Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent

CGG Patheos book coverIt must be a bit unnerving for a deacon to go all a cappella  in front of the congregation when cantering the Epiphany Proclamation. I’ve listened to friends Dr.Gregory Popcak and Deacon Greg Kandra — lovely voices both — chant the proclamations of The Epiphany or Easter. This year at a local church, the deacon there did an excellent chant as well. What I heard within his proclaiming was that Ash Wednesday is coming early this year on February 10. That’s only a few weeks away!

Like a lot of folks, I like having a Lenten book of reflections. Having a daily read to meditate upon helps us grow towards a personal Easter resurrection.

To that end, I would like to offer you an excerpt from my book, Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, available on line through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the publisher Patheos Press, in hopes that you will consider it for your faith journey. It was awarded the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval!

First Week of Lent: The Creator’s Joyful Gifts

Friday of the First Week

Attentiveness to Details

The big Eastern White Pine tree that grew at the southwest corner of the house was recently removed by the local power company.

When it was young, I would attach food to it during the winter to feed the animals; peanut butter-coated pinecones rolled in seed, corn cob halves hung with twine, and home-baked animal cookies full of protein. Its adolescent boughs held out hope for many animals when food was scarce.

As it grew, the boughs spread further into the garden. It wasn’t until many years later that I figured out it was not the cultivar I had thought it to be. This Eastern White Pine was going to be big, very big. It had not been planted in an appropriate site so as to grow to its full potential.

So it grew, as the cliché goes, “where it was planted.” It protected the birds, housed the squirrels, and hid the raccoons. It buffeted winter winds and provided shade from hot summer suns.

I would listen from my upper bedroom windows as its boughs whispered when the winds blew through them. When working in the yard I would often stop and touch its long delicately soft needles, the same needles that would fall off in late summer and provide beautiful golden mulch for the flower beds. I loved how the new growth, called candles, would come out pointing toward heaven, and how the pollen would burst into the air like incense when I thumped the male cone clusters with my hand.

Repeatedly it needed harsh pruning to keep its limbs off the house. The lower boughs encroached into the yard so far that they eventually had to be trimmed up the trunk so one could walk under them. Its expansive limbs grew between the electrical wires and were repeatedly trimmed back by the power company. With all this cutting-back as it grew it became misshapen, less beautiful than it was intended to be. Yet it was as fully what it could be in the circumstances in which it was planted.

During storms, and there are many of them here, the branches would hit the wires as well as the sides of the house. During one particularly nasty winter, three massive limbs broke off due to snow loads. The blessing was that they brushed against and then fell free of the power lines, and completely missed the house and wooden stockade fence.

I had prayed many times about that tree. It needed to be removed and I could not pay to have that done. It was ruining the siding of the house. It was a threat to my neighbors during the winter because of its potential to create a power outage. It grew only feet from my bedroom wall and I feared a wind shear or tornado would drive it through the roof. I loved that tree. I was also frightened by it.

My prayers were answered one spring day when a representative from a tree trimming service hired by the power company came to my door. The young man who stood there very respectfully explained about the neighborhood pruning that would take place in a few weeks. As I walked outside with him, he delicately tried to describe to me what this large, already misshaped pine would look like if they trimmed it back the required distance to free the power lines.

While he spoke I was secretly hoping that the Holy Spirit had moved someone somewhere to answer my earlier prayers. When he asked permission to completely remove the tree I nearly squealed. He looked at me, startled and a little relieved as I exuberantly answered, “Oh yes, please!”

Having an overgrown tree removed may not seem like suitable stuff for prayers, especially when I think about a friend dying of cancer or the violence in the world. Yet, there it is once again, God’s attentiveness to the smallest details in my life. I sometimes think God just wants to see me wriggling with delight.

____________________________

My Lord,

Let me always be confident in your love. Help me to know in my heart that every prayer uttered, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is heard by you. Let us accept that the betterment of a soul is always your answer to prayer, and be assured that you are ever present in the details of our lives.

If you’ve already read the book, thank you! Please let others know that you enjoyed it, and maybe, if you have the time, leave an Amazon review.

Also for the new year from Ave Maria Press, is another one of my books, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. Its a month-by-month look at our faith traditions, how to create liturgical gardens, and some good old fashioned gardening advice.A Catholic Gardner's Spiritual Almanac

Laetare Sunday and Hard Rocks

rocksWe’ve passed Laetare Sunday, the fourth week of Lent, and still I’ve not been able to adhere to its disciplines: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. My usual prayer and abstinence routines are securely in place. It is the extras, so important to this spiritual season of faith, that are lacking.

The other morning after Lauds and a rosary, rising from my chair, I stood at the home altar. Drawing the sanctuary light that hung from the wall towards me, I blew out the candle. The holy images that would draw me into prayer hung above and were hidden behind purple cloths. Their hidden faces echoed the distance I felt from the observance Lent.

I touched the arrangement of objects placed on the altar. On a wood box covered by linens was an eight inch rock with angular surfaces of pink and black, on which set three square-cut iron spikes.

The book Way of the Cross, by Pope Benedict, was propped open to the image of the eighth station—Jesus meets the women. Here the suffering Christ was concerned with the weakness of those women. I shuddered remembering his words, “…weep for yourselves and your children…” It is chilling to know that his suffering brought to us in ours would be our only comfort. I wondered if those women, like me, focus on the gentleness of God and minimized the mystery of evil and pain in our world.

On the altar is a path of fourteen stones, representative of each step of the Passion. I picked one up, smooth and cold in my palm, and rubbed my thumb over its surface. These rocks suggest the austere realities of the life of Christ, and moments of our own: The hardness some paths take, the coldness of the journey, that every path has a beginning and an end.

Flat and dark, each stone has its own weight. As do each of our challenges, as do the Stations-of-the-Cross. All are hard and, depending on our frame of mind, can halt our progression under the burden.

I turn and look out the window. Laetare Sunday has passed. It marks a time to rejoice in the middle of Lent, a time to see the joy to come as the Pascal Mystery lives out.

The stone in my hand has warmed. It, along with the thirteen others, holds many silent prayers. The little path of stones is like a Lenten rosary. Each stone passes through the hand, and a memory through the heart. The images may be brutal and sad, but each is softened with gratitude. Had Christ not suffered, I would have no way to God. Had my life not been demanding, my soul would not have sought Our Lord.

It was the hardness of life that had brought me to joy. I look to the rock in my hand and rejoice.

(Originally ran 2/2014)

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

All the Holy is Hidden

Asian MadonnaThe Blessed Mother statue is only twelve inches tall. Finding a place to store it for Lent shouldn’t have been that hard. At a Catholic Writers Guild Conference I’d bought this smaller version of the original from the Korean woman who was the sculptor.

The soft light from the candles in my prayer space enhanced the artist’s design. The hands of Mother Mary are against her chest, tipped back in a way that gives the impression of an opening lotus flower. Her head is tilted, her Asian eyes and delicate smile are directed at baby Jesus standing in the blossom of her hands.

Setting the statue on a side table, I changed over the altar. The green linens of Ordinary Time that covered my altar for a brief four weeks after Christmas are again folded away. The bottles of holy water from Lourdes, Fatima, and my grandmother’s cabinet are nestled in a draw below the altar along with silk flowers, holy cards, crocheted cross bookmarks, and a small framed picture of Blessed Mother Teresa.

Honoring the traditions of Lent, I’ve placed deep purple cloths on the altar and over the sacred images on the walls. I hesitated before covering the lithograph of St. Mary Magdalene. This saint has journeyed with me since childhood and we greet each other every morning as I enter the room to pray. I carefully drape a cloth over the print of Divine Mercy and as I do so offer prayers for the precious souls in Purgatory. My room feels empty. The absence of Other sharing my prayers is pronounced.

Everything is readied except for the twelve inch Madonna. I hold her tight to my chest as I bend down to look in lower cabinets for storage space. I continue to hold her as I walk from one room to another and then back trying to find a safe place for her to rest. Standing in the prayer room with its purple linens, Mary pressed near my heart, I realized I was tearing up.

A memory comes of when I was a child. I had a favored stuffed toy, a sleeping white kitty with pink nose and slanted embroidered eyes. From bed to sand box to washer and back to my hands it would travel. A day came when I was to visit grandmother and my Kitty was placed in a grocery bag along with my clothes. I wanted to carry my Kitty in my arms, I didn’t want to let go. As long as I held her, near and tight, I was safe.

I felt a little silly at 60 welling up with tears as I stood there holding the statue. I had a new appreciation for the self-conscious tears of a friend who was preparing to move to a smaller house. She was taking down her family pictures from the stairway wall and was feeling the absence of loving memories even before they were boxed.

My desiring to hold close a sense of safety was once again the motion of my arms. I didn’t want to let go of the Madonna, I didn’t want to be without that statue in my sight for the forty days of Lent. I wanted to embrace, as nearly as I could this side of heaven, the nearness of my Holy Mother.

(Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved. Column first appeared 2/13.)

Laetare Rocks

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

We’ve passed Laetare Sunday, the fourth week of Lent, and still I’ve not been able to adhere to its disciplines: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. My usual prayer and abstinence routines are securely in place. It is the extras, so important to this spiritual season of faith, that are lacking.

The other morning after Lauds and a rosary, rising from my chair, I stood at the home altar. Drawing the sanctuary light that hung from the wall towards me, I blew out the candle. The holy images that would draw me into prayer hung above and were hidden behind purple cloths. Their hidden faces echoed the distance I felt from the observance Lent.

I touched the arrangement of objects placed on the altar. On a wood box covered by linens was an eight inch rock with angular surfaces of pink and black, on which set three square-cut iron spikes.

The book Way of the Cross, by Pope Benedict, was propped open to the image of the eighth station—Jesus meets the women. Here the suffering Christ was concerned with the weakness of those women. I shuddered remembering his words, “…weep for yourselves and your children…” It is chilling to know that his suffering brought to us in ours would be our only comfort. I wondered if those women, like me, focus on the gentleness of God and minimized the mystery of evil and pain in our world.

On the altar is a path of fourteen stones, representative of each step of the Passion. I picked one up, smooth and cold in my palm, and rubbed my thumb over its surface. These rocks suggest the austere realities of the life of Christ, and moments of our own: The hardness some paths take, the coldness of the journey, that every path has a beginning and an end.

Flat and dark, each stone has its own weight. As do each of our challenges, as do the Stations-of-the-Cross. All are hard and, depending on our frame of mind, can halt our progression under the burden.

I turn and look out the window. Laetare Sunday has passed. It marks a time to rejoice in the middle of Lent, a time to see the joy to come as the Pascal Mystery lives out.

The stone in my hand has warmed. It, along with the thirteen others, holds many silent prayers. The little path of stones is like a Lenten rosary. Each stone passes through the hand, and a memory through the heart. The images may be brutal and sad, but each is softened with gratitude. Had Christ not suffered, I would have no way to God. Had my life not been demanding, my soul would not have sought Our Lord.

It was the hardness of life that had brought me to joy. I look to the rock in my hand and rejoice.

 

I’m Having Trouble with Penance

Image courtesy Ann Davich.

I am always eager for Lent to begin, literally so for the lengthening of days, and also for the increase of Light in my soul.  It was during those holy weeks before Easter that significant life changes occurred. The most recent event was becoming a Benedictine oblate.

In years past my offerings to God were challenging but not too hard to fulfill. I loved to pray, so doing more increased peace. Sharing is part of my nature, and charitable donations only need be varied from year to year. And I willingly fasted from wants…although the one year fasting from coffee nearly did me in! My attempts to observe Lent were not always perfect, but I was all-in in the effort.

This year Lent feels soft. I haven’t been able to feel the penitential nature of the season. I’m failing horribly at fasting. Each morning I promise to do better, and hours later haven’t. The added prayerful readings are more lackadaisical than focused; words float and drift in thoughts unrelated to the topic. And I have yet to begin a service to the poor.

I was preoccupied the first two weeks of Lent preparing spiritually for my final promise as a Benedictine oblate. My excitement overrode the “suffering” of the season. When I listened to Audrey Assad’s CD Fortunate Fall, O Happy Fault (Felix Culpa) filled my heart with such joy that diverting the happiness proved impossible.

I feel as if I have entered Easter without the Via Dolorosa.

This year I am being carried aloft in celebrating the Messiah and shielded from the ugliness of the road to Golgotha. Each time I try to turn down that dusty path, a Bible verse comes to mind. When Jesus said, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? The days will come, when the bridegroom is [gone]…” (Luke 5:34-35). This year it is like that, a softening of rules while love is at hand.

The Vacare Deo of Lent, the emptying oneself for God, still abides. This is the Lent that the vacant space is filled with the gift of God’ love and not darkened by the suffering of Jesus. This is the year that the denying of self is replaced with charitableness—to be given out, full measure, shaken down.

It is a Lent not of giving-up but of taking-up. A more loving observance than I have ever known. And I keep thinking there should be some of that good-old-Catholic-guilt in all this. I pray my soul is not sleeping as I go along my happy, merry way.

My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded. Awake, then and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you, Who is everywhere present and fills all things.

(Kontakion from the Great Penitential Canon of St. Andrew of Crete)