Embroider the Earth with Prayer

Image morgeufile.com

I stooped at the waist to pull a few weeds. A twinge in my back caused me to stagger a bit so I lowered to kneeling and moved closer the flowers—a familiar intimacy.

The rose next to me was Tuscany, a maroon heirloom rose, its richly perfumed center was fluffy with gold pollen. The base of the dark velvety petals were tipped with white where the keel connected to the calyx. It gave the illusion of light radiating from its center. ‘Tuscany Superb’ is a polite shrub rose that remains relatively compact, at about four feet high and wide, and its stems are covered in hairy prickles rather than the usual woody thorns.

I worked my way a little farther down the garden bed, scooching along to where the Oriental lilies ‘Pink Pearl’ grew. The oversized anther pads floated on fine pale green filaments above the white edged petals. A humming bird zoomed in, took a couple quick sips from the lily’s trumpet and darted off.

The roses and the lilies, the fragrances known in July, rustled enough of me into the moment that the anxieties of the past few weeks eased.

I had been nearly consumed by worries, what were perceived as potential threats. A ghost from decades ago had returned to haunt ,and fear bit hard like a hungry dog on grizzled bone.

I’d become terribly upset and thrown off balance, losing the comfortable peace so well known in my days. I attempted to regain perspective through regimented worship: intercessory praying, rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, Mass and Adoration. Tentatively I reached out for prayer and shared the situation with a group of peers. They acknowledged my fears and began their own intercessions on my behalf.

In all this, it wasn’t until I lowered myself to the ground did the tension seep away.

To kneel on soil—instead of on padded wood—is to join oneself intimately with the Creator, to lean into, and on to, God. To arch the back and offer ones hands to toil with joy or tears, distract, alone, loved or not is to embroider the earth with prayer.

We are placed upon this sod of love spared from the Garden of Eden. For as low as our lives are from the heavens, we are, always, the humus of the earth—from it and to it, nourished and nourishing, full circle in the created affections of God. We scratch upon it. And not all scratching is fruitful and not all seeding sprouts.

It is the effort to draw closer to God that brings us to our knees. And every prayer waters the ground that rears us to our sainthood.


Hope Filled Art of Pruning

Image by Travis Juriga, property of Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

I love to prune. It’s like art to me, a hope filled art. Each cut is intended to produce either a directional growth, to form and shape hardwoods for beauty, or to enhance the bearing of fruit.

Sometimes with ornamental trees a whole section of limb that rubs against another will need to be removed, allowing the stronger limb to develop more fully. At other times the interior has become so cluttered with unnecessary branches that they block the light from reaching deep inside. More often if pruning has been done regularly, it is a simple nip here or there to keep things growing as they should.

When doing light pruning I look at the bud that would be just behind the cut and estimate its future growth pattern. Will it grow backwards and into the interior? Does it face out and up toward the sun? I imagine and calculate the plant’s development before daring to trim it back. 

I like to get an overall view of the condition and shape of a tree as I work. On more than one occasion the Groundskeeper at the retreat center has lovingly chided me as I repeatedly circled my object of renovation. Maybe I do take too seriously the ramifications of my pruning efforts. But like other things in my life, I do not want to throw things off balance through carelessness or haste.

For over three hours I contemplated being pruned as I pruned or, of being cut to the ground and starting anew. As I have done, so God too rings-me-round, looking to balance growth. My interior life had become overcrowded with things of this world hampering the light of God from shining in where needed. Other things needed to be completely removed so there would be more productive fruitfulness.

Drawing closer to God as I worked, I learn that in His pruning he too wants beneficial maturing, purposefully directed.


Scent of Heaven

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Next to the south wall of the screened porch is a small stand of Liliaceae ‘Golden Splendour’.  They are one of the few flowers remaining from last summer’s dig-out, when, because of arthritis, nearly all of my gardens were removed. This trumpet lily cultivar was introduced in 1957. It is tall—at nearly six feet—and the highly fragrant flowers are 7-10” long. It has been one of the pride and joys of my garden since it was planted in 1989. Twenty years ago a friend had taken a photo of me—standing proud at 5’ tall—beneath the canopy of blooms.

For about three weeks the racemes of trumpets slowly open from bottom to top, and the nectar furrows explode with scent. There is no mistaking it, as when the lilacs bloom, all the yard is perfumed.

When the air is still and humidity high the sweet aroma hangs dense. Through a few summer nights and early mornings I deeply inhale the sweetness and breathe my soul back into me. Like the scent of coming rain, it is a spiritual memory, an essence of God that awakens our sleeping hearts.

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

When we become aware of a fragrance in the garden we follow our nose. Gently wagging our heads we find the direction and move towards the source. We seek from the air the origin of our delight.

The delight of the soul is sought in much the same way. We pick up the spiritual fragrance of peace and our souls move towards the source until we breathe deep the sweetness of Holy Love. And we remember—a brief return to Paradise.


The Watson Chronicles, by Ann Margaret Lewis, A Book Review

I’ve lived a sheltered life in some ways. I had never read anything Sherlockian until I was nearly 60. And then Ann Margaret Lewis happened.

Her first book, Murder in the Vatican, drew me in. I was eager for her second book, The Watson Chronicles: A Sherlock Holmes Novel in Stories, to be released—and was duly rewarded for my wait.

The first night I had the book, I laughed and gasped until 3 a.m. Over the next couple of days, I fell behind on writing assignments as I burned through the stories. Ann’s voice, written in pastiche of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, lifted me into a world of early 1900’s intrigue, and I was hooked!

A great summer book, and appropriate for young readers. I may just go back and read it again!

7 Easy Steps to Bringing Flowers Indoors, Practical Gardening

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

From spring forsythia branches to fall garden mums I bring the beauty and fragrance of my garden into the house. Some arrangements are minimalistic and modern while others are full and robust, looking very much like a 16th century Dutch painting. Either way, they grace my desk, home altar, or table—sometimes I take them to a friend.

Arranging flowers cut from your garden is a time honored tradition. It’s easy once you let go of the glossy magazine images inhibiting your creativity.

1. Start by walking through the garden and cutting a few stems of green leaves, and look for flowers recently or just starting to open. See the tips and Techniques section below.

2. After you have cut your selection, begin by choosing an appropriate vase: low for shorter stemmed and smaller flowering, larger and heavy (to prevent tipping) for fuller arrangements. A drinking glass or canning jar will work perfectly fine too.

3. Determine if you will view only one side of the arrangement or see it all the way around. Most arrangements are one sided, using fewer flowers.

4. Start your arrangement by “greening the vase.” This builds the foundation that holds the flowers in place.  Select ferns, hosta, tender branches or any combination of interesting leaves. If cutting branches, be sure you practice proper pruning to prevent an unsightly bare spot on your shrub. Let some of the greens drape over the edge if desired. Strip leaves from portion of stem that will be under water.

5. Next place your featured flowers at differing heights. This could be an arrangement of three large roses, a few stems of snapdragons or cone flowers. A good rule of thumb is for the arrangement’s proportions to be 1/3rd vase and 2/3rds flowers.

6. Three aspects to arranging—that holds true for container gardens, too—are thrillers, fillers, and spillers. Well, you’ve just placed your thriller (featured) flower, now add your fillers. These are smaller and less prominent flowers tucked around your main featured flowers. Things like daisy type flowers, salvia and coreopsis to name a few.

7. Finally add the spiller. These would be cuttings that fall over like floribunda (spray) roses, tuberous begonias or the softer stems of annual eucalyptus.

In the autumn I’ll use the flowering fronds of ornamental grasses to add height and texture.

Flowers with milky sap do not take up water as readily as other cut flowers and will not last as long in an arrangement. Some examples are poinsettia, milkweed, heliotrope, hollyhock, euphorbia and poppy. Most hydrangeas do not work well as cut flowers either.

Experiment with your flowers. Try different combinations. Make miniature arrangements as well as fuller ones. We learn what we like in the doing. So fear not and go cut some flowers! 

Tips and Techniques

  • Tote a deep stable container filled with tepid water with you into the garden to hold your cuttings.
  • Cut stems using bypass nippers or shears; do not use anvil style nippers that will crush stems.
  • Cut longish flowering stems just above a node (that bump around the stem where leaves or buds usually emerge).
  • To arrange, remove all leaves that would set below the water surface.
  • Recut stems to desired length for vase at 45 degree angle using a sharp knife or scissors. To help lengthen their vase life it is often suggested to cut stems under water…I personally have not mastered this technique.
  • Help your flowers last longer by using a commercial preservative or by filling a vase with the following premixed solution: 2 tbl. fresh lemon juice or white vinegar, 1 tbl. sugar (use 2 tbl. if using vinegar), ½ tsp. household chlorine bleach, all in 1 quart warm water.
  • Keep arrangement cool, out of direct sunlight, away from fans and ripe fruit.