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Tag: lessons of the garden

holy ground


from Pope Francis’ encyclical, June 2015, quoting Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew:
“It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.”

in these hours when my heart feels hollowed, i find myself staring out windows, through panes of glass, into the garden, sweeping my eyes across the mostly fallow faded landscape. mostly, all i feel is empty. the thrum of a heart’s ache drowning out the usual song. but then, i fine-tune my attention, i look more closely. i am drawn out the door and into the rinse of springtime’s particular shade of sunlight.

it hurt, at first, to imagine this year’s garden absent its cheeriest animator, the old striped cat curled into his napping coil, occasionally opening an eye, giving chase to a robin, lumbering back to the spot where he crushes whatever nubs tried to grow beneath him.

but then i started to tiptoe down the bluestone walk. i plopped onto the stoop just beyond the kitchen door, beside the mailbox that holds all my garden tools. i looked for signs of life, of earth’s wintry crust breaking open, giving way, cleaving apart so the season’s first stirrings had room to trickle back to the surface, bursting forth.

more than any year in a long long time, this month of march has my fingers — and my heart — yearning to dig in the dirt. to brush away dried and shriveled grasses. to cut back stems and sticks that reach to nowhere. to nip and tuck and prune. to break apart the winter’s hard-pounded soil, to comb through clumps, sprinkle seeds, tuck in roots. to make way for the earth to bloom in the ways it so insistently blooms, hope-filled spring after long hard winter, again and again, year after year. no matter the pounding our hearts have taken.

it’s holy ground, the acres and acres that invite us in, to begin a close and careful examination. to witness the astonishments the earth offers up, offers forth.

IMG_7252and so, this Good Friday, this holy friday, i walk in silence, and i whisper the prayer of the earth once again unfurling in beauty. earth knows just how parched our soul might be in this the season of starting over again.

it’s the garden, the woodland, the gurgling of the winter’s thaw in the creek, these are the places that animate the coming back to life — of the earth, and the curled-up spirit within me. the one that just might find the courage to reach once again for the softness of springtime’s return.

i take to heart the words of dear pope francis, above quoting the patriarch bartholomew. i subscribe to the belief that God wrote the Book of Nature, and that each and every unfurling tendril, each and every bulb that shoots down roots and shoots up that periscope of green, each and every quivering of feather or leaf, it’s all here to whisper the presence of the Divine and Holy Wisdom. all we need do is plunk ourselves amid its quiet narrative, all we need do is pay attention, and the lessons and learnings will tumble upon us. breathe healing into our brokenness. breathe hope into our hollows. breathe, again and again, the story of resurrection, of life tiptoeing in to all the moments and places where we thought only death was left in the wake.

may this Good and holy Friday fill you with prayer. and with hope to wash away your deepest sorrow. should you prefer a more solemn meditation for this day of crucifixion, i offer this post from the past, the eloquence of silence.

how do you find hope in the shadow of your sorrow?


crouching-down season

crouching down season

for weeks now, i’ve been pausing at my kitchen window, gnawing my lip in gravest consternation, increasingly convinced that all that remained from the long hard winter was a bramble of hollow sticks and empty vines, all dead on arrival at springtime’s doorstep. it seemed their only occupation going forward, this drab tangle in shades of brown, without a hint of pulse, was to poke me in the eye, as i rambled by on my daily constitutional of hope and prayer.

i’d been examining. up close. all but fondling all the nubs and tips, an alchemist and dreamer’s feeble-hearted formula of massage + vesper = resurrection.

alas, morning after morning: blhhhk. nada. nothing. as if the once green-leafed darlings had packed their inner vigors and ditched the premises. (and who could blame them, really? why stick to land of ice and snow, when just a few time zones south, they might employ the verbs of growth: engorge. swell. unfurl. stretch out. pullulate. fructify. climb toward the sun.)

deep inside my heart, i waffled. part of me would not give up. part of me was certain that the weary sticks and naked vines had merely overslept the vernal alarm clock. snoozed straight through weeks one through three of april. but part of me worried: this might have been the winter that did them in, poor over-taxed citizens of middle-american landscape.

i’d begun to plan a mass funeral — shovel and compost bin, key attendants.

ah, but overnight, dear Lord in heaven, they’ve stirred. they’ve greened. they’ve surged beyond the confines of their sticky-ness and taken on the curves and frills of a season that begs you bend your knees, drop your bum, and crouch to down where the dew-drenched blades of grass tickle your behind, and leave you spotted when you rise, go about your ways, not minding what the neighbors think of your moistly speckled derriere.

and so, mad woman that i am when at last the pullulation comes, i can barely contain myself in the early morning’s light. i’m tumbling out the door before the coffee’s gurgled even once. i am drinking in the dawn’s overnight attractions. and in the cloak of morning silence you can all but hear the supple-throated sweethearts — the knobs of peony thrusting from the earth, the butterballs of daffodil shoving off the dirt, the tenderest furls of fern and forget-me-not lining up on stage — you can all but hear them warbling, “look at me, look at me. see how much i’ve grown!”

such show-offs, there in the loamy beds. but wouldn’t you? if you’d survived winds that howled like packs of wolves, and temperatures that flash-froze you into icy blocks of bulb?

and isn’t this, the turning of the season’s page, once again where we’re all but grabbed by the shoulders, and commanded to stand still, to look around, to absorb the lessons of the earth, the sky, and all that flutters in between? isn’t this when metaphor awaits, at the tip of every branch? when mama bird re-teaches patience, and diligence, just in case we’ve lost our place and need remedial tutoring in the truths of seasonal rebirthing?

it’s as if the Grand Designer of the spinning globe, the One who turns us on our axis, knows all too well our abbreviated attention spans, and how, every few months, the lesson plans must be pulled from the pile so we can stumble once again over Seasonal Wisdoms 101.

this year, with winter in third or fourth overtime, and spring in game delay, it seemed the lesson on the chalkboard, the one we were inking over and over in our college-ruled, spiral-bound notebooks, was the one that tested faith, the one that made us think long and hard about the fallow spells in our lives when we’ve lost all hope of growth or resurrection. when we’re down to our last fumes, and can’t for the life of us figure a way forward, toward the light behind the clouds.

so here’s the pop quiz: when, week after week, there is no sign of change, not a bare iota’s indication that something deep is stirring — in the earth or in our soul — shall we a.) give up all hope, pack our bags and wave the “i-surrender flag,” or b.) mumble words of flickering devotion, strap on our mukluks, and plop ourselves beneath the climbing hydrangea, certain of its — and our — eventual return to glory?

here’s a peek at the answer sheet:

crouching down climbing vine

and, just in case you need your seasonal wisdoms in living color, here’s what the heirloom hyacinth had to say about hope in the early hours of this morning:

crouching down hyacinths

spelled out in depths of delft blue, and perky furls of newborn green, the truth of course is this: rebirth will surely come, once the long hard work of winter’s deep-down concentration, and intricate re-distillation, is finally, finally utterly and messily complete.

and then the soul-filled springtime comes in gallops. you might get dizzy trying to drink it in.

what, pray tell, is unfolding in your vernal syllabus? or simply in your corner of the globe, where you crouch down to study springtime’s oft-repeated wisdoms?

because yesterday was “poem in your pocket” day, and because a friend i love sent me a poem of wisdom from meister eckhart, i happened to scroll to the bottom of the page, where i found this little morsel, apt for this meander about the slow-unfurling of the springtime….(and of course, eckhart is far more profound in 23 words than i could ever hope to be in nearly 900…)

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
— Anais Nin

requiem for the spring that will not be


i cannot let this heartbreak pass without taking time to sing a song of sorrow.

the petaled promise of spring, everywhere, it seems, is bent, is broken, downed by something silent that came under cloak of night, but also in the klieg light glare of high morning, when the sun, at full slant, could not make its way through molecules of cold.

i have walked for miles, i have taken toll. i know now the litany of the dead, the blooms that will not be. star magnolia, petals browned like egg whites under too much butter, too much flame. only this is brown from freezing. daffodils, whole hosts, bowed in cold defeat, heads down, limp in dirt that might as well be burial mounds. bergenia, a woodland beauty sometimes known as pigsqueak, has lost its squeal. exhibit a, up above; the barnyard must be weeping.

i know i am.

barely a week ago, when winds were filling lungs, getting ready to let loose, when the air was balmy 70, we heard the rather mild-mannered news, the short-burst alarm: temperatures might dip. take precaution.

precaution, we presumed, was tossing blankets helter skelter overnight. and lifting in the morning. the danger past, the sun back up, all caution scattered with the noonday wind.

but then, the cold, it stayed. the daffodils, days later, still haven’t raised their heads from deepest dying bow. the magnolia never had a chance. one day, its velvet fingers, gloved in alabaster. but then, the next, all froze, and kept on freezing. there will be no bloom this year. there will only be brown buds falling to the ground, botanic bullets shot through with frozen death.

promise lost before it even had a chance.

which sounds, to the children’s cancer nurse in me, too much like life sometimes. this narrative we know, not only from the garden.

all around, i walk through springtime frozen on the stem; i ask myself just what it means. what lesson is this teaching?

i called a man who knows many things about the garden. he said it’s death on case-by-case basis. depends, he said, on micro-climate. vigor of the plant before the cold winds came. says he’s never seen anything like it, not this much cold, this long, preceded by solar-heated days that coaxed the blooms, coaxed spring, right from the earth, from winter.

way he sees it, he says, it’s just a blip for planet earth. a mere blink of the eye for the globe that’s spun for zillions of millions of revolutions.

buck up, he pretty much says. these growing things grow here because, through the millennia, they’ve done the darwin thing. they’ve got little tricks up their long green sleeves. but there will be no blooms. toast, he boomed, time after time, no matter what i mentioned, full of hope, some growing thing, perhaps, merely suspended in freeze-frame animation.

toast, he cried. toast, toast. i could hear him shake his head; pity the poor lady with skull so thick she’s dense.

at best, the wise man offered, the growing things dig deep inside their little souls, extract a blast of carbohydrate, give it everything they’ve got to unfurl their leaves, take a chance at air and light and a good stiff drink of rain.

it’ll be an iffy proposition from here on out, this season. too little rain, too many pests–oh no, here comes his favorite word–“toast!” he crowed again.

scooching out to the edge of this most precarious limb, i asked the hard-baked gardener if he saw any metaphysics in all this burned botanic bread. “this is nature,” he said, shooing me away to take another call.

well, half the reason i come to class is i’m convinced there is much to learn in the not-so-tidy rows of my struggling garden.

as i tiptoed through the swath where my daffodils once tossed their pretty heads, scissors at the ready, at last surrendered to the notion that there would be no resurrection, i mused long and hard on all this would-not-be.

walking miles, shuffling past the dead and fallen, i rumbled thoughts through head. why death? why so much frozen death?

the singular thing that struck me was how this scourge rolled in without a sound, without a whimper even. this was not destruction with a drum roll, no whipping winds and thunder claps, nor streaks of light that tore the sky in jagged halves.

this was, like so much of life’s unwanted news, completely unannounced.

one minute you’re talking to your papa on the phone; the next you’ve got an operator on the line, interrupting some other silly call, telling you to clear the line, someone must get through, someone needs to tell you it’s very, very bad, you need to get there fast.

one minute you think your firstborn son is out riding his bike on a golden autumn day filled with light and promise; the next, the doctor is leaning against the hard cold wall, telling you it’s a fractured vertebrae in his neck and the spinal cord itself looks to be in trouble.

you think of all the friends you’ve loved, whose news came in fractured syllables: a dark spot on a lung, a blob they couldn’t see through, ’bout the size of a cotton ball, on an unsuspecting breast.

they never knew it was coming. you never knew it was coming. it was suddenly just here. it was the sub-freezing dawn in the middle of your spring.

you too, drooped your head into the dirt. you too forgot to breathe. case-by-case basis, the plant man said. some will make it. others won’t.

you, not willing to go with door no. 2, you dig down deep inside your carbohydrate stores. you give it everything you’ve got.

some will make it.

you swallow deep your sorrow, and plow on into spring. you pray to God warm winds are on their way.

just there, beyond the window, in the hoary morning’s frost, you set your gaze on daffodils, a humbled host, stilled, not breathing at half mast.

you, though, you take a breath. you brace against the chill. you carry on, intrepid, into spring. no one says it doesn’t sting. no one…

anyone care to offer up a line, or stanza, in this song of frozen springtime sorrow? or some sign of resurrection in the field?