“But on a well-banked plot Odysseus found his father in solitude
Spading the earth around a young fruit tree.”
Homer, Odyssey

It is one of the most powerful images of Greek literature. An old man is tilling the soil around a young tree. Most likely he will never see the fruit of this tree, and so in some sense neither will he see the fruit of his work.

Yet he still sows seeds, and tills the earth.

Working the earth can uniquely mirror, reveal, and instantiate the profound richness of truly human work—that is ultimately a cultivation of the fullness of human life.

Real human life is a masterpiece beyond compare. It requires the work of cultivating many things—from seeds in the earth, to contexts in the household, to dispositions in the soul.

Sometimes the work of sowing and cultivating is a delight, while sometimes it is a chore that wearies, weakens, and discourages. It calls for faith—in things we simply don’t understand, for hope—of things that yet can be, later, and for love: love for persons whose flourishing gives meaning and purpose to it all.

Yesterday I was pulling weeds and preparing soil in my overgrown, sunbaked garden. It is time to plant fall greens. As I was doing so I got to thinking. Even in an annual garden, one day I will likely sow seeds the fruit of which I will not live to see and to harvest.

Surely there is a grace in this. It can focus my attention on an astounding gift: to have the opportunity to labor as an exercise of faith, and of hope and of love, even when the fruit is dubious and hidden from sight. Perhaps the notion, nay the reality of the fruit of labor is itself richer and wider than I have realized.

Homer (8th century B.C.) is the great epic poet, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

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