The First Job Each Morning.

By: Jen Shoop

Each morning, Mr. Magpie descends to his tiered garden beds, the August heat already swollen around him, the sun startlingly unremitting. I observe him nudging vines and tugging at weeds in quiet appraisal. Sometimes I capture him in an unaffected posture of reflection, a few paces back from the soil, his head cocked to the side. He will later divulge his assessments: “I think I’m going to move the basil plant” or “I’m contemplating getting rid of that raspberry bush” or even the daybreak beginnings of broader conversations about life, as though digging into the earth in mid-August heat invites these first yarns on the warp. But I hear of those lambent musings later. That sliver of golden morning sun is his. His separate peace. His centering before returning to the rush of air conditioning and clatter of breakfast plates and the tug of small hands at the hem of his shirt, when he presents me with his morning harvest: a palmful of delicate raspberries, an eggplant to cook for dinner, three or four squat tomatoes.

It dawned on me the other day, while watching him return from his morning errand, that there are many permutations of prayer. Or if “prayer” is too broad a reach for those who are practicing Christians — of mindfulness. C.S. Lewis wrote this:

“The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing.”

I see in my husband’s tender morning ministrations to the soil a man “letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing.” His ritual is, for me, a sunup call to prayer and a reminder of the spectacular multivalence of the physical world. I immediately think of Seamus Heaney, who, in his celebrated poem “Digging,” draws fibrous connections between what he would later call “the head’s center and its circumference” — that is, what is seen or heard on the outside and what is felt on the inside, and the reverberations between — while also reminding us of the gorgeous wideness of interpretation.

“Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.”

I read this and I watch my husband in his garden and I reflect on C.S. Lewis and I strain towards a more prayerful morning posture — and I see two souls oriented differently digging towards the same center.


+If you haven’t listened to Seamus Heaney read this poem, you must (<<there is a link to his reading here). I love so many of the inflections and intonations, but especially the resolve in the final line. I hadn’t interpreted that line as a reclamation, but it is, in his voice.

+A super weird poem I enjoyed revisiting recently.

+Some candid musings on using patois when something more accessible might do.

+What would you study if you could go back to school for a cost-free year of elective learning? (Comments are super interesting.)

+Strong memories of one of my father’s favorite pieces of music.

+Musings on being “good” or “bad” at prayer.

Shopping Break.

+I actually gasped when I saw this $228 bow-front dress in the brown/black combo — talk about a perfect fall wedding guest dress! SO CHIC. The color combo! Also love the red/pink.

+This $40 raincoat is so cute — love the striped lining!

+Super inexpensive pearl hoop earrings. Even more chic hoops here.

+Eyeing this dramatic top for fall…so unusual and interesting! Would look so amazing with jeans!

+Also very torn between investing in this statement SEA (bound to be a trend) or this $99 lookalike.

+These amazing flats remind me of a pair by Nicholas Kirkwood!

+Love this $35 striped tunic dress for a casual weekday look — would work with bump / postpartum.

+Chic, tailored fleece topper. Although don’t sleep on this $30 sherpa zip-up, which is still one of my favorite things ever. I love throwing it on after working out. So soft and warm! I have it in the teddy brown color.

+I’m sad I missed out on this fabulous Tory Burch puffer. (Currently on sale!)

+These suede sandals are uber chic.

+Recent Amazon finds.

+Into this mock-neck sweater in the white or La Double J-esque purple floral print.

+I still love a shacket moment, especially paired with polished footwear (i.e., Chanel flat, pointed-toe boot). This $50 style caught my eye in the camel or pastel blue.

+Also, this $55 quilted coat kind of reminds me of the Ganni we’re all eyeing.

+Love the borrowed-from-the-boys vibe of this classic navy blazer.

+Brides rejoice: this stunning white Zimmermann is now on sale.

+I feel like this houndstooth dress would be so chic layered over a crisp white button-down this fall.

+Recent Etsy finds! You all loved this post!

+This jute/burlap bag is SO chic!

+Under-$25 scores for little ones.

+Have always eyed these D’Ascoli caftans, and now they’re on sale!

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8 thoughts on “The First Job Each Morning.

  1. I just love this post. So beautiful! I especially love the Heaney poem and the one that Anna shared, too. <3

    Also love that Velvet sherpa jacket! Chic shape.


  2. I’m going to share a poem in a similar vein, which has always spoken to me as a Unitarian Universalist who feels closest to the divine while moving my body nature. It’s called “Morning in Zuni” by Elizabeth Tarbox:

    “I had quite forgotten how to pray so far from home, away from the sacristy of sea and shore, but then I watched a boy chopping wood. He swung his axe easily, slicing the pinon logs that were twisted and bent like the hieroglyphics of an ancient language. The slops behind the boy were buttered with sagebrush and sunrise, and his face was shining with morning chores. And for a few precious moments, I stood at his altar and caught the dimensions of his cathedral.”

  3. My favorite poem and poet! I grew up in Ireland and Seamus Heaney’s was mandatory in schools and for that I am so glad. His poetry and that poem in particular is so meaningful. Delighted to see it here and be reminded of it today.

    1. He is truly wonderful. I am forever in aw of the way he uses simple, earthy language that is simultaneously so rich, evocative, multi-valent. A wonder.


  4. beautifully written, reminds me of my dad who used his garden for prayer as well, tho we didn’t call it that…such joy (and peace) was derived. Enjoy your joint prayer time, and wonderful to recognize it as that.

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