Gardening

The Risen Christ as the Gardener encountering Mary Magdalene by Abraham Janssens. Taken from blogspot.com

I love to garden, though it has been years since I’ve made the time to do it right.

I love being outdoors. It opens my soul wide.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are marked by an almost myopic fascination with the natural world. My dad says I would sit motionless in front of an ant hill for lengthy periods of time when I was 4 or 5 years old. I can still vividly recall the throbbing joy I would feel smelling the sweet scent of those hot pink Spring azaleas, watching the bumble bees dart from blossom to blossom siphoning out nectar with frantic excitement.

I also remember regularly stealing away from home into a small patch of dense woods near our house, thrilled at the prospect of hiding away in secret solitude. No one knew I was there, and all around me, like wild Cathedral, was a universe teeming with mystery and meaning. Very many times, as I say on an old stone fence beneath the leafy canopy, I sensed a warm and joyful presence that seemed to emanate harmony from the unruly tangle of sights, sounds and smells. It was my first intuition of the meaning of sacrament, as God seeped into my soul gently through His creation. Here is a terribly blurry picture of an old photo of the woods near my childhood house:

Woods

Samuel Taylor Coleridge gives voice to this world I loved:

So will I build my altar in the fields,
And the blue sky my fretted dome shall be,
And the sweet fragrance that the wild flower yields
Shall be the incense I will yield to thee.

Humanity is born in love with nature. We were made by God to be gardeners. Pope St. John XXIII said in his Journal of a Soul,

We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to tend a blooming garden full of life.

The natural world, whether it be the cultivated garden or the wild meadow, enriches our capacity to imagine beauty. The kaleidoscope of colors, textures, tastes and fragrances overwhelms and uplifts the soul. Nature is awash in the lovely splendors of Paradise, suspended between the first beauty God once sang into being “in the beginning” and the second beauty that sprang new from the Garden Tomb. A radiant beauty, a fragile splendor, a terrible beauty etched by cycles of death and rebirth. A paschal beauty.

“The Cross as the Tree of Life,” Pacino di Bonaguida, 14th century. nd.edu

The liber naturae, “book of nature” is itself a divinely inspired scripture, an iconostasis leaking rumors of a Kingdom come.

I love to think of theology as a blooming garden of language. Good theology is always beautiful theology, bearing the grammar and syntax of sacrificial love. The Cross is the highest form of beauty. Theologians think and pray amid Gardens: Eden, Gethsemane, Golgotha, Paradise. They are invited by the Spirit to inhabit the Risen Gardener (John 20:15), the human imagination of God, opening their minds to the rioting colors and fragrances, textures and tastes and sounds that eternally overflow the realms of nature and grace and water the world’s parched deserts.

Beauty never exists for its own sake. Like the flower that yearns to conceive and bear edible fruit, beauty is life giving.

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.
– T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday, 1930

Gardens are encoded by law of the gift. Plants sink their hungry roots in fertile soil, spout leaves to drink in the sun’s light and offer these gifts received as gifts given. They transform what they receive into medicinal leaves, lovely flowers and nourishing fruits. Such generosity! And the fruits eaten contain the seeds of new life, born again only after they die.

I think now of bread. An unspeakably selfless gift. Wheat wholly renouncing its own life to give life. Harvested, winnowed, crushed, kneaded, baked in fire only to rise again as food for man. A gift total, absolute, an entire existence expended for the life of the world.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh (John 6:51).

O selfless wheat, you are nature’s High sacrament of God, mystic sign of our Creator-become-Bread, crushed for the life of the world. O Christ, you are the Wheat of God given as food to us, the ones who crushed you.

Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His Word to Flesh He turns. — St. Thomas Aquinas

God is Bread = God is love. God is food, a feeding God. Transubstantiated by the Spirit into Christ in His act of self-sacrificing love: “This is my Body which will be given up for you…” Dangerous food to eat.

Behold what you are, become what you receive. — St. Augustine

Consent to Christ’s gardening in you, to make your life yield super-abundant fruits. Charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, chastity. These fruits of the Spirit are born in us to nourish others. My joy is joyless if it is not for you, is not your joy as well.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. — Romans 12:15

I remember years ago one of my daughters asked me, “Daddy, are you happy?” I said, “Yes, of course. Why do you ask?” They said, “When you’re happy, I feel safe.”

That made me desire happiness with a passion. If my happiness were only for me, how dead it would be.

Thank you, God, for gardens.

Let every Christian be a gardener so that he and she and the whole of creation, which groans in expectation of the Spirit’s final harvest, may inherit Paradise. If we Christian’s truly treasure the hope that one day we, like Adam and the penitent thief, will walk alongside the One who caused even the dead wood of the Cross to blossom with flowers, then we must also imitate the Master’s art and make the desolate earth grow green. — Vigen Guroian

10 comments on “Gardening

  1. queenie says:

    Love this. As a theologian AND a gardener. . . . Been doing battle with voles and deer lately. Will ponder that today as we unveil the latest attempt to deer- and vole-proof the beans. Many thanks.

  2. Dismas Dancing says:

    What magnificent metaphors, brother Tom! My Dad absolutely loved his gardens, tending them with love, affection, and sweaty toil. He could grow anything (a gift I, unfortunately, have not inherited). Because we needed to grow vegetables for sustenance and barter, keep chickens on hand for the same reasons, we (all of the children) had certain chores wherein each of us had a wonderful opportunity to learn much, not only about how to tend God’s gifts, but also about a man many still revere to this day for his huge “heart” and the kindness he offered everyone with whom he came in contact. From him, both the good and the beautiful were excellent gifts that never appeared to be in short supply (much like the widow’s oil and flour provided to Elijah). Your beautiful piece brought to my mind many sweet memories of a man I am privileged to call “Abba”, Daddy! I miss him much and pray that Our Lord will allow me to be like him in the cultivation of all that is good and beautiful in the garden patch in which He has placed me. I pray that I might “bear much fruit”, as did my Dad.

    Thanks, again, sir! May the good and beatiful surround you this day and always.

    DD

  3. Kathy Grobe says:

    Dear Friend: pardon me for being confused, but exactly which Pope John is the Good Pope John to whom you’re referring?

  4. Ona says:

    “I would regularly steal away into a small patch of dense woods near our house, thrilled at the prospect of hiding away in secret solitude. There, very many times, I sensed a warm and joyful presence that seemed to emanate (for lack of a better word) harmony from the otherwise unruly tangle of sights, sounds and smells. I am convinced now it was God I intuited.” – How neat to read this. I had the same inclination, and a particular spot among some boulders near a pond that was a favorite at one point. Only decades later – when God’s presence in my life had turned intense – did I wake up one morning in the vivid memory of that pond and realize that I must indeed been seeking and having moments of communion with God there, even if I didn’t have any context or words for it at the time.

  5. WoopieCushion says:

    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/mullarkey/2015/01/francis-political-illusion
    Judging by this beautiful post I imagine you are in closer communion of mind and heart with Pope Francis than the above author with regards to his future encyclical on the environment. Thank you for the anchor as we prepare for another polarized storm ahead.

    • Such an association thrills me, WC. Of course, creation is not at root a political problem but a terrible-fearful gift given by God for us to steward for the good of all, to His glory and for future generations to do the same. Sinful politics and economics cannot destroy creation itself, but it can render creation death-dealing for man and not life-giving. Hosea 4:2ff
      Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel;
      for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
      There is no faithfulness or kindness,
      and no knowledge of God in the land;
      there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery;
      they break all bounds and murder follows murder.
      Therefore the land mourns,
      and all who dwell in it languish,
      and also the beasts of the field,
      and the birds of the air;
      and even the fish of the sea are taken away.

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