Blessings and the Hummingbird

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It was mid-morning and the sun had finally dissolved the fog from the cool damp night. I saw that some of the leaves still glistened with dampness.

Making the bed I pulled the white and periwinkle quilt up and over the pillows and glanced out the upstairs window. The blue Rose-of-Sharon grows just below. Moving about the blossoms was a Ruby Throated Hummingbird.

He seemed to be moving a bit slower—maybe the cool night slowed him down. During the summer the hummers tend to dart about the gardens, frenetic in their search for food. On this morning the little guy was more systematic, feeding steadily from one group of blossoms before moving on to the next. I suspected he was laboring to build up reserves for his migratory journey south.

Labor, lavoro, arbeit, labeur, trabajo, no matter what language, it is to toil, to strive towards a goal, to work for gain. Like most people, I associate labor with something tangible. The little hummer was acquiring food.

Lately I have been reflecting on soulful laboring. It too is for gain…of peace in love.

I work daily to accept changes in my life. Aging is normal, premature aging is annoying. What I gain in working to accept, is a drawing closer to Our Lord. In moving nearer I’ve discovered he has blessed me with the gift of blessing others who come to my aid.

We’ve all heard that it is better to give than to receive, and I have adjusted my views of being a recipient. To willingly accept someone’s gift of assistance is to double the blessing for the giver. It kind of goes like this: The essence of kindness and generosity, which are two Fruits of the Spirit, are expressed through a great desire to do good for others. It is in the fulfilling as well as in the desiring to give that these fruits grow. This virtue runs throughout the Bible and we first read of it in Genesis 18 when Abraham saw three men in the hot sun and “ran from his tent” begging them for the favor to serve them—for them to bless him in his ability to come to their aid. We see this same yearning to assist when Mary “goes in great haste” to the pregnant Elizabeth to assist the aged woman, and Elizabeth blesses her.

What I have found happening in my little corner of the world is that by being blessed with someone’s help—they being first blessed by the Holy Spirit to act—I bless them secondly for their loving deed. They grow in holiness and I grow as well by letting go of self deprecating thoughts. To be generous with myself, as my abilities are redefined, can be a chore. To be kind and gentle applies not only to our words and deeds with others, but to our interior dialog as well.

There are those who unexpectedly assist me—reaching for products over my head, carrying heavy boxes of kitty-litter, lifting cumbersome bags of groceries into the back of the car. Of course I thank them, but I go one step further and ask their name. There are few things sweeter to the soul than to hear one’s name spoken in a blessing or prayer. For a moment in time those words, wrapped safely around someone’s name, infuse peace and the purest joy.

To be acknowledged is to feel purposeful in your work. To be blessed for your blessing of help is to acquire a piece of heaven on earth…and gain nourishment for the journey ahead.

(8/2013)

Image Pixabay.com, CCO, Creative Commons.

How to Grow a Garden with Fortitude, 3 of the Best Plants!

Christians can express their faith in nearly limitless ways in a garden setting. Continuing with the theme of A Virtuous Garden, here are some of the aspects of the third cardinal virtue—fortitude. You can find the other columns for prudence here, and justice here.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1808:

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.

The word is defined as mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously. To have mettle as one’s disposition or temperament, as a Christian, is to do one’s utmost, always, in the name of Jesus.

shutterstock_113189206 Pine treeWe can see how this sentiment applies to the pine tree. In the language of flowers it indicates a request, to remain strong for me. The Pinus genus has nearly 200 varieties and found throughout the world. Pines are long lived, anywhere from 100-1000 years, being a sturdy tree adapted to the environment in which it grows. A fun fact, the longest-lived is the Pinus longaeva, known as the Great Basin bristlecone pine. An individual of this species is one of the world’s oldest living organisms at around 4,600 years and can be found in the White Mountains of California.

There is a lovely story in our Catholic tradition of when the Holy Family was fleeing into Egypt took refuge under the boughs of a pine tree to avoid detection by pursing soldiers. You can read the rest of that story in my new book A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac.

The Magnolia tree is another hardwood that is symbolic of fortitude, signifying be not discouraged, better days are coming. Fossilshutterstock_68022604 Magnolia specimens date back nearly 20 million years. It is such a lovely tree, that, maybe God planted one in the Garden of Eden! The flowers were often given after the birth of a child symbolizing future good health and well being of the child and the mother.

One of the more beloved pink and white magnolias is the Saucer Magnolia, Magnolia x soulangeana, seen in this picture. My favorite is the yellow flowering Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Yellow Bird’. Its buds form later in the spring and for this reason the flowers are rarely lost to hard frosts.  To choose one for your own garden, check out the Magnolia Society International site.

shutterstock_149412281 ChamomileI love the low-growing herb German chamomile in the garden, especially when used to edge a sunny garden path. On a warm day its delicate fragrance smells of apples.

The two most commonly grown is the German chamomile Matricaria recutita, and the Roman Chamaemelum nobile. This herb has been used medicinally for centuries, so it is not surprising that it symbolizes energy in adversity, and to not despair.

Chamomile plants are very distinct in their growing conditions. The Roman species is a perennial plant, grows close to the ground and has very small flowers—tending to be bitter when used for teas. On the other hand the German chamomile is an annual growing up to three feet high, has larger blossoms, and is sweeter for teas—being the preferred for farm production. DISCLAIMER: because it does have medicinal affects, don’t consume this herb until you’ve done your homework. I’m not responsible…

For more Catholic garden ideas, my latest book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac, will offer inspiration. To learn how to build a prayer garden, my first books, A Garden of Visible Prayer, will lead you through the process one step at a time.

(All images courtesy shutterstock.com, by artists, in order of images: pine, Taftin; magnolia, Aceshot1; chamomile, Maria Komar.)

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