On Fields

How much dirt does it take to make a field? 

The container garden on my balcony held several pots of dirt. When the pandemic came and constricted our lives in so many ways, that small apartment became the scope of my days. This was extended only a little by bike rides on a nearby trail, grocery trips, and whatever social connections my unstable internet allowed. Compared to the global scale of a pandemic, my bit of earth felt small. 

I focused on little things, like tending my balcony garden. I needed something I had the power to care for

, a little space out of which I could coax some color and beauty. The two potted strawberry plants bore no fruit that year, but I didn’t expect them to. I could no more expect strawberry plants to produce in the upheaval of planting than I could expect human beings to flourish in the upheaval of a pandemic. I felt kinship with their barrenness. When the time came, I cut back the strawberry plants to winter over. 

I read the book of Jeremiah with a new love. Jailed for his prophecies, his nation under siege, he buys a field from his cousin. It seems unlikely in these circumstances Jeremiah will ever have need of the field, and yet he signs the deed, pays his cousin, and declares, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” He purchases the field as a sign: life will once again be lived there.

I thought of Jeremiah’s field when, one snowy day in March, I glanced down at the stump of a strawberry plant and saw a small green shoot reaching for the sky. Perhaps in that small gathering of pots and dirt I’d found more than I expected. Perhaps I’d found a sign that life will once again thrive.

This essay originally appeared in the “Field: Essays by Readers” section (essay #2) of the December 7, 2022 issue of The Christian Century.

Author: Callie J. Smith

Callie J. Smith is novelist and spirituality writer. She's ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

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