Rod MacKenzie
Rod MacKenzie

Sacredness, antiphons and transplanting a lemon tree

A certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house…

 

The silence is all-consuming as I work with spade and hands. As if from far away, I hear my own breath deep in my body, deep in the caves of woodland braided with the smell of sea. Waves nearly splash on their shadows. I listen to the way I concentrate myself, pour myself into scooping out the earth around the candelabra of roots here on a kindly old man’s huge “property” in Mairangi Bay.

 

…and she had a sister called Mary who sat at His feet and listened.

 

My sweat blurs with the colour of leaves twinkling all around me. They are candles lit at a long table of deep, hushed hedges and walkways, leaves massed against the slopes and the blue blanket of piled ocean.

 

But Martha was distracted with much serving and she approached Him …

 

I sit and shove my hands deep into mud and clay, skin porous with sweat, the caves of pores listening to the silence, filling with silence. What can be more solemn than earth dug out, the exhumed grave I make filled with an eerie whispering, the glint of snail shells hidden like children’s playthings? The sucking clay wraps bony knuckles around the lemon tree roots I am so desperate not to tear. Otherwise, I murmur, when you’re re-planted you may die. God, I am speaking to you as if you were a living creature. You are.

 

…and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

 

Yes, as Eliot kind of wrote, everything does have the look of things that are looked at. They steadily eye you from a moment deeper than the place and time of the first seeds that fell to the earth, from a moment more hushed than their first death. If contemplated long enough, everything around me becomes bowed in service.

 

And He said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things…

 

I am not sitting. This is a half-squat and a half-kneel before the stunted dwarf of a lemon tree I have transplanted. There are far grander ones around here: stately chandeliers luminescent with yellow moons. It takes me a good while to realise the following. This mite, without lemons, with her gnarled, half-yellowing leaves, which nod and play in the breeze with no regard for her stunted shape, has asked me for the last half hour or more to be still. From the moment she came cradled up in my arms from her old home, she has nudged me into discovering she is sacred. That making a new, muddy, hollowed-out home smeared with manure and salt is sacred.

 

You look up. Or rather, the lemon tree lets you look up. Haze of salt rising from the blue. Seagulls arc and pour. The ocean laps against your mouth, laps against your face, teaching you with great care, with great love and patience, how it does not care.

 

….But one thing is needed. Mary has chosen this better portion and it shall not be taken from her.”

 

(Luke 10:38-42)

 

East Coast Bays, New Zealand

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