishment of prayer, or a way that the fruits of my life’s garden should be used to bless others. I pray that, even if you are not someone who “does Lent”, you’ll tune in for five minutes of soul-keeping each day and be blessed by it.
But the five minutes has another meaning. I’m keeping myself to five minutes per day to write these reflections and five minutes posting and connecting on social media. To keep this to a minimum, I’m not going to post here: you can tune into @matthew.pullar at Instagram to find the reflections, and they’ll be reposted on Facebook. If you want to share a thought in response, please do so, but if your thought will take more than five minutes for me to respond, please share it via a direct message to The Consolations of Writing on Facebook, and I’ll be delighted to talk more with you that way.
Praying for you and your garden this Lent. Love Matt.
Meanwhile, pluck tomatoes ripe from the garden. Watch the quinces shed their fur, turn late-summer-yellow, and burst with promise while cockatoos eye them off. Check the peaches. See the opening flowers on the lemon tree. Cut the roses, deck the table. Water, plant and wait. Number days and count the joys and trust that tears shall cease.
Early evening, cool of day, we walk
in the garden to find
evergreen branches to weave a wreath of hope.
My son is distracted. Not tall enough to reach with me,
he stands to watch but soon
decides instead to help
pile the compost heap with grass.
Evergreen and humus: these symbols arrest
as I finish my gathering and crush
fallen leaves to settle the soil
where it sits and brews in ever-cycling growth.
The constant, the growing, the long slow wait of growth
all have their moment in our pining Advent days.
Plenteous winter rain left
the backyard a grassy forest
where mallow and clover ran riot
and kikuyu spread its runners wide.
The rhizomatic tangle, lush and unbeatable,
enfolded in itself a toddler’s trucks,
a sandpit shovel, a bouncy ball, a peg,
and I, bent on order yet at odds with nature,
push a feeble mower through the shin-high jungle,
and vainly seek a clearing
to untangle my mind.
A devout gardener, my eldest comes out here each day, to inspect, to water. Sometimes he waters the concrete, sometimes the soil. Most of it is sapped up by unseasonal sun, some soaks in. Butas we persist, he and I, we see this transformation, like a renewing mind: creeper grass stretching out green tendrils into a former wastelandand I am mindful to watch the miracle of creeping grace expanding where it is not seen.
I for one enjoy it:
the slow, steady bursting from soil,
those optimistic points of green poking sunward,
the outward spread of tiny tufts,
the promise of patience rewarded.
And so daily I take my little son outside
to see the garden, to “check on the grass”.
All moments are wonders to him, yet I
share the wonder of brown transformed to slow-filling lawn,
the chance that next summer he’ll have carpet for play here,
and I marvel that all our endurance pays off.
I am less inclined to love how stone turns to flesh,
fighting – as it must – against the moss and ivy surrounding it;
less inclined to delight in the decades that it takes
for internal soil to be tilled,
for pruning, manure, for all that needs patience
and costs me myself.
While I daily visit these microscopic green thoughts,
my own garden I have neglected.
Turn over the clumps of dirt; wait another year;
my stubborn tree must one day show fruit.
Hope deferred finds patience no virtue.
For now, where do we live?
These streets are made for walking:
quiet, reflective, built atop a hill where the cityscape
sinks beneath a thoughtful gaze.
No walls to be broken, no walls to repair;
watered gardens greet the roaming eye,
an expectant couple waits
at the edge of the evening street.
Fruit trees, plane trees, crickets in the night:
all of this is built for peace,
but never built to last.
The garden holds promises, and I visit them daily: minuscule at first, fluffy, unsure, like hesitant children, awaiting the world. This is not quite their season: the Rabbi knew as much, yet visited expectant nonetheless. And, as frost and dew recede, there they are, peeping and proffering garden-bound joy. Too early to pluck, too much promise curse. So I’ll visit them daily until they can sing.
There hasn’t been a lot going on at The Consolations of Writing for the past few weeks: partly because the busyness of life has conspired against my being able to write very much but also because after three and a half years of managing this site I’ve been in the process recently of rethinking what I use it for. I’m in the midst, when time allows, of an extended writing project centred around faith, mental health and the fragmentation of 21st century life. Some of it is on the down low, but some can be found at a new site I’m trialling, sprawlpoems.wordpress.com. And, as that site slowly takes on its own identity, this site seems to be returning to some of its old roots: the question of how writing can bridge the gap between faith and life.
It’s a question I have asked for a long time, both in my own writing and reflection. And now it has a new shape: a doctoral thesis I am in the throes of, around the links between creative writing and adolescent well-being in schools – a topic close to my heart as both a teacher and a writer. So the new question that I’m toying with is this: what does it look like in my own writing for me to be exploring this topic?
The answer is not yet clear, though some ideas are slowly circulating in my mind. I’ll still be posting poems here, though they may have a different flavour. You can also read the poems I post at Sprawl. But there will also be some new ideas and approaches that I’ll be trialling here in the coming weeks and months. I hope you can all join me in the process!