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In a Garden in our Spiritual Journey.

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

“Earth is crammed with Heaven. And every bush aflame with God. But only those who see take off their shoes.” (E.B. Browning)

“Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of the earth’s greenings. Now, think.” (Hildegard of Bingen)

As we walk around and see, see as Browning comments in the quote above, see that all around us is holy ground, as we walk knowing that all this around us is God’s garden, perhaps it opens for us a chance to pause on our spiritual journey and like Rebindranath Tagore we too can say “Silence, my soul. These trees are prayers.”

I love gardening, and the quiet pondering that is part of the activity. It often becomes a doorway into my own spiritual life. It is in the ordinary things that we do that give us a way of touching God. In the garden, the pulling of weeds, the pruning of branches, the digging of the dirt, the planting of the seeds, the watering and the waiting and the watching as things begin to grow – all this connects us powerfully to the land, to the earth, to ourselves and to God.

Do we stop long enough to begin to understand that we need a spirituality that places God in every atom of the earth, in all of creation. It means that we are in pain whenever any portion of our earth is damaged or destroyed. Climate change, and the crisis of our vulnerable world, has risen to one of our most serious issues today. One by one the voices of the earth are falling silent. Massive forests once cleaned the air, breathing for the earth. Now landslides, floods, erosion and global warming show how deeply humans have wounded the lungs of the earth. It is hard not to despair.

And yet working in the garden teaches us about hope. In one of George Manly Hopkins poems about spring he writes: “Nothing is so beautiful as spring’. And he calls it ‘all this juice and all this joy’ as he celebrates energy in the natural world. It is at the heart of some of the lovely poetry in the Bible in Song of Songs (2:10-12). “Arise, my love, my fair one and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come …” It is as if this energy, this hope, is embedded in the chaos that we create. It is what dwells in the midst of any despair that we might feel.

I believe that God lurks in the garden, and that if God lurks in the garden then God lurks everywhere! In the garden, God once walked with Adam, as Jesus God took on the role of the gardener who intervened to protect the fig tree that did not flower, and at the empty tomb a startled Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus as God for the gardener. Of the many instances like these in scripture, it is this last image (John 20:11-18) that I have always found in the gospel according to St John’s account particularly and personally moving.

Mary Magdalene stands in the place of grieving, lonely, confused – her struggle is the same one we all face in the midst of troubling politics, war and brutality, confusion, grieving and desolation. We, like her, are looking for God, trying to find the seemingly absent God in the midst of all this. And like many of us, she looks in all the wrong places. The Song of Songs 3:1-2 is her quest, and it is my quest:

“I sought him who my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not.
I called him, but he gave no answer.
I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but found him not.”

And in the midst of this emptiness, in the silence of aloneness and desolation, as she cries out “just tell me where you have put him”, she hears her name. This is so important – God calls our name, God calls my name “Doreen” – in the calling of her name, my name, our name there is the tenderness of God’s love and the power of God’s love, waiting to brush aside all the emptiness and desolation and confusion. Here we know and we remember the words “I am with you always” – even when we never suspected. It is as if we hear the voice saying “You don’t need to cling to me so tight, I will always be around. I have made my home in your heart, and not only your heart, but everyone’s.”

This is the promise of hope we find in the garden. And when we have found him whom my soul loves we can conclude with the Song of Songs (3:4) “When I found him whom my soul loves, I held him and would not let him go.” Like Mary, you and I now are given the opportunity to take on this generous task of living out this hope. We need such generous gifts today. God has honoured all of us with what we experience in the garden, the vocation of creation. If we desire a green and juicy spirituality, the well must always be replenished by the living waters of scripture, prayer and reflection, and a contemplative, pondering presence to the living gospel around us. God lurks in the garden and God lurks everywhere waiting to be found.

I end this reflection sharing a song Elvis Presley sang, one of Austin Miles songs called “I Come to the Garden“:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known

He speaks and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing

And He walks with me
And He talks with me
And He tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known