Holy ground

Gardens don’t hold grudges. That’s one of their nicest qualities. No matter how many weeks (or months) of neglect my backyard has endured, I always feel welcome when I put on the gloves and venture outside.

I was reminded of this one evening, after the dinner dishes were cleared up. Led by a sense of carpe diem, I escaped into the backyard. It had been a while; the ground was rife with weeds.

I’d bought some coleus and impatiens to plant, so I began raking up the molding leaves that covered the flowerbeds. Black beetles scuttled out as I disturbed their homes. The smell of soil filled my nose and the weeds uprooted themselves obligingly from the soft ground. The sun was almost gone, below the horizon.

I’d planned just to prepare the soil and then go inside, but I ended up planting all of the flowers. Even though it was getting hard to see, the peacefulness of the evening drew me in. I pinched the bottom of the crinkly plastic cartons and eased the small plants out carefully, afraid to break them at the stems. The tiny flowers looked vulnerable and insignificant. As I planted them a careful foot apart from each other, they made a very unspectacular display. But I knew that with weeding, water, and Miracle-Gro, it would just be a matter of time before they began elbowing their neighbors, a cheerful coexistence of blooms. As always when I work in the garden, I felt hopeful. At home. Grounded.

I’m hesitant to extrapolate a spiritual message from this experience. Gardening as a metaphor for faith is hardly original; any writer who makes that connection is treading on well-worn ground. But there’s a good reason for that. There’s such a profound, elemental connection between tending a garden and tending one’s spiritual life. After all, gardening is about encouraging the things that sustain and nurture life, and removing the things that don’t. That’s exactly what I try to do with my faith life: assess what brings me closer to God (daily prayer, gratitude, mindfulness) and find ways to do them more often.

The problem with such stock-taking, though, is that it takes effort, and it takes a quiet mind. I’m so busy juggling motherhood, marriage, teaching, writing, housework, and the occasional pursuit of exercise, that days can pass without any conscious spiritual reflection on my part. Every now and then, though, the craving for spiritual renewal hits me like a thunderbolt. Only then do I realize, with what feels like surprise, that I need some quiet time to help keep me blooming.

That’s why I stayed out in the yard that night, working even after the sun had gone down. Kneeling on the overgrown lawn, pressing soil around the tiny new plants, it felt like a benediction. I was praying without words, satisfying a hunger I hadn’t realized I’d had. And I was relearning a lesson I’ve learned thousands of times: every now and then, we all need to hit pause, breathe deeply, and return to what grounds us.

 This article first appeared in Catholic San Francisco.

3 Responses to Holy ground

  1. In the morning I pray and do a little spiritual reading before logging on to my computer. Today, being the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, found me taking in some thoughts about humility. It talked how Therese has followed God’s urging by pursuing her vocation in Carmel, and how humility was the underpinning of her life.

    Then I picked up a Merton book and the passage I random (random acts of Merton?! :-)) was about humility. I started to meditate on humility and suddenly I was transported. The smell of fecund rich soil entered my imagination, I thought of my hands in the dirt, digging, turning, planting, growing. All God’s work, but God used my hands on those days.

    Humility. Humilis in Latin, lowly, humble earth.

    If we are to bear fruit for God, we must be that lowly humble earth.

    So your words were a welcome sight as I contemplated my own inability to live this way most of the time. But those urgings, like the one you had and followed, are a spiritual message. Perhaps your humility caused you to hesitate turning it into such a message. But like with your planting into the night, God had other plans.

    Amen! (and thank you Ginny!)

  2. Fran, I read your comment this morning and wanted to give myself some time to process your gorgeous insights throughout the day. Thank you so much for sharing how my post dovetailed with your own spiritual reflection today. Those connections are so meaningful and the humility/earth link is something I didn’t know about — I can’t thank you enough for sharing it.

    Many blessings to you, on this special feast day and every day!

  3. My gardens have always held a grudge. My house plants, too! Must be my brown thumb, or generations of living in the SF fog. 🙂 But I love the analogy and your description is so lovely, I could almost smell the soil, feel the plants blooming, experience the quiet spiritual joy. Thanks!