When I was younger, Orpheus was my jam. Even then, as a heathen child in the midst of a secular educational system, I recognized the deeper story Orpheus was pointing towards. There in my 10th grade English class, dutifully deconstructing Greek and Roman myths into their lowest common denominator, I could smell the otherwordly on the pages of my Houghton Mifflin textbook. There in the back corner of Mrs. Goosey’s 5th hour class, I heard the story of Orpheus the lover, and the crust of ages fell away and I was there, earnestly wooing my beloved even under the deepest parts of the sleepy earth.
It’s a pattern I find myself bemusedly repeating every winter, now that I’ve moved to this farm. I’m no longer 14 years old, Mrs. Goosey is probably long gone, but the visceral pull of Orpheus’ tale still looms so heavily in the course of my year. For me, the journey begins in mid February, when I warily step into the wreck of my basement, full of junk and cobwebs and general chaos. It’s up to me to tame this ruin, to organize tables and shelves and stores of seeds. It’s up to me to smooth soil into trays, to coax seeds into soft darkness, to provide water and light and heat. Through it all, I always feel like Orpheus, going down into the dark to find my love, and to sing her into life with the force of my faith.
So many times I find myself making the sign of the Cross over various future plants, asking God to spare just a tiny fraction of His grace for my flats of 50s and 72s. The basement of my house becomes a cloister, humming with the energy of prayers and toil. Water is carried, soil is transported, seeds are planted and prayed over. In the tradition of sweet Orpheus, I even have a sacred playlist that I only listen to when I’m dealing with the growth of the upcoming year.
But unlike Orpheus, I know my fatal flaw. I know that I am likely to have my faith waver and to be tempted to look behind me, to check up on God’s progress. And with that knowledge comes fortitude. After the drought of last summer, which burnt up my crops and left my fields hard and barren, I know that the temptation, the sensible thing, would be to eliminate God from the equation and focus on the science, the weather forecasts, the certitude of modern life. But I resolve to embrace the illogical aspects of Christianity, to make friends with the things that would otherwise convince you to take a long look behind, to see what’s following you in an effort the shake it and run free.
As I see it, droughts and floods and the like will come and go, and come late winter, there in the greenhouse basement I’ve cobbled together, I have a choice laid before me- a choice laid before so many generations- will I step out and forward in faith, trusting in a good and gracious God, or will I waver, furtively looking behind me to see if the Divine has my back, like my doomed boy Orpheus did?