Today I am thinking of Toad.
You might not remember Toad. He was friends with Frog in Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books. Each book would feature several stories about Frog and Toad, and how they reflected on the various experiences of their lives in the woodland. Frog was easy-going, practical, and whimsical. Toad, on the other hand, was a literalist and a curmudgeon with a short attention span. Many of the stories revolve around Toad’s issues, and Frog’s attempts to help him resolve them.
The Garden is one of my favorites. Toad comes upon Frog tending his garden, which is full of enormous and wonderful flowers. Toad wishes he had such a garden, and Frog kindly provides Toad with seeds, and instructions on how to care for them. Toad returns home, plants the seeds, gives them water, and anxiously waits. Nothing immediately happens. Toad decides the seeds are afraid, and proceeds to sing, read poetry, stay up all night with a flashlight, and dance in an effort to coax them out of the ground as giant flowers, but to no avail. He returns to Frog to complain, and Frog explains that these things take time. Toad returns home and goes to bed, and awakens the next morning to green sprouts breaking through the earth, reaching toward the sun.
I am thinking about Toad, and I am thinking about time.
Our Contemporary Paganisms, as they grow and develop, are much like Toad’s garden. We dream of institutions, cultures, social acceptance, and social services growing vigorously from the soil of our Pagan beliefs and practices. Sometimes we become impatient, angry, even self-righteous, that these are not yet a part of our daily reality. But these gorgeous flowers have, in reality, only just begun to break the surface of the earth, passing from the fantasy of the underworld and emerging into the dayworld. All of us who have tended a garden know that each plant, although it has its innate notions of germination, growth, production, and reproduction, requires sunlight, water, air, and nutrition to grow strong and healthy. We may be deluded into thinking that only one person is required to tend this garden. We may have been told that only a select few have this privilege. I disagree. This large and varied garden of Contemporary Paganisms needs all of us to tend to it, to weed the rows, pick off the weevils, harvest the fruit, glean the fields, and compost the soil. There is work enough for each and every one of us in this cooperative effort. However, just as the garden requires time to grow, so the tenders require time to become experts at caring for the garden.
That is what we are aiming for at Cherry Hill Seminary: we put together coursework and teach individuals ways of tending the garden, which include tending one another. Fostering and growing the varieties of Contemporary Paganisms, taking our fantasies of society and culture, belief and practice into a sustainable future, is what this education is about. This human development takes time.
Frog initially informed Toad that there was work to be done when he gave him the seeds, but neglected to tell him how long it would take for germination and to bloom. Who is to say the additional creative work Toad undertook in the meantime—the dancing, singing, reciting of poems, and the light in the dark—was not an important component in the process of growing this garden? But time, that every important element, eventually passed, and the flowers nodded heavy on the stems.
Good work, Toad. Good work.