Gardening at home is a private thing; it’s when I look really bad and after a lot of it, smell even worse. It is something I have always done alone…for more than the obvious above-mentioned reasons. It feels similar to being in the Adoration chapel, and a time of intimate conversation with God. In the garden I feel as if I can touch Him, lay my hands upon His very skin. I find it to be a very personal and sensory connection with the Creator. I remember getting goose-bumps the first time I read this verse by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “God, I can push the grass apart and lay my finger on thy heart.” I still get all bubbly inside when I read it.
Working in the gardens at the retreat center with volunteers is different, like going to Mass; it is a public gathering as community. We present ourselves differently at church by our dress, interactions with one another, and our way of being present with God.
There is a willing vulnerability when praying alone with Our Lord, and like most private conversations, a freedom within that seclusion. I remember a close friend explaining his sense of being vulnerable when he married and knelt down to pray for the first time with his wife at his side. His hesitancy of being that exposed to another person, a nakedness of soul if you will, took some time to get over. I know I have boldness in private prayer that I would be hard pressed to reveal in the presence of another.
This boldness is present when I garden, too. The conversation is not a monologue either. I listen, or try to, for the whisper of insight.
I remember a time when that intimacy with God in my garden was about to change.
Three friends, volunteers from the gardening society at the retreat center, were coming to my gardens. They had become aware of my increasing physical limitations from an arthritic spine, and the loss of strength in my arms. I was grateful, humbled, humiliated, tearful, and awash with a whole lot of emotions. I was feeling exposed and opened to being judged by the state of my gardens. After all, I was the St. Francis Garden Society Coordinator and people had expectations of amazing landscape designs on the property of such a person. I was humbled that my prayers for help were answered, and so quickly, and surprised by the anxiety of what that answer involved.
I would have to let go of my hermetic tendencies and learn a way to be willing and accepting of others in my private life. I would learn about receiving charity with the same joy in which I gave it. I had to disarm the shame I felt for being the one in need.
My friends came, they dug and cleared the mess in a dozen gardens. As they toiled in my yard I did what I could do, and made them fresh tomato soup from what was picked off the vines that grew among the weeds.
I worked hard too, to figure out how to manage the coexistence of anxiety and gratefulness that swirled in my heart. Answered prayers are sometimes disconcerting even while they are full of grace.
Image Pixabay.com, CCO, Creative Commons.
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