Tending the Garden …

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… Of our Hearts

Reflections by two spiritual sisters who started gardening this summer and dedicated their allotments to Sts. Hilda and Melangell

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In every fruitful garden, there is a collab­oration between the Creator, Maker of all seeds, plants, soils and the gardener who has a specific role.  Genesis  2:15; “Then the Lord God took the man He formed and put him in the garden to tend and keep it”. Whether the gardener has the wisdom and awareness to understand or not, every little happening in his garden is the fruit of this blessed cooperation, in which all aspects are mystically interconnected giving life and purpose to each other.

Together, we have embarked on vari­ous gardening projects, and as we have learnt about the life of plants, through re­flection on many wonders and failures in nature, a clear parallel emerged between the life of a garden and spiritual life. Be­low, are just a few fruits born from these conversations.

The soil

The journey of growth begins in winter, with the preparation of the soil, which needs to be “made ready” to receive the seed, just as our souls need to be made ready to receive the Lord by weeding out, digging and enriching. It is a most sober­ing reflection that if you weed a patch of land with the greatest care and dig it over making it thus perfect for planting, but delay planting, the land will become overgrown with weeds in the blink of an eye. Similarly, if you ready yourself for the Lord by uprooting all your passions and destroying all evil propensities (if such a thing were possible), but delay in placing Christ therein, in planting the seed of the Holy Spirit, your soil will only become fertile ground for new, over­ grown passions. Secondly, as soon as you stop tending and watering your heavenly garden, it will begin to wither, giving space to weeds. Therefore, it is necessary to watch over the garden of our hearts carefully and to cultivate the good seed of virtue, letting it multiply on the prepared soil.

It is also a matter of wonder that the soil is enriched by adding into it decayed matter, like rotten leaves, discarded cut­ tings, manure. All things dead and rejec­ ted transform into nourishment for the soil. May we find the wisdom and know­ ledge to transform all of our rejected, failed plans and endeavours into a matter which will enrich the soil of our hearts. This reminds me of the first lesson in Physics and its heading: Matter does not appear nor disappear, it only transforms –as Christians we are called to transform by the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:3; “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind”.

 

The wonder of the seed

 

Germination is without a doubt the most wondrous stage (and my favourite) in gardening. It is similar to the birth of a child. From an infinitesimal seed, life bursts forth. The miracle of Creation is encompassed in the Parable of the mus­tard seed “which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs” (Matthew 13:31­32). We can only marvel at the fact that every tree was once a tiny seed, which you can hold between two fingers. Every germination is a small miracle because life itself is encased in a tiny, inconspicuous looking ball or speck, in this sense the Lord has made us par­takers and co­-creators of Creation.

If we look at our own lives, we can sometimes pinpoint the moment of germination. The seed of faith was planted in us at different times and in ways spe­cific to each of us: by a friend, a parent, a book or an experience. But often, it lies dormant in the soil of our being, until all elements are right for germination: tem­perature, light, humidity. And then, sud­denly, the tree of faith bursts forth out of the tiny seed. It is sadly too true that some seeds never germinate, but there is always hope. Take the case of the Mathu­ selah palm tree. During an archaeological excavation of a fortress in Masada, some seeds were found. After spending some years in a researcher’s drawer, one of the 2000-year-old seeds of a palm tree was germinated in 2005. This species of palm tree had been extinct in the area for hun­ dreds of years. Life had slept inside the tiny seed for 2000 years! The tree is now over 3 metres tall and produces dates.

Like all new life, germination holds the promise of beauty and perfection. Every time a new plant emerges from the soil, you can picture in your mind’s eye the beauty of its maturity.

 

The battle for growth

 

The stage of growth or the journey from newborn to maturity is the hardest part of gardening. It requires immense energy of the gardener to combat all threats to the plant (pests, disease,  competition  from weeds), to water, feed and protect

It is a matter of relentless watchful­ ness. It demands patience (in short sup­ ply in our garden) to watch the plant grow and also wisdom and faith in equal measure. The wisdom to accept the loss of plants to disease and pests, but the faith to carry on tending to the few little plants left. We see thus that gardening is a spiritual school. How many seeds of the Spirit have germinated in our souls only to die, prey to our bad habits, laziness or forgetfulness? Accepting the loss, rather than mourning over it, going to confes­sion and starting germination afresh in faith is an essential lesson for spiritual growth.

Some gardening techniques, which strengthen the plants and give them a better chance to survive are startlingly useful in our spiritual life. It all starts with grading, which involves discarding the seedlings which appear weak or dis­ eased and only leaving the strong,  healthy ones. We sometimes need to choose the best seedlings in our lives, and when they are old enough, we sometimes need to pinch the ends out. This pain in­ inflicted on young plants makes them grow stronger, with healthier roots, so that when the time comes to bring them out­ side into the cold and the wind, they can survive and reach maturity.

 

Bearing fruit

 

Finally, most people’s favourite part is when the crop is ready – the fruit of God’s labour through us. We can feast on the fruit of love and patience, gift it to others and give thanks to the Lord for the completion of our endeavours.

 

By Mary and Martha of gardening

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