Walnuts, Thanksgiving, and A Garden Catechism

walnut shell

Image from morguefile.com

If we are busy with families, we usually prepare or share in a Thanksgiving Day fare. One of the popular ingredients for that day is often the walnut. I love it in apple or broccoli salads, autumn harvest pies, or—as my grandmother often did with her Henry Quackenbush nutcrackers—unshelled in a bowl.

The black walnut, Jugulan nigra, is native to the eastern United States and the bane of most gardeners. The walnuts we are more accustomed to eating are the English walnut, Jugulans regia, which are not native, being introduced on the west coast by Franciscan monks in 1769.

Because of its tough outer hull and woody shell, the nut symbolizes the protection of precious contents. It can also symbolize the Holy Trinity, Christ, matrimony, and fertility because of it copious amounts of fruit!

Lucia Impelluso writes, in Nature and Its Symbols:

In Christian culture in general, the image of the walnut, with its three parts, is associated with the Trinity. Saint Augustine…asserts that the nut may be considered a symbol of Jesus Christ. According to this interpretation, the outer hull represents the flesh, the wood shell stands for the cross, and the kernel alludes to Christ’s divine nature. Generally speaking, the image of the walnut in art should be read in this light.

Many scholars assume that the grove of nut trees that Solomon went into searching for love (Song 11:6) were Persian walnuts, now commonly called English.

The green hull encasing the shelled nut can be steeped to produce a rich brown dye. During Jesus time the walnut trees grew around the Sea of Galilee. Some scholars propose that his cloak was dyed, probably by his mother, from the walnut casings.

The single walnut at the bottom of this painting indicates the divine child in Mary’s arms. Wallraf-RichartzMuseum, Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece, The Virgin of the Walnut, 1500-1510. (Image public domain)walnut virgin

Jesus standing under a walnut tree represents his divine nature and the fruitfulness of his ministry. National Gallery of London, The Baptism of Christ, Piero della Francesca, 1448-1450. (Image public domain)walnut baptism

St. Anthony near the end of his life, and from his desire for solitude, had a tree house built in a walnut tree as a hideaway in Camposampiero, Italy. The tree, symbolizing the Holy Trinity, sheltered him halfway between heaven and earth. This paining, being one of many portraying his hideaway in the branches, is Saint Anthony in the Walnut Tree (with two saints: St. Jerome, St. Francis of Assisi), Lazzaro Bastiani, 1505. (Image public domain)

walnut st anthony


Graces from Gleditsia

Image morguefile.com

It was one of those perfect fall days when the clear cerulean sky contrasted the vivid reds and yellows of the maples, poplars, and the honey locust in my yard.

Settling into this house in 1988 one of the first things I did on the property, after removing all the trash and debris, was add trees. It takes time for trees to fill in the landscape. So during the time of roof repairs, plumbing and furnace upgrades, and painting, the trees grew on.

Eventually the time came to develop the gardens, and then a few decades later it was time to tear them out. Through it all, the trees remained.

My favorite tree, now matured to over forty feet high, is the Skyline Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos f. inermis ‘Skycole’). It’s a thorn-less Locust variety (inermis in Latin means unarmed) and half the height of its native cousins.

The dark gray limbs are sturdy through storms, flexing without shattering in gusting winds or heavy snows, and have a lovely curve to them—an elegant feminine line. It leafs out in the spring in a neon chartreuse turning to a bright Kelly green by summer. Small pinnate leaves offer open dappled shade and raking is never an issue. This variety lacks seed pods. I’ve never had issues with any diseases or pests warned about in the literature. I’ve called it “that blessed tree”—for its shade, for its beauty, for its endurance.

The other day I gathered my lunch and a rosary, and went to sit under its boughs to rest.

The sky was clear and the sunlight crisp. A light and stirring breeze caused the poplar leaves to chatter and, as I walked under the locust, a cascade of shimmering yellow began to fall.

Each small leaf reflected the sunlight as it fell. Bits of gold danced around me and I was elated by the tiny leaves that landed on my head and arms.

I imagined the blessings of God to be much the same as those golden leaves—small and cumulative, bearing light. We may not take as much notice of God’s blessings when they come one by one. But looking back at all the mercies in life, the cascade of light is thrilling.



A Walk through the Garden

For those of you taking your daily walk through the beautiful prayer garden that is Margaret Realy’s blog post, you may notice a different gardener today. As Margaret is on retreat for a few weeks, she has very kindly allowed me to help tend to her garden while she is away.

In the garden

Image courtesy Marty Rymarz.

As an Oblate novice at the same monastery as Margaret, I have been blessed to become friends with her and see her daily blogs. For me, reading her daily post is not unlike taking a leisurely stroll through my local greenhouse in the spring. There, I see many beautiful flowers starting to bloom, waiting to be taken home and planted where they will grow and flower further. Margaret’s daily prayers are inspired flowers of thought that I take with me each day and allow them to germinate in my mind and flower in my soul. Like the lilies and petunias in the greenhouse, some of Margaret’s prayers are perennials and some are annuals. Some will stick with me year after year while others flower brilliantly for a time and may fade away with the season.

It is the loving embrace of God’s light and warmth that allows these flowers to blossom and our prayers to bloom to their full beauty.  A little seed that looks insignificant and gets tenderly planted in the soil may eventually blossom into a beautiful flower. Another type of seed may produce the vegetables that feed us. Though unseen, these seeds are quietly but faithfully striving upwards, ever upwards, towards heaven, until one day, they burst forth from the earth, straining towards the sky and the sustaining power of the Son.

So it is with God’s word and the prayers of others for us. These start as a little seed in our soul that can be covered for a time in the dirt of our concupiscence. Our daily prayers and contemplation give these seeds of our soul the water and warmth they need to grow.  They may manifest themselves, flowerlike, as a beautiful smile that we share with a stranger or a helping hand that we lend to those in need. They may also bloom as succulent fruit and healthy vegetables to feed our own spiritual needs when we minister to those in need. Our job, as gardeners of Jesus, is to cultivate these seeds, while pulling the daily weeds that can so easily sprout, until these seeds grow and others may appreciate the beauty of them as they are reflected not only in our words, but more importantly, in our actions.

So on this day, as we have taken the time to walk through this prayer garden, do we also take time to gaze in childlike awe at the beauty of God’s creation in both this garden and in the beauty of each other’s souls? Do we truly strive to see Jesus in everyone we encounter? For if we did, if we sought to see Christ in both our friends and those who challenge us, we would truly be living in a modern day Garden of Eden. And that garden, my friends, would not be a bad place to live until we reach that final destination that we know, as Christians, is the loving eternal communion with our Father in heaven.

Short at One End Coming to Christ

walking red

Image morguefile.com

I’m still trying to find my place as a pray-er among the residents at the women’s care facility. As an introvert and hermit, and with what little social skills I possess, the challenge is large.

I had been given a list of names of the women who are Catholic and ambled to each room to introduce myself. Awkwardly I’d pause to greet those in the corridors and sitting areas.

In the first room, the woman sat on the side of her bed, a wheeled oxygen tank between her knees and tubes under her nose. She was confused by my presence but not my purpose, and accepted my offer to pray with her. She’d scurried to the administrator’s office when I left her room. I learned later she had asked if I were real—and convinced that I was—asked if I would come again.

My next stop was with a very joyous developmentally-impaired woman. I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person and found her advances to hug and touch off-putting. I struggled to hold my ground against the urge to back away. She could not understand that I was offering prayer, telling me instead of her upcoming birthday and of many other happy things.

I knocked on two more doors, shamefully relieved that there were no responses, and headed upstairs. In the stairwell I stopped, overwhelmed. I was ill-prepared for the emotions that flooded my heart.

I was upset because of the confusion I felt in the presence of these women, and questioned if I lacked genuine love in my actions. I wanted to feel that my presence gave validation to Jesus’ love, and to feel pleasing to our Lord. I felt none of this. What I felt was the little love I had was barely enough to keep me moving to the next floor, let alone sufficient to be a presence to these ladies.

Leaning against the banister I steadied my resolve to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit felt months ago. I prayed for those I had just encountered and for perseverance and the confidence to move on.

Later at home in my oratory I thought about my shortcomings of truly being the hands of Christ. I felt that the spiritual food I had to offer was not enough for the enormity of the summons set before me.

As I sat in silence, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000—more than that counting women and children—came to mind. When I read the Bible passages (Mt 14:13-16, Mk 6:30-37, Jn 6:1-13) something struck me. Consistent in all three, Jesus did not say to the apostles that he would feed them—he said you feed them.

The apostles begged Jesus, for the good of all, to quickly send them away. There were too many in need for only a dozen hands to feed.

Jesus knew that with what little they possessed there was enough for him to work with. He didn’t change the venue of the challenge; he multiplied the bits and pieces that they had to meet the need at hand.

I only have a small amount to share—of confidence, courage, and love. But in the hands of Jesus, what little I have is multiplied enough to feed those standing beside me, and he gives me enough for another day.

There’s a miracle in here, somewhere. I’m just too startled to see it.


Cuke Frog and Snapping Dragons

Just some pictures from the gardens…

Zucchini Blossom

Zucchini Blossom

Rose of Sharron

Rose of Sharron











Frog on Cucumber

Frog on Cucumber

Mouse Ears Hosta

Mouse Ears Hosta



Sweet 100s

Sweet 100s
















Meadow Watching

Meadow Watching









My idea of garden ornamentation

My idea of garden ornamentation


...and glass totems too

…and glass totems too





And the housemate downstairs version of ornamentation

And Linda’s (downstairs  housemate) version of ornamentation

All images property of Margaret Rose Realy, Obl OSB. All rights reserved.