Don Juan, a hedge, and slowing down

I came home from an overseas trip, to find a back hedge that looked like a monster overtaking my back patio.  Scraggly two-foot branches whipped back and forth even in the gentlest breeze, as if taunting me to hack them off.

Normally I hire a guy named Manny to clip the hedges with his gas-powered trimmer.  But this time, I knew that sunshine is the best antidote to jet lag. So I pulled out the manual clippers and did battle with the beast.

At first I hacked at the hedge with view of ending early, so I could relax on the patio with a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade and the latest Real Simple.  Then suddenly, a vision of Don Juan popped into my mind.

A patch of grass and a tin can lid

Don Juan was the gardener at the Food for the Hungry office in Bolivia when I worked there in the 1990s.  We had a beautiful little courtyard where we could eat lunch on nice days.  There was one patch of healthy grass, and bountiful roses as big as cabbages.  Roses loved the cool nights and sunny days in Bolivia’s capital city, and the liberal sprinkling of horse or sheep manure helped as well. 

We think of the title “Don” as reserved for mafia chieftains, but in Latin America, “Don” is simply a term of respect for an older man.  Don Juan was small and bent, and I always picture him in a gray wool chompa (sweater) and dark pants.  It seemed to me in my thirties that he was an octogenarian, but it may be that he was in his sixties and life had been hard.  

I had trouble talking to him.  I think he was hard of hearing and he had the milky stare of a man with cataracts. My Spanish grammar is quirky, so no doubt he had trouble understanding me.  Mostly, I watched him work while eating lunch outside.

I’ve never seen anyone cut grass like Don Juan. He shaved the grass. 

Instead of typical clippers, he wielded a round tin can lid cut in half, with the straight edge honed somehow to razor sharpness.  Don Juan would grab a small fist-full of grass and saw at it, ever so gently with the tin can lid. It sounded like the razor my stylist uses to thin out my hair. 

Ripriprip, move two inches over,

ripriprip, move two inches over,

ripriprip, move two inches over,

Repeat.

After a few hours, Don Juan created an exquisitely manicured patch of green heaven nestled in a cement-bound city.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

I’ve been re-reading Eugene Peterson’s classic A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  It’s a series of essays on the Psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120-134. My first copy of this precious book is battered and worn, and pre-dated Peterson’s publication of The Message. I came upon an updated version last year, now utilizing The Message translation. And at the end, there was a new epilogue by the author.

The original book was published in 1980 and, in Peterson’s elegant writing style, decried society’s increasing desire for fast answers and easy, cost-free spiritual growth.  My newer version, published in 2000, contains an epilogue that I decided to read before I started working through the essays on the Songs of Ascent.  

I think you can guess, that in the 20 years since the book’s initial publication, Peterson observed that our culture’s desire for the fast fix had only worsened.

Slow down

I’m vastly oversimplifying the book, so please check it out for yourself. I’ve read it for years, in the weeks before Easter, because it’s thought that Jewish people sang the Songs of Ascent as they entered Jerusalem for Passover.  Jesus and the disciples may have sung these Psalms too as they climbed the hill toward the holy city.

But the repeated message of the essays is, take time to understand how much God loves you, and what is plan is for your life.

Read God’s word.

Let it sink in.

Pray.

Repeat daily. 

Made me think I should live life that way not just when I’m doing a daily devotional, but also in other things I undertake. Slowly, carefully, thoughtfully.

Patio with plants and furniture surrounded by hedgeThe finished product.

I’m not just cutting a hedge. I’m creating a little piece of beauty alongside a public walking path that the whole community uses. My hedge is a haven for sparrows and small lizards that stay cool in its shade.

I took time to check the square on the edge of the hedge, and to create a more naturalistic curve to the top side that honors God’s original intent for this type of bush.

So I slowed down, in Don Juan’s memory.  And I started the next morning with some scripture and prayer. One foot in front of the other, ascending to whatever God has for me on this new day.

 

 

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