My Dearest Hemlock,
Ahh, thank you so much for the mind-numbingly lengthy exposition on your choice of name—fascinating! You’re cute. So hemlock is poisonous, is it? So it has a long history of contribution to human death, does it?
That’s all very well. But, darling, do back up a bit. Don’t you get a rather sick feeling when you stare too long at horticulture? If you don’t, you don’t understand it for what it is. For my part, the nasty overgrown physical world can never be contemplated without disgust and irritation. I try to stay out of the whole business. Even the poisons are entirely too much physicality for me; growth and greenery never did a spirit any good. Smells, seeds, fertilizations, rains, roots, leaves, fruit… how can you bear to look at them, think of them, name them? And to name yourself for anything in such a terrarious world… ugh, well. But to each his own…
Which puts me in mind—are you entirely serious in your blithe admittance that your girl has gotten into gardening? How cheerfully you tell me about her “harmless” new employment! And then the chirpy comment about how “Our Father below, after all, was a gardener”!
I assume you’re referencing the Enemy’s own story about the wheat and tares—what else could you possibly be talking about? And if so, my dear Hemlock! Can you be serious? You imagine that in gardening she’s somehow doing our Father’s work—what exactly do you think she’s putting in the ground? Weeds?? You forget there were TWO gardeners in the story, and our girl is categorically NOT involving herself in our Father’s work when she kneels in the garden.
Have you ever SEEN a tomato????
Hemlock! I’m surprised at you, even someone with your particular sort of intellect should not have misunderstood something so obvious. Does not the sight of a sugar snap pea, hanging on the vine near its blossoming brethren, fill you with a vague sense of horror and foreboding? This should have been hint enough.
Perhaps you’ve imagined up sins, as yet undiscovered by the whole race of tempters, to be found while she’s sorting through the dirt—well, sure, she could spend her time there in a host of ways. Nursing a grievance, for instance. Perhaps there’s a fight she could plan out while she’s down there.
But on the whole, the act of raising up something, of nurturing and feeding and protecting it—this is absolutely the Enemy’s sort of thing. It reeks of the Enemy. And when she plucks the weeds up, fights back the encroachment of pestilence and pest, marvels at the addition of new leaves not of her making, new behavior on the part of the plants that she can’t help but notice were not designed by herself—what exactly do you think will be happening in her disgusting little human soul? Despair?? Self-absorption? Indolence? How exactly do you propose to produce any of the cardinal vices in the black dirt of her garden?
No, you have given her over to her humanity, in the worst sense; you have allowed her to enter HIS domain for perhaps half an hour each day, and you’ve done it without a struggle.
Only you could manage such a colossal misunderstanding of everything I said in my last letter. I was only scarcely able to follow you in your logic—let me see if I have it right. You seem to believe that because the human “loses track” of time in her garden, you were in some way stealing that time from her!
Clearly I’ll have to spell it out for you. The kind of time theft I encouraged you to practice with screens has almost nothing in common with the passing of time she may experience in the garden (or, in fact, in many other despicably simple and yet dangerous activities—reading a book, learning a song, making love to her husband, cooking a meal, sweeping a floor, or sitting quietly on her front porch). This is the difference between time going by under her feet like an easy and refreshing stretch of the road—and her leaving time altogether. What she calls “losing track of time” is nearly the opposite of the soul-sucking thing you want to do with her pocket mirror. You want her to float unconsciously above time, to be giving time to her pocket mirror against her will or better judgement, even without her awareness; you want the time to simply disappear into the ether, over and over and over, and leave her without refreshment, healthy fatigue, or new knowledge.
But gardening does none of that. Gardening will cause an hour to ease by—because it’s work for her mind and body both, and because it’s pleasurable—but that time is time that she will be utterly present for. She will not LOSE the time at all. You will not have stolen anything. She will come to the end of that time with a full awareness of where she has walked; but her soul will be MORE ready for the next stretch of road, not less.
Never forget, for all my talk about the Enemy being outside of time, that the Son Enemy actually submitted himself to dwell inside time alongside the creatures. What does this tell you? He showed them, in his own pitiful submission to walk along the road one foot after another, that it was possible to walk time without sin. He spent many moments doing things like sleeping, eating, laughing, crying, working on a piece of wood, bathing, praying, and getting dressed. He showed them the nasty connection between physical and spiritual life. Our aim is to disconnect the two wherever possible; deny the one or deny the other in order to become strangers to themselves in their humanity, and more importantly, strangers to the Son Enemy in his. We want them to jerk their way along, seeking escape wherever they can, cursing the steps and avoiding the disciplines, belittling the common activities that aren’t directly related to spiritual things, and eventually denying the value of both.
See, you’ve missed the point entirely.
And don’t think for a moment your girl can spend any time gardening these days without a pleasant, glowy awareness of the human vermin growing in her belly. Yes, I’ve heard all about it. So she’s got knocked up by the man, has she?
Well, let me tell you, this is bad news for you in the same way the gardening is bad. Growing a baby and growing a tomato are not totally unlike, for her. She knows she’s somehow involved in both processes. She was there when the baby was conceived—a pleasure she participated in, no less!—just as she was there to put the tomato seed into a little tray. But beyond that, she is a strange combination of spectator and participant.
In both, she feels herself to be a witness to miracles. At the moment, she sees the world as both grittily natural and blessedly supernatural. It’s natural because she can see and feel what led to it. But it’s supernatural because she can neither see nor hardly imagine the building blocks of new life. The new life inside her is both contained by her body and totally beyond her comprehension. As far as she’s concerned, it’s magic. It’s growing, and someday it will speak and think and act, and she will have carried it inside herself. But still she’s only a vessel, like the dirt she’s playing around in.
So here you have a really deplorable situation in which her mind is being drawn back to HIM all the time, every time there’s another ghastly fluttering inside her, or another wave of sickness, every time another leaf buds. She is absolutely alight with the awareness.
You sit, looking on like a kindly grandmother, as the beasts mate and mess about with seeds and watch like children in wonder—what exactly do you think all this leads to? Nothing short of joy, imbecile. And all because of this horrible, dirty, fleshful ACTIVITY the enemy is constantly involved in! And to add insult to injury, now we have another tomato! Another human! Where does all of his get-up-and-go come from, really? What is it about him that simply insists on excessive, wasteful displays of this kind? Does he do it simply to taunt us?
I have no doubt of his malicious enjoyment in our discomfort.
Keep your head on straight, “Hemlock,”
Catch up on the Hemlock Letters:
Letter 1: On Women
Letter 2: On Marrying Up
Letter 3: On Stopping Prayer
Letter 4: On Confessing Her Sin
Letter 5: On Female Friendship
Letter 6: Why Use Drugs When We Have the Internet