How to Make a Prayer Box for your Marian Garden, or Any Prayer Garden

We often take mini retreats into our gardens for a moment of quiet in which to pray. When I’m in the garden for times of prayer I like to have sacramentals available— rosary, incense, journal, or other items. Creating a box to keep them at hand is an easy and fun project. You can decorate the box with short quotes, favorite images, stencils with a classic design, or have the kids place their handprints on the sides.

So here’s how to make a prayer box for your spiritual garden—at home or in a public space like your parish.

Supplies:

White metal mail box, and eventually a post or bracket to hang it on
Outdoor paint suitable for metal in desired colors (I used Rust-oleum Painters’ Touch Ultra Cover Latex)
Fine grit sandpaper
Windex, cloth, and clean water
Images, stencils, pencil (eraser!)
Artist round tip brush and plastic 10 well palette tray
Paper towels and water to use while painting, and a drop cloth if you’re worried about a mess.

 

003 Mail boxRemove flag from side of mail box.

 

Lightly sand surface to get a better tooth for paint to adhere.

 

Clean surface, rinse and let dry.

 

Tape over holes with outdoor tape. I had leftover mail box lettering and cut four small squares from the material, two for inside and two for outside.

 

Draw an image on door and/or body. Use a stencil, trace an image, or go freehand.010 crown of thorns

 013 Stencil

Dribble small amounts of paint into palette wells leaving one or two empty wells in-between for mixing colors. The paint I used dried rather fast, so work quickly—or do as I had, painting different areas such as all of the door, then medallion and flowers, then vines and leaves and cross using only a couple of colors each time.

001 Mail Box PaintingWhen possible, paint from bottom up. Left to right if you’re right handed, opposite if you’re a leftie. 007 Stained Glass

.Our Lady of Gguadalupe

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Allow to dry for a day then mount to a bracket or post in your garden.

012 SacramentalsCollect the item you want to place inside, storing smaller objects in containers. The items could include:

Incense, charcoal
Candle
Lighter
Journal and pen
Rosary
Holy water
Devotional books
Bible or spiritual book
Insect repellent—which I spray on the chair/bench and area around where I’ll be sitting. Sometimes I spray a small amount on my hands to rub on my hair if bugs are really bad.

 

And there you have it!

008 Marian Garden Box

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

 

Portobello and Beans Vegetarian Chili, Meatless Friday

IMGP7275The Garden Society at St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt, Michigan, had many volunteers and a core group of five women. The society began in 2005 and continues to this day. I retired from the group in 2013, leaving it in the competent hands of the dedicated Master Gardener, Ann.

The garden society’s goal was (and still is) to build and maintain gardens of prayer and memorial on the 95 acre site. One of the first memorial gardens established in 2006 was the Stella Smythe Ornamental Grass Garden. The Smythe family donated time and money, and daughter Claudia—a key garden society volunteer and my right hand for years—with husband David assisted with the design and installation. The garden is landscaped with fourteen species of ornamental grasses, including the 14 foot tall Erianthus ravennae…aka Hardy Pampas Grass.

Throughout the year Claudia with another memorial garden donor and volunteer extraordinaire, Kathy, and I would meet on Wednesday mornings, and usually were joined by other volunteers. All of us would weed, prune, water, and plant. Our labor of love was in service to Our Lord to help bring souls to God. We wanted to offer an outdoor space where people could pray. We trusted the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

At the end of the gardening season there was the traditional pot luck. All the volunteers, their families and friends were invited. Claudia and Kathy usually coordinated those meals, and some were epic! You can bet that throughout the years a lot of recipes were shared. From those gatherings this recipe came. It is one of Claudia’s favorites. She and David often ate vegetarian, and it’s good for Friday’s fasting too. I’ve modified it only slightly from its original form.

Portobello & Beans Vegetarian Chili

2 cups chopped sweet Vidalia onion

1 cup peeled and chopped carrots

4 cups Portobello mushroom caps, chopped

1 tbl. olive oil

14-15 oz. can diced tomatoes,

1 ½ cup vegetable broth (or chicken if preferred)

1 tbl. Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tbl. maple syrup (the real thing!)

15 oz. can black soy beans, or black beans, drained and rinsed

15 oz. can white kidney beans, or navy beans, drained and rinsed

15 oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

½ tsp salt, or to taste

½ tsp. freshly ground pepper, or to taste

¾ cup scallions, green and white portions, chopped

Fresh chopped cilantro for garnish

Grated pepper jack cheese (soy or dairy) for garnish

In soup kettle heat oil and add onions and carrots, cook until tender, stirring often. Add mushrooms and simmer another 4-5 minutes. Add tomatoes, broth, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, coriander, and maple syrup. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook uncovered for about five minutes. Add beans, salt and pepper and simmer for another five minutes. Add scallions and remove from heat. Serve garnished with cheese and chopped cilantro.

If you’re not going vegan with this chili, and using chicken stock, I have added leftover roasted chicken—skin removed and dice into small bite-sized pieces—near the end of sautéing vegetables.

(Image by Seeman, courtesy morguefile.com)

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

 

Feast day of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower

On this first day of October, as we take our daily walk through the prayer garden, it seems so very appropriate that the Saint of the day is St. Therese of Lisieux. A Carmelite nun, St. Therese is, of course, lovingly known as the “Little Flower” and is the patron saint of florists.

As someone who lived relatively recently, at the end of the 19th century, St. Therese’s story is very well known. Her devotion to praying for others, especially priests, has inspired many. St. Therese, who died at the tender young age of 24, saw great beauty in her redemptive suffering and in emptying herself for the fulfillment of others souls.

As I prayed this week to find the words for this day, I came across a beautiful quote from a homily from St. Macarius of Egypt, an influential Desert Father of the fourth century. In his homily, St. Macarius writes,

When a farmer sets out to till the ground he has to take the proper tools and clothing for work in the fields: so when Christ, the Heavenly King and the true Husbandman, came to humanity laid waste by sin, He clothed Himself in a body and carried the Cross as His implement and cultivated the deserted soul. He pulled up the thorns and thistles of evil spirits and tore up the weeds of sin. When thus He had tilled the ground of its soul with the wooden plough of His Cross, He planted in it a lovely garden of the Spirit; a garden which brings forth for God as its Master the sweetest and most delightful fruits of every source.

The imagery of Christ as a farmer, tilling the soil with the wood of His cross, is a beautiful picture of God caring for His children. Christ took upon his shoulders the weight of the cross and thus the weight of all human sins. He plunged the base of His cross deep into the earth; an earth parched and withered from the flames of sin, and by His own blood made it a fertile garden for good seeds to take root and beautiful flowers to grow.  St. Therese, the Little Flower, is a wonderful example of the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice for us.

As we contemplate this, I find it humbling to consider that the same soil that Jesus cultivated that resulted in the beautiful Little Flower of Lisieux, is the same soil that each and every one of us is spiritually planted in. Each of us is called to Sainthood, just as St. Therese was. We pray to the Lord this day that the examples of giving ourselves up in prayer for others, the example we see from St. Therese, be a loving model of how we are called to live. We pray for the humility to serve others with the same loving heart that Jesus had for us when he bore the weight of human sins on His cross.

Finally, on this day where we contemplate the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, let us consider her own words from her autobiography, Story of a Soul. “What matters in life,” she wrote, “is not great deeds, but great love.” As we reflect back at the end of our day today, and with God’s grace each day of our future, let us look back not at what great deeds we may have accomplished, but what great love we showed for someone that day.

Summit Climbing

Image morguefile.com

I remembered being light headed and giddy. The man who had brought me to that secluded place held me tight as we leaned against the rocks of an adjoining mountainside. The air tickled my lungs in a way that a city girl—I was from Detroit—rarely experienced. There was a purity and thinness between where we stood on the alpine tundra, and God.

I had taken the summer off before beginning a graduate program at Michigan State University. He was a friend of a friend, a geologist, and worked as an oil drilling engineer—of sorts. He lived in Colorado and part of his job was hiking and surveying the land his company thought productive for drilling. He and his sister had planned several backwoods hiking adventures for the summer and he’d offered to fly me out to join them.

I had done a lot of hiking, cross-country skiing, and canoe portages around the Great Lakes. Not until that summer, over thirty-five years ago, had I seen mountains. We backpacked several trails throughout the Rockies, Tetons, Pikes Peak, and the Big Horn. What I experienced that summer was exhilarating and grueling. And I had thought myself fit! One such hike took us from a sweltering near ninety degrees at the ranger’s station, to snow gear a day and a half up a mountain.

Those memories came forward during morning prayers while reading a reflection in Magnificat (Aug 2014, p.52) by Sherry A. Weddell. Her description of Pike’s Peak Barr Trail sent my thoughts to wandering along rocky paths, sitting on cliffs bordering raging rivers, through forests, and gasping at the sight of being surrounded by alpine tundra wildflowers.

Sherry wrote of the challenges to reach Pike’s Peak summit on foot.

A small child could be carried up Pikes Peak, but adults cannot simply wander up to the summit casually, much less passively. They have to spend some seriously strenuous hours covering nearly thirteen miles…nearly five thousand feet through foothills, the montane (forest), and then the sub-alpine zone before climbing another three thousand feet beyond the tree line.

The air at the summit is thin, having less oxygen. The farther one goes hiking the trail, the more challenging the journey becomes. I remembered this from personal experience. I had not been trained, physically conditioned, in high-altitude environments, so for my safety hiking up only went so far.  Even at that I’d felt the mild side of mountain sickness—lightheadedness. To reach a summit is not, as Sherry said, a casual thing. Learning and conditioning come first in order to persevere in thin air.

It is to that intentionality that she speaks regarding Communion:

I don’t think it is an accident that the Church uses the metaphor of a summit to convey the significance of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is described as the summit, the apex, and the pinnacle of the Christian life….Just as we have actively to climb a mountain summit, we have to make an intentional journey, properly prepared, fully to receive the inexhaustible grace to be found in the Eucharistic Christ.

Any mountain climber or backwoods hiker will tell you, preparation is everything.

With that, let us pray that through the intercession of St. Bernard of Menthon for the protection of all who travel in the mountains of this earth, and the mountains in our souls, that they be granted strength and fortitude as they seek. Amen