Chris Rice, who oversees our "little publisher that could," Cornerstone Press, along with those of us on the CSPress board, have all over the years tried to make each book from that Press a gem that will last. One of Cornerstone Press' understated gems is Professor of Literature (emeritus) Rolland Hein's Growing with My Garden: Thoughts on Tending the Soil and the Soul. A one-page feature on Professor Hein, his garden, and his book appeared today in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Cathleen Falsani, who wrote the Sun-Times piece, was a student of Hein's. As she pondered her own garden's beauty and meaning, he unexpectedly came to mind:
Gardening is an inherently hopeful endeavor. You put the seeds or the seedlings in the ground, water and watch, hoping that leaves will leaf, flowers will blossom, and fruit will appear, sometime in the future.
This got me thinking of one of my beloved college professors, Rolland Hein, now an emeritus professor of literature at Wheaton College. Hein was, to my mind, all tweed and Faulkner until one summer evening more years ago than I care to mention, when I saw the august professor dressed in a gardener's jump suit, wild-haired and sweating as he worked in his immense garden that abutted the yard of one of my roommate's parents' home in Wheaton.
I was shocked to see Hein in a setting so viscerally and dramatically different from an austere classroom at Blanchard Hall -- kind of like a third-grader who runs into her teacher at the supermarket. I was simultaneously kerfuffled and intrigued by Hein's agrarian alter ego.
Recently, I watched for a second or third time that marvelous film "The Constant Gardener," which had much more to do with justice than gardening, and thought of Hein, who wrote a lovely tome a few years ago called Growing With My Garden: Thoughts on Tending the Soil and the Soul.
The visit she then has with Rolland Hein cements further their commonality regarding gardening, and perhaps just as moving, the spiritual lives of at least two gardners. As Hein told her, "It not only soothes the spirit, it brings a sense of peace and satisfaction."
Hein's literary background comes into play when in Growing with My Garden he quotes from Frost, MacDonald (whom he's authored another book on), and others. But some of the best "lessons" need no explanation, such as this rumination on the gardener's plan vs. the garden's reality:
I have never planned a flower bed that did not in fact turn out differently from what I had intended. I have tried to imagine vividly what I wanted, calculated accurate measurements of the garden site, transferred them to drafting paper, and pasted colorful pictures clipped from nursery catalogs on duplicate sheets. (It is a pleasant way to pass dreary winter afternoons.) In the summer, however, after the plans have been carefully executed and the plants are all performing, the bed I look upon has a reality of its own, quite distinct from what I had thought it would be in the planning stage.
Admittedly, the bed is certainly better than if no plans had bee made, but its reality falls short of my expectations. What to do? I can have one of two responses: I can be dissatisfied and nurse my disappointment, or I can reconcile myself to reality and enjoy what is before me. The latter response is the only sensible one, and when I make it, I find my pleasure in the mystery of gardening is deepened. To be dissatisfied is not only to waste another season but also to nurture the dangerous exercise of preferring the images resident in the mind to the real flowers before me.
As one might expect from a professor whose positive form of Christian faith is, nonetheless, distinctly Christian, Hein finds more golden ore in this vein:
The discipline of committing something entirely to God and patiently waiting before Him for its resolution is one of the most difficult of the Christian life. One should do all one feels led to do, as though everything depended upon one's own efforts, yet at the same time commit in prayer the situation entirely to God, trusting as though everything depended upon His resolutions, as indeed it does. Then, be entirely satisfied with what comes to pass.
The book Growing with My Garden: Thoughts on Tending the Soil and Soul can be ordered from Cornerstone Press via the link. (Yes, Amazon and others also sell it, but [here comes the guilt trip] if you order from CSPress, you are aiding ministries of Jesus People USA which can really use the money.)
Rolland Hein also has two other Cornerstone Press books. The revised edition of The Harmony Within: The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald. And Christian Mythmakers (2nd Edition). The latter includes overviews of Dante, C. S. Lewis, MacDonald, Chesterton, Tolkien, Bunyan, L'Engle, Charles Williams, and Walter Wangerin. Both preceding links are for ordering online from Cornerstone Press.